'Look after the elderly this Christmas'

'Look after the elderly this Christmas'

People are being reminded to remember elderly people in their community this Christmas, with loneliness being linked to major health issues.

The Salvation Army says more can be done to help elderly people suffering from loneliness over the festive season.

Getting together and having Christmas lunch may seem like a regular thing for most but for some elderly people, it can be a challenge.

Lunches held in the lead-up to Christmas are getting more common, as elderly loneliness is increasingly acknowledged.

"They get to have camaraderie over their Christmas lunch, which a few wouldn't do, they usually would be sitting in their flats by themselves on Christmas day," says Denise Eggers from Mt Wellington Charitable Trust.

For some, it's the only Christmas celebration they will have.

"We don't have trouble filling the seats so that's an indication they really do appreciate it," says Ms Eggers.

Lunches see people come from the community, as well as from local rest homes.

"The problem with getting old is that you lose friends to make new friends," says Alan Verrall from the Mt Wellington Charitable Trust.  

Research shows that loneliness can increase the risk of death, similar to the health risks posed by obesity.

In the UK they're trying to raise awareness of elderly loneliness around Christmas time.

In New Zealand the Salvation Army is busier than ever – its Senior Services team have been wrapping presents so that elderly living alone in the community at least have a little gift to open.

"There is a very large element that doesn't look forward to Christmas," says Kath Johnston from Senior Services Co-ordination.

Ms Johnson says many elderly simply don't have anyone to share Christmas with.

She says the biggest issue is with elderly men, who if they lose their partners, can easily become reclusive.

Ms Johnson says more should be done in society to help elderly around Christmas but admits it's hard to change the emotional side of things.

She hopes with more awareness, more elderly can have a social and happy Christmas.

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