Text Size

Meaningful goals help solve loneliness

Meaningful goals help solve loneliness

The only ‘shame’ about loneliness is when nothing positive is done about it.

International research estimates that 20% of seniors experience some form of loneliness (The Campaign to End Loneliness Research Hub, UK, 2018).

In New Zealand, that adds up to as many as 140,000 elderly.

Vanessa Burholt is the Professor of Gerontology and Director of the Centre for Innovative Ageing (CIA) at Swansea University; and Director of the pan-Wales Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research (CADR). She visited New Zealand to share her research on loneliness and promote the welfare of older people.

Loneliness has a significant impact on health outcomes. Studies indicate that loneliness has the same level of impact on health as that of smoking and even more impact than obesity or inactivity. Loneliness is a risk factor in a number of health conditions including cardiovascular disease, depression and cognitive decline. Professor Burholt works with a large number of senior groups in the UK and says understanding the complexity of loneliness is the key to making effective change.

No shame, no blame

“We shouldn’t blame an individual for being lonely. There are many reasons why it is hard to overcome, from shyness, a lack of money, through to forgetfulness or a distracted mind. Often the physical environment is stopping older people leaving their home. They may have transport problems or be scared if they live in a neighbourhood that has changed. It’s about how we can remove those barriers that will make a difference.”

“It’s easy to think the solution is to go and meet people but social connection isn’t necessarily the cure for loneliness. It is the emotional closeness and quality of relationships that matter."

“You can’t replace decade long friendships or the loss of a long term partner but there are other things you can do. Start up a conversation about what is important to that person. The place to make social connections with others has to have meaning for them. Find out what things they like to do and how you can help facilitate that."

Withdrawing from society is not a natural part of ageing unless you choose it.

"Older people with physical limitations or dementia can be reluctant to enter public spaces because they feel stigmatised and embarrassed. We all have a role to play in reducing the prejudices and discrimination in society. It starts with patience and helping people who need help to interact with others.”

With the number of people in New Zealand aged 65+ set to increase dramatically in the coming years, The Selwyn Foundation’s charitable mission focuses on promoting the welfare of older people and helping those who are vulnerable or in greatest need.

The Selwyn Foundation established the Selwyn Centre Parish Partnership Programme in 2000. Working in conjunction with Anglican churches in 39 localities across greater Auckland, Northland, the Waikato and Christchurch in creating places to meet up and connect. These drop-in centres offer friendship, fun, support and advocacy to people over 65 and have a timetable of shared activities, gentle exercise, morning tea and occasional excursions.