Above: Director of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning, Professor Andrew Beer
By Yasmin Noone
Right now, researchers know and understand the causes and effects of social isolation on the older population. But thanks to an Australian-first study, in over three years time researchers will also know what to do to combat the problem.
The Australian Research Council has awarded the University of Adelaide (UoA) a $348,000 grant to investigate what social isolation programs work, what don’t and why.
The three-year study will involve around 900 older Australians, five aged care providers– Benetas, Anglicare SA, ECH, IRT and Silver Chain Nursing Association –the Council on the Ageing Queensland (COTAQ), Queensland University of Technology, University of Melbourne, Curtin University and King’s College London.
Chief investigator and director of the UoA’s Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning, Professor Andrew Beer, said the nation-wide study will take into account various types of social isolation programs (high, medium and low intervention) in order to determine what the ideal service type is.
“There are a whole range of activities out there in the government, non-government and private sector that look at the issues around social isolation,” Professor Beer said. “But we don’t know if those resources are being put to good effect.
“A small intervention may be so small that it doesn’t have any impact. Or a large intervention may be so big that it puts in too many resources…
“We think that by three to three and a half years, we will be able to tell the government, industry partners and the aged care sector what works and what doesn’t, and how to fine tune programs to make them the more effective to deliver the maximum possible impact.”
Professor Beer believes social isolation is a health issue which can be fixed, which needs addressing now.
“Up to 20 per cent of the Australian aged population is socially isolated and we have a rapidly ageing population. If you are socially isolated, it will have a huge impact on your health and place a huge burden on society as a whole and the individual.
“…If, by the end of this trial, we can make sure that more people who are socially isolated get access to programs that genuinely assist them, we will consider this trial a success.”
Professor Beer said COTAQ and the five partnering aged care organisations will provide access to older clients involved in various social isolation programs, funding and staff resources.
CEO of IRT, Nieves Murray, is delighted that her organisation is involved in combating what she believes to be a “critical” health issue.
“The issues of ageing around the traditional health concerns of an ageing population like dementia are high on everyone’s agenda and highly visible but social isolation goes under the radar,” Ms Murray said.
“There is a preference for older people to stay at home and we applaud and strongly encourage that.
“But, one of the corollaries to that is that social isolation becomes more of a risk. As we support older people to remain in their own home, we have to have some mechanisms in place to address the risk of social isolation.
“Social isolation is something which we all intuitively know is an issue. With this project we are hoping to put some science behind it. You’ve got to justify that intuition somehow.”