Research suggests elderly across New Zealand living in domestic squalor

New research suggests there could be more than 1000 people living in severe domestic squalor across the country - and a great deal of them are older.  

A preliminary survey of Age Concern organisations and councils revealed nearly all have dealt with cases of extreme living conditions in the past 12 months.  

Black mould, rotting food, animal faeces and no running water was just some of what were discovered inside an elderly man's Taranaki home.   

The house was assessed in 2020 as having third-degree squalor - and he was moved into residential care. 

Retired public health specialist and lead author Jonathan Jarman said the problem is more widespread than people might think.  

"There are probably between 1000 and 2000 people living in severe domestic squalor in New Zealand, and this survey backs up that sort of perception," Dr Jarman told Newshub.   

Thirteen out of 31 Age Concern organisations around the country took part in the survey.  

Nearly all of them said they had been involved with clients living in severe domestic squalor in the past 12 months.  

There could be thousands of elderly living in conditions like this around the country.
There could be thousands of elderly living in conditions like this around the country. Photo credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, 15 out of 67 territorial authorities were surveyed - nearly all reported involvement with people living in extreme conditions.   

"Triggers might be death of a partner, it might be a stroke, it might be reduced mobility because of arthritis or something like that, and there can be psychiatric conditions [like] dementia," Dr Jarman said.  

And the problem's expected to worsen.  

"Because it does tend to be more common in older people, with our aging population it's likely to become more common," he explained.   

It's a concern, given the health and safety risk.  

"We're talking about severe self-neglect," Dr Jarman said. "If there are medical conditions a person often doesn't seek treatment. 

"If they fall over, they may not be discovered for a long period of time and another risk for these people are fires."  

Age Concern said it's not surprised by the findings and agrees a multi-agency approach is needed to put a stop to it.  

"It's not just the responsibility of the local authority... but actually having a response that all of us are working together," Age Concern chief executive Karen Billings-Jensen stressed.