There are existing policies aimed at improving the wellbeing of older people, influenced by the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy and the Government’s 2013 publication, “Older New Zealanders: Healthy, Independent, Connected and Respected.” The research participants added their suggestions.
What is available now?
New Zealand Superannuation (NZS) is available to all New Zealanders at age 65 (provided the residency criteria are met). It is not income tested and recipients can continue to earn through employment, self employment or other income-generating activities. This allows older people to choose independent living and to continue to contribute to their families and society.
SuperGold card. New Zealanders receive a card automatically when NZS or a Veteran’s pension is granted. This card gives discounts from businesses nationwide and allows free public transport (local bus, train and ferry services) during off-peak hours.
Other policies funded by the government, local bodies, private or charitable organisations provide benefits and support services for vulnerable or at-risk older people. These include health services, care, housing and transport after a needs assessment, which takes into account income, self-care ability and available social support.
Suggestions for new policies and practices that would help older people living alone
(contributed by the interviewees)
Accessibility/Transport. Make public transport more accessible; plan for growth in the use of mobility scooters; make it easier to access Total Mobility vouchers.
Home maintenance. Build more low maintenance, single person houses with small garden plots; provide more volunteer services for home maintenance; integrate new technology in housing, e.g. alarms, lighting, heating. “Smart homes” provide people with control, even at a distance, to lock doors, control lights, turn appliances on and off; encourage lifelong design principles for all public sector and community housing projects.
Help with finances. Provide advice on budgeting, managing finances and the Enduring Power of Attorney; subsidise electricity and gas rates for the winter months; make it easier to report financial abuse and increase protection from scams.
Being prepared for an emergency. Most of the emergencies that older people experience are health emergencies, but there may come a need for evacuation, such as after a flood, fire or earthquake. Civil Defence and Neighbourhood Support can help and local fire stations can visit older people at home to install smoke alarms, check existing alarms/put in new batteries and help make an escape plan; government agencies should not just consider older people as “vulnerable” but as a resource – they are a calming presence in serious emergencies, as shown in Christchurch (see my blogs on fire safety and the Canterbury earthquake impacts).
Health and Nutrition. Doctors need to be friendlier and communicate clearly with older people, writing down instructions to avoid miscommunication (some people said it was difficult to understand their doctors because of foreign accents); include hearing and eye tests in regular medical checks; provide more support to older people after discharge from hospital – an example is the Waikato DHB’s Specialist Treatment and Rehabilitation Team (START); increase fall prevention measures, including home safety audits.
Social connectedness and social support. Provide more information about social clubs, interest groups, voluntary work, counselling groups; develop programmes/courses for those starting to live alone (e.g. after widowhood or separation) and courses on new technologies; encourage local cafes to have a regular ‘senior’s hour’ for morning tea/brunch. This links closely to accessibility/transport. The Age Concern Accredited Visitor service involves volunteers visiting older people who are largely home bound and isolated.
Blog readers may have further suggestions, which I would really like to hear about.