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Campaign launched to combat loneliness

Media Release – Friday September 20, 2013

Campaign launched to combat loneliness

There are nearly 50,000 older New Zealanders who are very, very lonely.

Age Concern is there to help these people when they feel like nobody else cares.

As part of ongoing efforts to combat severe and chronic loneliness among older people, the charitable organisation is launching its latest awareness campaign, No New Zealander Should Ever Die of Loneliness.

A national appeal will help fund Age Concern services designed to help older people stay connected with their family, friends and community. These include planned social activities and outings, exercise groups, education and health promotion, men’s groups, and the Accredited Visiting Service, where lonely older people can receive regular contact by a trained visitor.

Age Concern national president Evelyn Weir says that current New Zealand research indicates that nearly 50,000 or about eight percent of people 65 years of age and over are identified as severely or chronically lonely.

“The issue is serious. In fact, it’s as big a health risk as smoking or drinking, but with nowhere near the same level of funding to address it.”

Mrs Weir says research from the United Kingdom shows that having weak social connections carries a similar health risk to being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day and that research from the United States shows that people who feel very lonely are likely to die sooner.

“It is proven that loneliness is a risk factor for physical and mental health problems including cardiovascular disease, low immunity, dementia and depression. This all means that being lonely and cut off from family, friends and community is very bad for health.”

Mrs Weir says that having a regular visitor or having good social contacts can make a positive difference to the health and happiness of an older person.

During the year to June 2013, Age Concern’s Accredited Visiting Service made over 75,000 visits and around 16,500 supportive phone calls, providing support to just over 3600 lonely and socially isolated older people. Mrs Weir says these people are now less lonely and more socially connected, but that there are still many lonely older New Zealanders who could be helped.

“Unfortunately, we can do only so much with the funding currently available. But the public can help. Even a donation of just $30 will help us provide regular contact for a lonely older person for a month.”

For more information about loneliness among older people and what’s being done to combat it, as well as ways that New Zealanders can help, please visit: helpthelonely.com


Ends


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