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Lonely?

Have you ever been surrounded by lots of people, yet felt like you were entirely alone? Well, you're not the only one according to a new paper published in March 2017 by researchers at Auckland University of Technology. It suggests that even the most sociable amongst us often feel alone.

What's more, there's a direct relationship between feeling lonely and getting sick. Researchers at the University of California studied the impact of loneliness on 1,600 seniors' health. They discovered that those who were lonely became more ill and less mobile during the period of the six-year study, than those who had identified themselves as not feeling lonely at all. The mortality rate for those who were lonely was also considerably higher.

In New Zealand, statistics from the Ministry of Social Development demonstrate that loneliness is a common issue for people aged over 75 years. It often comes hand in hand with social isolation and living from day to day with not a lot of contact from the outside world.

Fortunately, living in a retirement village provides lots of opportunities to engage with others, filling the need for social interaction and greatly increasing the number of people one can rely on for help in times of need. However, loneliness itself is a more subjective state, and is defined as a lack of quality relationships. That's why sometimes, even if you are surrounded by lots of people, you can still feel alone.

For our own good health it's important we address this in ourselves and help others around us who may be at risk. The good news is that for anyone who feels they'd like to make more meaningful connections, there are a number of support groups to turn to who are genuinely willing to help.

Age Concern runs an Accredited Visiting Service, whereby a volunteer calls in regularly for a chat. And don't be thinking it's charity, the volunteers who come along get just as much out of the visit themselves! They're keen to spend time for an hour or so every week, to enjoy conversation and shared interests. For some, one-on-one meetings are more comfortable than attending group events, but for anyone who is interested, Age Concern also run a variety of regular get-togethers nationwide including lunch groups and singing clubs.

Other organisations you can turn to include the Salvation Army who run a Senior Services Programme whereby a volunteer visits to provide friendship, support, and in some cases an outing, and then there's the super-inspiring WeVisit, co-founded by Sam Johnson, Young New Zealander of the Year.

WeVisit was set up to provide meaningful jobs for young people who are passionate about their community, and keen to engage in a reciprocal arrangement to bridge the generational gap. Quite rightly as WeVisit notes on its website, fulfilling part time jobs for young people are fast disappearing, and education doesn't always teach all-important soft skills. There's so much youngsters and seniors can learn from each other, from technology skills through to wise counsel and an accepting ear.

So safe-guard your wellbeing today. Make a date with a friend or reach out and make new friends and create as many opportunities as you can to connect.

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