A recent article in The Press highlighted the issue of “social isolation” in the elderly in Christchurch. The article estimated that at least 7000 elderly people in Christchurch are living in chronically lonely conditions where they sometimes don’t see people for days.

This issue is not isolated to Christchurch. Depression in the elderly is in the top five for mental illnesses in New Zealand according to the Mental Health Foundation.

I believe one of the reasons for this is that the close relatives of elderly persons seem to congratulate themselves if they don’t put their family member “in a home”. A stigma that is a hangover from the resthomes of 30 years ago still exists around aged care, and relatives who otherwise keep their distance alleviate their guilt over neglect by boasting that they’d never do the “unthinkable” and send a loved one to a resthome.

Yet, in the majority of cases that I’ve seen, what family members are really doing by encouraging an elderly relative to live alone and “independently” is sentencing them to the social isolation and chronic loneliness that has been highlighted as a problem in Christchurch.

Elderly people living alone in the community might get a visit from a relative once a week if they are lucky, but generally it’s less than this. They might get a phone call twice a week from a caring son or daughter, but what happens for the rest of the week? Sometimes nothing. Imagine days going by before having any meaningful contact with the outside world – this is a reality for many elderly people living on their own.

There are obvious health and safety concerns with an elderly person living on their own, such as the risk of taking a fall or not eating properly. The bigger concern though, is that we are creating an epidemic of loneliness and neglect in a sector of the population that is growing all the time and living longer.

As The Press article points out, elderly persons don’t want to be “tacked on” to their families. They want to live their own independent, sociable lives, with dignity. Modern residential facilities for the elderly afford exactly these opportunities. Residents get to live as independently as they wish to while still living in community with people who are at a similar stage of life to them with similar interests and goals. They also have access to healthcare, hot cooked meals and other support services as they need them, and there is always someone looking out for them and checking in on them.

This village living approach is a far superior alternative to the isolated, so-called “independent” living that is causing misery and heartache for up to 10 per cent of the elderly in New Zealand according to Age Concern.

It’s time we woke up in this country and stepped up to the needs of our aging population, which are only getting ever greater. Out of sight, out of mind is an unacceptable attitude to have towards the elderly. By bringing aged persons into community living, we are giving this group in society a new lease on life and a chance to enjoy their golden years, and this is what they deserve. It is the way a caring, compassionate society should treat its elderly – with dignity and respect, not with indifference and neglect.

About Brien Cree

Brien Cree
Brien Cree is the managing director of Radius Care, which has over 20 aged care facilities across New Zealand. With more than 20 years’ experience in the aged care and rest home property sectors, Brien has an in-depth knowledge of the market and issues affecting the elderly. As a former rest home owner/operator, Brien understands the industry in terms of acquisition, development, financing and day-to-day operational management. He genuinely cares for the elderly and the issues facing this demographic, and is passionate about providing the very best residential care services for New Zealand’s ageing population. Brien is also a board member and spokesperson for the New Zealand Aged Care Association and he frequently comments on a broad range of topics relating to his sector.


  1. Avatar
    Simon Templeton CEO Age Concern Canterbury

    interesting point of view – I was wondering as I read who the author was – and then was unsurprised to read at the end that it is someone in the aged care sector.
    every study of ageing – going back to the 2001 positive ageing strategy clearly shows that most older people want to stay in / age in, their own homes.
    the RVA has said in a presentation that I was at in Christchurch that the 2 major reasons older people go into retirement villages is 1. feeling insecure (unsafe from crime) and 2. loneliness.
    While some cant ‘age in place’ due to health issues – isn’t it a sad commentary on society that our response to older people who feel unsafe or lonely is to ask then to move from their homes!
    there is another way – Age Concern Canterbury works with the NZ Police to dispel the media driven crime myth which fuels fear of crime, and we invest a lot into socially connecting older people.
    all we need is for others to invest in this also.

  2. Avatar

    I would like to see more retirement villages offering a rental option so those of us who are not so well-off can enjoy the lifestyle and security that these villages offer.

  3. Avatar

    I agree that elderly people should be treated with dignity and respect, however moving to a retirement village is not within everyone’s budget. Some people also choose to remain at home for as long as possible, it isn’t necessarily their families encouraging them to this this, it may be their personal choice.