Coronavirus: How to help lonely elderly during COVID-19 crisis

New Zealanders are being urged to reach out to elderly people in their communities, as stringent coronavirus measures leave them at even greater risk of isolation and loneliness.

New Zealand's new alert system for coronavirus, when at level two or higher, requires that Kiwis over the age of 70 stay at home as much as they can.

But while charity Age Concern supports the measure, it's worried that loneliness will become a major health problem for what is already a disproportionately isolated group.

"Research demonstrates that 20 percent of people over 65 experience loneliness and isolation, and that the impact of this on their wellbeing is severe," Age Concern's Auckland CEO Kevin Lamb says.

"The detrimental impact in elderly equates to the impact of heavy smoking, alcoholism and obesity."

Lamb says feelings of isolation and loneliness usually increase slowly as people age, due to loss of mobility and confidence. However the rapid spread of COVID-19 - and the associated measures the Government has introduced - have fast-tracked this normally gradual process.

As a result, Age Concern says now more than ever is the time to reach out to elderly people in our communities.

"Call them, Skype them, check in on them daily. Be a friendly and welcoming voice in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety," Lamb says.

"It is crucial at the moment that we unite to support one of the most vulnerable and at-risk groups in our community."

Age Concern is putting its 900 volunteers to work across Auckland, with the charity offering welfare checks and practical support to its members.

What you can do to help the elderly during COVID-19

  • Reach out to older people you know, call them for a chat and ask if they need any help to run get groceries or medication. A daily call will lift their spirits while house-bound.

  • Put a note in elderly neighbours' letterboxes with your contact details, with the offer of help if they need it. That way they can call if they don't have any family or younger friends nearby.

  • Contact your local Age Concern and register to help the clients they work with who need extra support. They can then link you with an older person in need of help or a friendly call.