A season to eat, drink and be less lonely
Shared meals found to benefit young and old in battle against isolation, writes Brittany Keogh.
FOR many older Kiwis, Christmas can be a lonely time of the year.
Forty per cent of Ma¯ori octogenarians and 28 per cent of non-Ma¯ori 85-year-olds who participated in longitudinal research by the University of Auckland said they were always, often or sometimes lonely.
Professor Ngaire Kerse, who led the study, said loneliness was often accentuated during the festive season ‘‘because everybody else seems to be celebrating’’.
When people had lost loved ones, their absence could be keenly felt at Christmas.
The study found loneliness was associated with poor mental and physical health. However, simply sharing ameal with someone could improve the health of older people, Kerse said.
‘‘Older people who live alone lose weight faster, and if you eat with another person, you tend to eat more calories and a broader variety of food.’’
But the post-war generation was not the only one whose wellbeing could be improved through inter-generational bonding.
‘‘Grandchildren also benefit from hanging out with their grandparents because of the transfer of wisdom and knowledge and just having a good time actually,’’ said Kerse.
She has just been appointed the university’s inaugural Joyce Cook chair of Ageing Well, a role funded by a $5 million donation from the founder of the Metlifecare retirement village chain, Cliff Cook, in honour of his late mother.
Seven per cent across all age groups of the 2200 New Zealanders surveyed for 2degrees Mobile’s #GoodChat project said they felt the loneliest at Christmas time.
But Aucklanders Jess Crosswell, 21, and Marjorie Jones, 84, weren’t among them.
Despite not being biologically related – Jones is Crosswell’s ‘‘mum’s sister’s husband’s mum’’ – the pair view themselves as Nana and granddaughter.
They got to know each other at extended family gatherings and ‘‘adopted’’ each other when Crosswell was a toddler.
They went out for coffee or lunch about once amonth and usually spent Christmas Day together.
Jones said Crosswell ‘‘keeps me young’’. ‘‘She’s taught me a lot. I think it’s important to learn from each other.’’
Crosswell said ‘‘Nana Marge’’ was good for advice and relentlessly positive. ‘‘She’s great to chat to when things are hard. I always like to go there in the weekends if I’ve had a really rough week at work.’’
Wainuiomata resident Katie Brown has just launched a social movement called Dinner Together to encourage people to share ameal with an elder or kaumatua this Christmas.
‘‘The idea was just a simple reaction to a need, which was to get people to reach out and connect with people in their communities to make sure that that feeling of social isolation is reduced,’’ she said.
People can contact Dinner Together, and be put in touch with a local branch of their Age Concern service.
‘ She’s great to chat to when things are hard. I always like to go there in the weekends if I’ve had a really rough week at work.’
DAVID WHITE/ STUFF
Marjorie ‘‘Nana Marge’’ Jones and Jessica Croswell say adopting each other as family brings benefits to both.