Professor Stephen Neville
One in three New Zealanders aged 55-plus reported being lonely. Social isolation and loneliness are associated with poorer mental and physical health, and all-cause mortality. And the fallout poses significant health burdens for individuals, communities and services.
In New Zealand, 15 percent of the population is aged 65-plus. By 2034 that figure is expected to reach 21 percent, with significant growth among the oldest old, aged 85-plus, and indigenous groups.
This research draws from an initiative of Silverline (UK), a free 24-hour helpline for older people across the United Kingdom. Silverline’s telephone friendship service, which matches older people with trained volunteers for a weekly chat and generates 10,000 calls a month, was successful in alleviating loneliness. And studies have evidenced its positive impact on primary healthcare in the UK.
A similar pilot project by Silverline’s New Zealand counterpart highlighted the need for a local response.
Stephen Neville, Professor of Wellbeing and Ageing at AUT, says the solution needs to be tailored to New Zealand’s bicultural context.
“By drawing on the experiences of our external partners, incorporating Mātauranga Māori, and utilising the AUT Centre for Active Ageing and AUT Centre for eHealth, this innovative research project will co-design a uniquely local response,” says Neville.
“It will prototype health and social solutions for Māori and culturally diverse older people, which could then be customised to address loneliness across all generations”.
The research will be led by Professor Neville – Director of the AUT Centre for Active Ageing and Head of Department (Nursing) at the AUT School of Clinical Studies – who brings a strong clinical background in gerontology to the project, as well as research interests in the health and wellbeing of marginalised communities, men’s health, and health workforce development.
The project has been awarded $400,000 from the AUT Health Futures funding scheme.