Company hopes to reduce loneliness for better health in elderly people

Loneliness is considered a major health threat - linked to dementia, early mortality and high blood pressure - and the UK government has now appointed a minister to tackle it.

It's a sad reality for hundreds-of-thousands of Kiwis too.

Marie Pask lost her husband 12 years ago and she misses him.

But she gets a weekly visit from 20-year-old Abbey Woods once a week for extra company, when her children are at work.

"It's nice to think that somebody cares about you, you know, she comes every week," Ms Pask said.

They met through Mycare, which helps to build connections in the community.

"It's really great," Ms Wood said. "It's given me the opportunity to get to know someone who's quite different from me.

"It's also been really good, seeing the difference that I can make in her day when I come to see her and she's always really delighted to see me, which is nice." 

Age Concern says half of Kiwis over 65 experience some level of loneliness, while almost one in 10 feel lonely all or most of the time.

But loneliness doesn't just affect older people. A Statistics New Zealand survey found it peaks in those aged 15-24 and again after 75.

Overseas, the issue was championed by British MP Jo Cox, who was murdered 18 months ago. 

Britain has now appointed a minister to continue her work.

Here, people like Mycare head of community Sam Johnson are trying to combat the problem.

"You don't fix loneliness by talking about loneliness," he said.

"You fix loneliness by building community around people, returning healthcare to being really person-centric and really enabling trust between neighbours, between unlikely friends."

Unlikely friends like Ms Woods and Ms Pask.