Elderly pass time in shopping malls to stave off loneliness

Joyce Moore, 95, is a regular visitor to Barrington Shopping Centre.

Joyce Moore, 95, is a regular visitor to Barrington Shopping Centre.

Up to one in 10 elderly New Zealanders live day to day without any interaction with others. Some older Kiwis struggling with loneliness even visit shopping centres for solace. Emily Spink and Sam Sherwood report.

When Joyce Moore, 95, gets sick of her own company, she heads for Barrington Shopping Centre.

Her husband died more than 20 years ago. Although she has a "marvellous" family and neighbours, who check in on her daily with visits and phone calls, she likes to pop by the mall for a meal, an iced mocha, scratchies and some "people watching". 

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"I always see someone I know," said the great-grandmother of 24.

Christchurch shopping centres say it is commonplace to see elderly people spend their days in the mall.

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Moore points out another elderly woman, who sits reading a newspaper by Muffin Break, as a regular cafe-goer.

"It just feels good. Everyone is friendly."

She acknowledges she is one of the lucky ones – still able to drive at 95. If she lost her licence, and independence, she would buy a mobility scooter.

"I won't be confined to barracks."

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A Westfield Riccarton spokeswoman said many elderly people came to the mall daily, either with friends or by themselves.

Some rest homes took elderly people into the mall to socialise.

"It's a safe place for them to be and they can meet other people, watch the world go by and feel like they are part of society still," the spokeswoman said. 

"I suppose it's one of the nice things about a mall . . . they can come in and feel like they are with people and don't need to be watched.

"If they do feel isolated the mall can give them some respite."

Age Concern estimated that up to one in 10 elderly Kiwis lived day-to-day with little to no interaction with others.

The Ministry of Social Development defined "social isolation" as a situation where individuals were emotionally and physically estranged from their immediate family, friends, and the community.

Age Concern said elderly social isolation was not just sad, it was a matter of life and death. 

Elderly clients regularly told the organisation's Canterbury staff that they wished they were dead, chief executive Simon Templeton said.

The chief coroner's provisional suicide statistics for 2014-2015 showed 100 out of 564 New Zealanders who died by suicide were aged 60 or over. Of those, 70 were retired or pensioners. 

In the previous year, there were 97 suicide deaths among people aged over 60.

"We have older people who will say, 'I wish I didn't wake up tomorrow', or 'I wish I wasn't here' – that's really not an uncommon comment," Templeton said.

A Barrington Shopping Centre spokesman said elderly people would often be seen walking around the mall with their friends.

"A cup of tea of a coffee at some of our cafes would be a highlight for them," he said.

"The facilities are there for them, it's therapeutic for them, they feel comfortable."


St John said demand for its free Caring Caller programme spiked after the Christchurch earthquakes and had remained static since. 

Volunteers regularly called the client as a welfare check and to offer companionship to lonely people who lived alone and needed some social connection.

There were 205 South Islanders receiving regular calls, including 100 in Christchurch. 

"Many of these people are elderly, though some are not," St John community programmes manager south Karen Horton said. 

About 215 volunteers regularly called the clients.

"They often build friendships. They also provide reminders that help with everyday life, such as reminding clients of dates for doctor's appointments or something as simple as reminding clients to put the rubbish out," Horton said.

The service was carried out anonymously. Clients and caller did not meet and did not have each others' full names.


The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

 - Stuff


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