A sea­son to eat, drink and be less lonely

Shared meals found to ben­e­fit young and old in bat­tle against iso­la­tion, writes Brit­tany Keogh.

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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