The discovery of a 64-year-old Sydney man’s body in his Department of Housing apartment a year after he died has prompted calls from seniors groups for more measures to monitor older people who live on their own.
Council On The Ageing (COTA) Executive Director, Dr Geoffrey Bird said there is a need for a nationally coordinated system of courtesy calls for isolated seniors.
He told Australian Ageing Agenda that telephone services to check up on older people exist in some states but they are limited in their scope.
“The NSW Government said it was going to do something along those lines back in 2006 but nothing much has happened,” said Dr Bird.
“Maybe we need a Federal push to give a bit more momentum to this idea.”
Dr Bird said a national telephone service would not impose “huge costs” and added that other informal initiatives could be carried out for free.
One possible idea is a campaign to get mail officers to raise an alarm if they notice someone’s mail is not being collected.
“People go on holidays from time to time of course, but posties see older folk and sometimes get to know them and they would notice if they stopped collecting their mail,” said Dr Bird.
National Seniors said in a statement that the incident in NSW demonstrates a lack of connectedness in the community and urged people to check on their older neighbours.
“Many older Australians find themselves socially isolated when they retire or their spouse dies,” a spokesperson for the organisation said.
“It doesn’t take much to pop over every now and then to say hello and see if your neighbours are all right.”
Both groups stressed that as the population continues to age, the issues of loneliness and isolation are only going to increase.
Dr Bird said this is partly because older people often withdraw as they become less mobile because they don’t want to be seen as a burden on others.
But he also said there are many opportunities for older people to be involved in the community.
As part of a project that aims to encourage mature-aged workers to re-enter or remain in the workplace, COTA is investigating the possibilities for older people to work with younger people as formal and informal carers and mentors.
Dr Bird also drew attention to an existing Canberra-based program in which older people who have worked in the building industry are working on a part-time basis in hardware stores to mentor younger workers.
“They just move around the store with them, giving advice and helping them out,” he said.
“It gives these people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and it gives them a bit of kudos as well.”