A visitor is just a phone call away
Long-term loneliness carries a similar health risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, so Age Concern has started a service in New Plymouth to visit the elderly.
Age Concern's AVS (accredited visiting service) began in New Plymouth six months ago, but has been running longer in South Taranaki.
Research carried out in Britain shows that loneliness is a risk factor for physical and mental health problems, including cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression.
As well, poor nutrition in the elderly raises blood pressure, increasing stress and creating daytime fatigue.
AVS co-ordinator Shelly Spurling said that people who were lonely or without strong social connections went into rest homes earlier and were likely to die sooner.
Loneliness was detrimental to people's health and could have a profound effect on someone's life.
The service visited between 30 and 40 people in Taranaki, Spurling said.
There were about 25 visitors who saw two clients a week.
Sometimes they visited the client's home, and at other times they went shopping or for walks.
"All sorts of things to address social isolation and loneliness in our older people."
The service was free and there was a huge need for it, Spurling said.
"Often family live in Australia. Often the family are elderly themselves and they are in different towns in New Zealand. Often older people don't want to be a burden to their families, they don't want to disturb them because they are busy."
The more the service was advertised and the more people that heard about it, the more referrals the service was getting from different groups and organisations, including GPs, she said.
However, people did not need to be referred and could just call Age Concern.
Taranaki Daily News