District aiming for ‘age-friendly’ status

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The Waitaki District Council has received funding to develop an action plan to make the Waitaki District an “age friendly” community.

The $9940 grant from the Office for Seniors will go towards addressing issues raised in a 2017 senior survey conducted by Grey Power, Age Concern Waitaki and the Safer Waitaki Coalition, to make the district a better place in which to grow old.

Key issues raised in the survey were a lack of public transport, waiting lists and travel required to get to appointments with health specialists, and financial difficulties to meet every day needs.

Waitaki District Council community development co-ordinator Helen Algar said Waitaki, along with the rest of New Zealand, had an ageing population whose needs must be catered for.

According to data from Statistics NZ, the share of people aged over 65 in the Waitaki district has grown from 20.5% in 1996 to 26% in 2018. By 2043, it is predicted that more than 31% of Oamaru’s population will be aged over 65.

Ultimately, Mrs Algar would like the district to get age-friendly accreditation from the World Health Organisation.

At present, Hamilton and Tauranga are the only New Zealand cities to have such accreditation.

To get there, Waitaki would need to better adapt its structures and services to the needs of an ageing population.

“An accreditation would be the icing on the cake, but more importantly for us is that we are age-friendly for our community,” Mrs Algar said.

Age Concern Otago executive officer Debbie George said something often overlooked was the effect of loneliness.

“They call loneliness an epidemic and its negative health impacts are up there with smoking,” Ms George said.

There was a correlation between a lack of transport options and loneliness, which was more common now there was a thrust for people to age at home, she said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said he wanted the district to be a friendly place for everyone young and old.

“In the same way we want it to be family-friendly, we want it to be age friendly as well, so everyone does feel very welcome here,” Mr Kircher said.

Providing public transport was a difficult challenge in such a large district, but community vehicles had been successful where they had been implemented, he said.

“We will continue to keep looking at the situation and see whether there is justification of more [public transport options].”

Housing was also an issue in the district for all ages and the council had commissioned a task force to look at possible solutions, Mr Kircher said.

“Do we need more? How do we get more? Those are the questions we are asking,” he said.

“There is more we can do across the ages and we will keep looking at opportunities to do them.”