Gaps in support of elderly

Helen Millar (left) and Sarah Ballard will present their report on the needs of older Wanaka and Upper Clutha people  in Wanaka on Friday. Photo by Mark Price.
Helen Millar (left) and Sarah Ballard will present their report on the needs of older Wanaka and Upper Clutha people in Wanaka on Friday. Photo by Mark Price.

A survey of 72 older people in the Upper Clutha has found loneliness and money worries are their biggest issues.

The survey, involving two-hour interviews, was carried out by Sarah Ballard and Helen Millar through the Community Networks Wanaka organisation, with funding from the New Zealand Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

Their report noted the number of those in the region over 65 increased 17.7% in the 2011-12 year, compared with the New Zealand increase of 4.5%.

Mrs Ballard considered this helped explain the large number of retirement homes that had been built in Wanaka but pointed out the need for services and infrastructure to keep pace.

She noted a recent ''dramatic cut'' in services for ''very vulnerable older people''.

The community social work post at Community Networks had gone and the senior service co-ordinator post with the Salvation Army had been ''re-configured'' because of funding issues.

''This is a particularly alarming development for an area where the older population is increasing.''

Mrs Ballard said by most measures the majority of those surveyed was coping adequately but a ''significant minority'' was not.

''These high-risk older adults reported unmet needs and a sense of social isolation.''

The survey suggested reasons for this could be older people's inability to ''push for inclusion'', mobility restrictions and hearing impairment.

Loneliness was a ''significant problem'', Mrs Ballard said, especially for older women who were single.

The survey found 78% of women lived alone compared with 44% of men.

Although 48% of older men lived with a spouse, only 20% of older women did.

''Our interviewers observed that whereas men who lived alone generally had ready access to support and assistance, older women who lived alone tended to be more independent. Men appeared to be more content, though it is possible that they were generally reluctant to complain.''

Finances were also a ''significant concern''.

''While most interview respondents reported their resources were adequate, this topic came up in their comments and in the focus groups, suggesting that budgeting assistance may be needed for older people living on fixed incomes.''

The survey produced a list of recommendations on how the Community Networks might help improve services for older people. They included. -

• Regular reviews of the development of services.

• Liaison with the Southern District Health Board.

• Identification of external service providers and service deficiencies.

• Development of media content.

• Creation of a social worker position for older people.

• Provision of internet access.

• Ensuring Wanaka took advantage of district and regional services.

• Researching issues such as alcohol use, dental care, hearing loss, lack of mobility due to arthritis, dementia care and support for carers.

• Monitoring of the impact of the departure of the senior services co-ordinator from the Salvation Army.

• Pursuing funding opportunities other than those available from conventional funding bodies.

Mrs Ballard said for the majority of interviewees ''life is good'' in Wanaka. Most people over the age of 65 were fit and healthy, but the issue was what happened when they became ill or needed a hip or knee replacement.

Of the 72 people interviewed, eight said they had no-one to call on in the event of an emergency.

mark.price@odt.co.nz