Loneliness is the most pressing issue facing elderly people in New Zealand, according to a senior citizen centre in Christchurch.
RadioLIVE's Morning Talk host Mark Sainsbury recently launched a petition on change.org urging the Government to create a champion for the elderly, after receiving an email from a listener who said residents in some rest homes were restricted to two showers a week, among other shocking revelations.
"We call on the Government to create a champion for our elderly to ensure they receive the respect and care they deserve in all aspects of their lives," says Mr Sainsbury's campaign page.
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- UK appoints Minister for Loneliness
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton told The AM Show on Wednesday he agrees elderly people in New Zealand need to be given better care, as he reflected on other countries that have already introduced commissioners for older people.
"The UK has recently put in a Minister for Loneliness," Mr Templeton said.
"Certainly from my perspective of what we see from Age Concern Canterbury, loneliness is the biggest issue facing older people today."
He said if New Zealand wants someone who is a champion voice for the elderly, we need to look to successful voices that have succeeded in other areas. Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft, for example, has "done a brilliant job" at "making sure we're all aware of what those issues are," said Mr Templeton.
Age Concern Canterbury delivers an elder abuse response service across all of Canterbury and the West Coast that's driven out of the Office for Seniors and comes directly from the Seniors Minister Tracy Martin, said Mr Templeton.
However, he admits New Zealand could do better to protect elderly, particularly around loneliness which "absolutely does" kill people.
"There are studies that have been done - we know that loneliness is as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and it's more dangerous to your health than being obese."
"Age Concern Canterbury has a whole team that work to socially connect older people - but there's always more that can be done and I don't think it has a strong enough focus in policy and a strong enough awareness in our community."
Mark Sainsbury notes on his petition page that the Children's Commissioner advocates for protecting the rights of children, so where is the advocate for elderly?