Isolation among elderly

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JOHN.COSGROVE@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

No bus, no taxi, no way out of home.

A rising tide of isolation among the elderly was a key talking point during recent local transport discussions led by the Clutha District Council.

Many attending a fortnight ago spoke of knowing both vulnerable elderly — and younger — people stuck at home due to the absence of suitable transport systems in the area.

Balclutha resident Val Callanan, in her 80s, illustrated the problem.

Mrs Callanan still managed to drive, but believed if she failed a medical or eyesight test she would be in trouble.

“If I don’t pass then I am stuck,’’ she said. ‘‘I have friends here but I don’t want to have to rely on them or keep asking them to take me places, as I don’t want to be a nuisance.”

Either a taxi or bus service locally would be enough to fix the issue, she said.

Fellow Balclutha pensioner Shirley Tomkinson, also in her 80s, had never had a driver’s licence, but said she had many good friends who took her out regularly.

However, when she had medical appointments to get to, things could become stressful.

“I hate depending on others.

‘‘The taxi service ended in March so we have to rely on others now to get to doctors appointments, shopping and to the bank,” she said.

When she arrived in Balclutha in 1957 there was a bus service, but now there was none.
A sole taxi service had also lapsed recently.

“All we want to do is maintain our independence; your family can help out but you don’t want to be a nuisance.

“I would be OK if a bus or van service could come once or twice a day or week — then we could all plan for it and get out of our houses.”

Retired freezing worker James Sinclair (59) said he knew only too well what loneliness was all about.

“I live here alone, but when we had the taxi I used it a lot for appointments and food shopping,’’ Mr Sinclair said.

‘‘Now I have to ring through my order and pay for it online and they deliver, but I see no-one.

“I’m so isolated as I can’t go out any more.’’

Without assistance from several agencies and a daughter, he would be in ‘‘serious trouble’’.

He believed the council should provide a van service to help the elderly and disabled. “After all, we pay our rates, and what do we get for it?”

Jenny’s Companions co-ordinator Jenny Cameron ran a taxi mobility book for 15 years before the ORC replaced it with an eftpos-style card.

It died with the demise of Balclutha’s only taxi service earlier this year.

“I had over 150 individuals on my books in Balclutha who depended totally on the service for their transport needs.

“The lonely and needy are out there, many . . .leading very lonely lives,” Mrs Cameron said.

“They hide in their shells but they all want to get out; when you meet them they are so excited that someone has visited.”

She said the population was getting older in Clutha.

“Many are becoming withdrawn and very depressed.

‘‘I know Covid-19 affected us all but it hurt the elderly much more.

“People are encouraged to stay longer in their houses before applying to a residential care facility, but sadly loneliness is a fact of life for many.”

› Next week: A final article in this series will take a closer look at possible solutions to some of the problems faced.