24 Sep 2021

Each day of lockdown making loneliness a greater challenge for seniors - Age Concern

1:15 pm on 24 September 2021

Warning - this story discusses self-harm.

Another long lockdown in Auckland is making it harder for seniors to avoid loneliness.

Leaflets at Age Concern in Havelock North.

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb told RNZ that with every day of lockdown, loneliness was becoming a greater challenge for seniors overall (file image). Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Social isolation was already a major problem before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Surveys of 40,000 New Zealand pensioners living at home between 2017 and 2019, showed about one in five felt lonely.

Auckland Age Concern social workers have been on the phones daily talking to older folk, to reduce feelings of social isolation.

Wayne, a 75-year-old who lived alone in Manukau, was one of those on the calling list.

In the second Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland last year, he "just sunk down right into depression".

"I was just about ready to do myself in. In fact, I tried, but thank goodness it didn't work."

After a temporary stint in a rest home to help lift his spirits, he was back living alone this year in an apartment.

This lockdown he is doing more to look after himself, talking with his family on the phone more, and the Age Concern callers who "like to talk their heads off".

"And I can beat them," he told RNZ.

He has also been doing more walking - sometimes up to seven kilometres a day.

"When people see an old fellow like me walking along there with a walker, most of them will say hello or want a chat and all that. So all that sustains me."

Wayne was bursting with pride at how far he had come.

But Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb told RNZ that with every day of lockdown, loneliness was becoming a greater challenge for seniors overall.

Just this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged the 23,000 unvaccinated elderly in the city to stay at home because of the higher risk of catching Covid-19 at alert level 3.

Despite the vaccine, Lamb told RNZ older people were expressing lockdown fatigue and greater anxiety around how easily Delta spread.

"For older people who are lonely and isolated, who are living alone, it's been very difficult. But also people who may be a couple sharing a home, particularly if there's a burden of responsibility one of the couple to look after themselves and their partner and they're not getting that normal outside help. That's putting extra burden on someone and that can be very, very challenging as well."

Besides those suffering from loneliness, Age Concern estimated about one in 10 elderly experienced neglect or abuse.

"The majority of that abuse and neglect is within families. So during a period of lockdown, the real horrendous reality is often we're seeing older people who are suffering abuse and neglect are now locked down with those people."

Lamb said Age Concern could help anyone suffering from these problems if they made contact.

And with Auckland dropping to alert level 3, there was light at the end of the Delta tunnel.

Wayne was looking forward to using his Super Gold Card to go on a bus trip.

"I have a daughter in Tauranga who has been very good to me and I thought well the first thing I will do is go down there and visit her."

How other pensioners coped

Members of the Whangārei Bridge Club told RNZ how they kept themselves upbeat in lockdown, before reaping the rewards at alert level 2.

Henry Cramer was "playing a bit of bridge online and having some Skype conversations".

George McGirr, 78, said he and his wife were was "basically watching a lot of TV [and] ringing our families".

Raewyn, 88, lived alone.

But she had her cat for company and got outside as much as possible during lockdown.

"With my mask on I did a lot of walking, where I live there's walkways handy," she said.

Jenny Trigg, 69, also lived alone and "didn't mind the first lockdown so much".

"Actually, I knitted 35 pairs of slippers for friends and family members. But this lockdown I found a little bit tough."

Where to get help:

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.