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Older New Zealanders bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic shows more attention will need to be paid to their needs in future, an Otago researcher says.
University of Otago scientist Associate Prof Louise Parr-Brownlie is also director of the Ageing Well National Science Challenge, one of the country’s 11 national science challenges.
The pandemic disproportionately affected older New Zealanders, who experienced the strictest social distancing guidelines, as well as suffering from the disease, she said.
Most of the 22 people who have died as a result of Covid-19 in New Zealand were aged over 70.
Older people were sometimes portrayed in a negative light, as there was an emphasis on their vulnerability.
“Most kaumātua (older people) have been stoic and resilient," Prof Parr-Brownlie said.
"They nonchalantly share that they have survived worse and they will get through this as well. They weren’t complaining about not getting takeaways, needing a fancy coffee or wanting to party with friends. They are getting on with life and things that really matter.”
But Prof Parr-Brownlie, who has a special interest in Parkinson's disease, said care needed to be culturally safe and equitable for all older New Zealanders and more research was needed about that.
The number of older adults in New Zealand is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Research about older New Zealanders was fragmented, she said.
“A significant risk is that the research on the health and wellbeing of older New Zealanders could fall between priorities, leading in turn to unco-ordinated, piece-meal health service delivery.“
Life expectancy for Māori was about seven years shorter than for other ethnicities.
The projected growth in the older New Zealand population (aged over 65) over the next 20 years is greater for Māori (130%), Pacific (120%) and Asian (190%) ethnicities than Pākehā (50%).
“These population changes have been projected for decades, yet, they are rarely discussed,” Professor Parr-Brownlie said.
“For example, we need more residential care facilities. We need flexible and responsive policies that allow families to support, and later care for, their older members in the way that they want it.”
Preliminary findings from a recent study funded by Ageing Well found that New Zealand residents moving into retirement villages were older and frailer.
“The number of older Māori and Pacific people living in retirement villages and aged residential care is disproportionately low – the majority of residents are currently of European descent. This disparity means Māori and Pacific needs are underestimated and culturally appropriate services are limited and hard to access.”