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School children find out about loneliness


Media Release: Age Concern New Zealand

27 February 2013

School children find out about loneliness and older people as part of Dignity Campaign

Last Friday Year 4 students from Murrays Bay School in Auckland had an in-depth Skype conversation with Age Concern New Zealand staff about loneliness and older people. The interaction came about as a result of Age Concern’s Dignity Campaign, launched in October last year with the aim of promoting positive attitudes towards older people. “They were quite challenging” said staff member Robbie Ross, “and had some great questions and ideas.”

The children wanted to know why some older people get lonely. Mr Ross explained that things like losing a partner, not being able to drive or walk far, and an inability to see or hear well can cause some older people to become very lonely and isolated.”

They also wanted to know what loneliness is. “There’s a lot of research on loneliness” said Mr Ross, “We told them that what it boils down to is this – loneliness is feeling sad because you would like to see more people, or you don’t feel close to the people who are around you.”

“Loneliness hurts” continued Mr Ross. “It feels like a heavy weight on your chest. It makes you anxious. It makes you sad. It makes it hard to sleep. It makes you feel that nobody cares about you or wants to be your friend. It can make you scared to meet new people, so you get even lonelier.”

The children went on to ask how many people die from loneliness. “We can’t be sure about that,” said Mr Ross, “but we told them that what we know for sure is that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking, so if someone is lonely, it’s important to do something about it.”

Staff then talked to the class about the Age Concern Accredited Visiting Service, which has volunteers who visit older people who need more company. Each visitor spends regular time with an older person, talking with them, or sharing activities and outings.

Naturally, the children wanted to know if it works. “We told them, it does.” said Mr Ross. “Most of the people who have a visitor say they feel happier, and most think of their visitor as a friend. Because the visitor is there to make friends, it’s not scary even if the older person has become worried about meeting new people.”

The class then brainstormed ways in which they could make contact with older people in their lives, to help them not to feel, or become, lonely. Some of the more creative ideas included: skype chats, putting on a community play, taking them to a fitness class, baking, creating photo books, becoming a pen pal, or giving a present.

Mr Ross concluded, “We were very heartened by the interest from the class and their willingness to become more involved with the older people in their lives. We’re going to go back to them to see how many would like to become Dignity Champions, to support our Dignity Campaign. Dignity Champions pledge to treat older people with respect, challenge stereotypes and become relationship-builders. These children will make excellent champions.”

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