Do not wait for a disaster or emergency before you get to know older people in your neighbourhood.
A recent Massey School of Psychology Survey has highlighted the need for awareness in the wider community of why it is important to reach out and get to know older people, particularly those living alone.
It is a good idea to befriend and support elderly neighbours at any time, and the value of having done so is heightened in the event of a disaster when older people feel at their most vulnerable.
It reinforces those key things that help keep a community strong and safe. If you know you have older-aged neighbours, it is good to take the first step to go and meet them. Older people can be reluctant to initiate contact as they do not want to bother others, or feel they are a burden.
The need for communities to connect to elders is underpinned by demographic changes, as the proportion of older people in the total population increases and with more elderly living longer and residing in the community.
The report, by Mr Stevenson and Dr Sally Keeling, from the University of Otago, explored the effect of the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes on older people across New Zealand.
The researchers used eight years of data collected by the New Zealand Health, Work and Retirement Survey from people over 55 years of age living in New Zealand.
This biennial survey of health and wellbeing in older New Zealanders began in 2006 and was adapted in 2012 and 2014 to take account the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
Dr Keeling said that the longitudinal nature of the study of nearly 2000 people provides a rare opportunity to examine how the earthquakes affected older people as it provides information regarding individuals’ health and wellbeing both in the years before and after the event.
“In 2014, a quarter of the national sample of older people reported they were still affected by the Canterbury earthquakes. The range is wide, however, from 81% of those living in Christchurch, 50% of those living in the Canterbury region and 16% of those living in the North Island,” she said.
The report revealed that older people across New Zealand, not just those living in the quake-affected region, were experiencing emotional and economic impacts years after the event.
“The fact that one third of the affected national participants continued to provide support to family and friends related to earthquake effects shows that even indirect effects continue over three or four years,” Dr Keeling said.
The focus on the resilience of older people living within New Zealand’s communities, rather than the care of the very old and frail, as noted in other disaster studies reviewed earlier, is an important contribution of the study.
The report, which was funded under the 2014 EQC (Earthquake Commission) Biennial Grants programme, is available on the EQC and Health and Ageing Team websites.
The Health, Work and Retirement Survey has been supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment to run again in 2016, with a focus on housing and the effects of early life adversity in older people.
Next year, the Health and Ageing Research Team will commemorate a decade of research following the Health Work and Retirement project.
Brendan Stevenson is Public Health Researcher at Massey University. Co-Author of a recent Survey of the Massey School of Psychology Health and Research Team, he has studied the effects of the Canterbury quakes on older people.