Call for focus on older NZers

Photo: ODT files
Older New Zealanders bore the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic and 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.

The vast majority 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, Prof Parr-Brownlie said.

"Most kaumatua [older people] have been stoic and resilient.

‘‘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 older New Zealanders and more research was needed on 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, piecemeal health service delivery."

Life expectancy for Maori was about seven years shorter than for other ethnicities.

The projected growth in the number of New Zealanders aged over 65 over the next 20 years is greater for Maori (130%), Pacific (120%) and Asian (190%) ethnicities than for Pakeha (50%).

"These population changes have been projected for decades, yet they are rarely discussed," Prof 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 New Zealand residents moving into retirement villages were older and more frail.

"The number of older Maori 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 Maori and Pacific needs are underestimated and culturally appropriate services are limited and hard to access."


Add a Comment