Family relationships are very important for older people. Those with happy relationships have the highest level of wellbeing. For many older people, their spouses or partner are the most important person in their life – as a result, widowhood can be a difficult experience of older age.
Children are also important and adult children can be a source of friendship, support and care. Like parents, siblings can provide life-long relationships. Grandchildren or mokopuna are often described as a ‘gift’. In some cultures grandparents pass on traditions, rituals and languages to their grandchildren. Many older people research and publish their family history, often to pass it on to younger generations.
Many grandparents value spending time with their grandchildren without the worry of constantly caring for them, though some of them may become the main caregivers for their grandchildren. This may occur at the same time as older people are caring for their elderly parents.
Some older people like to gift money and valuables to family members and others close to them. This may take the form of bequests on their death, or the transfer money or assets to the next generation before they die.
Friendships are also very important to older people, who like to spend time sharing their life experiences with others. Deaths of friends are sad events. As older people age it becomes more difficult to meet and make new friends. Isolation and loneliness are problems for many who live alone or where transport is not easily accessible. It is also a problem for older migrants who have few family members in New Zealand, or those not very familiar with the English language or the local culture.
Informal social groups and special events help older people maintain contact with others and ease loneliness. Examples include kaumātua and kuia social events for older Māori, school reunions, the Red Hat Society for older women and annual cultural festivals such as Matariki, Diwali and Chinese New Year. It is not unusual for those over 65 to find another partner (perhaps on the internet), or for weddings to occur between rest home residents.
Many not-for-profit organisations, such as Age Concern, provide facilities for older people to meet and socialise with each other. Most New Zealand communities have social groups for older people – Returned and Services' Association, community houses, on the marae, workingmen's clubs, Rural Women New Zealand, and religious organisations. Such groups are increasingly aware that social connectedness among older people is important to avoid loneliness, and for their continued wellbeing.
Acknowledging older people
Encouraging and maintaining the involvement of older people in the community is the aim of the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy administered by the Ministry of Social Development. One of its goals is to encourage positive attitudes towards older people. In the 21st century many younger people and children attend Anzac Day commemorations, acknowledging the contributions older people made in their overseas war service.
Voluntary work and unpaid caring
Older people spend a lot of time volunteering. A survey published in 2009 found that over one-third volunteered for a group or organisation over a four-week period. The most popular forms of voluntary work were with community service and sports organisations. Many older people hold leadership positions in the community, particularly in service organisations, religious groups, sports clubs, and women’s and Māori organisations. Older Māori men and women are important leaders and mentors within iwi and hapū.
Many older people care for their spouse/partner or other family member at home, which often limits their own interests and activities (and income) outside the house. Caregiving among older people is an unpaid and often under-acknowledged activity – around 20% provide some form of care, mostly to a spouse/partner, or parent, friend or child. The most common forms of support older people give in a caregiving role is shopping for groceries, preparing meals, transportation, laundry and managing money.
Leisure and recreation
Participation in leisure and recreation activities creates a high level of wellbeing. A 2013/14 study found that the 10 most popular sport and recreation activities enjoyed by people aged 65-74 were walking, swimming, cycling, fishing, equipment-based exercise, golf, bowls, dance, pilates/yoga and tramping. A similar range of activities was enjoyed by people 75 and over. 76% of 65-74 year olds and 59% of those 75 and over did at least one activity during the week. In the LiLLACS NZ study which interviewed a cohort of New Zealanders living in advanced age, almost all Māori had been to a marae in the last twelve months (82%).
A time-use survey in 2009-10 found that older people spent as much time on mass media activities as other age groups – 5 hours a day. They spent the most time doing housework, personal care and buying goods and services.
Older people also spend time eating out, going to arts or sports events or taking educational classes. Rest homes and retirement villages usually have a bus which takes the residents for day outings to special events or to an interesting location. Some rest homes have activity days which non-residents can attend. This helps the residents to keep in contact with people and activities in the local community.
Some older people have the time and money to visit family overseas. Many have overseas connections – in 2013, a quarter of those over 65 were born overseas, around half in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
Older people also communicate by telephone and various forms of social media. Many learned computer skills at work, while others have attended classes for older people or learned skills from their children or grandchildren.
Recent research has found that half of Māori in advanced age are comfortable communicating in Māori, and have a complete understanding of their tikanga – correct procedure or protocol within a Māori cultural context. There was no significant difference between Māori men and women in understanding tikanga.
Most older people hold a driver's licence and continue to drive during their older years. Drivers' licences must be renewed (accompanied by a special medical certificate) at ages 75 and 80, and every two years after that. Increasing numbers of those living in urban areas drive a mobility scooter. Access to free bus services using their SuperGold card, means that older people often use public transport during the day.
International Older Persons’ Day is celebrated on 1 October every year, often as a community event providing information for (and about) older people, or as a social event with dancing, story-telling and music. Every two years the New Zealand Masters’ Games are held, which attract many athletes over 65, including former Olympians. The event is New Zealand's largest and longest running multi-sport event, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019. In 2017 Auckland hosted the World Masters’ Games. There were 25,000 participants who competed in over 28 sports, with organisers labelling it the most successful games in its 32 year history.
Wedding anniversaries are important events and a cause for celebration with family and friends. Older people are honoured at their 100th birthday with a congratulatory letter from Queen Elizabeth II (New Zealand’s formal head of state). In 2013 there were 558 people in New Zealand aged 100 and older. Twice a year, New Zealanders are recognised with royal honours for their contribution to the nation or their local community. A large number are older people.