‘Whole-of-community’ approach needed to address social isolation among seniors

A new report has highlighted the importance of an integrated community response, including that of aged care services, to address social isolation and loneliness among older people.

A new report has highlighted the importance of an integrated community response, including that of aged care services, to address social isolation and loneliness among older people.

The research, conducted by Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour, has found that social isolation and loneliness have significant detrimental impacts on both the mental and physical health of older people, including mortality rates.

The report, Ageing Is Everyone’s Business, is based on a literature review, discussion groups with seniors and stakeholder engagement. It identified that approximately 10 per cent of Victorians over 60 experienced chronic loneliness at any one time, with causes often linked to trigger events such as the death of a partner, living alone or a move to a new location.

Among the report’s recommendations were greater opportunities for older people to participate in community life in ways that were meaningful, valued and addressed ageism. This included as a priority the development of partnered local initiatives to strengthen service responses to socially isolated older people, and the building of age-friendly communities.

Given living alone was identified as key risk factor for social isolation, Mr Mansour said that the aged care policy push towards supporting older people to remain in their homes needed to include opportunities for social engagement.

However, he said the report also had implications for residential aged care, as a move to care could often lead to people becoming disconnected from social networks.

“There is a sense that you can be lonely in crowd; the fact that people are living in a communal situation like residential aged care doesn’t automatically mean that issues of isolation and loneliness won’t arise,” he told AAA.

Validating a social approach

Mr Mansour said that while residential aged care rightly had a strong focus on quality of care, this report was a reminder of the importance of social engagement to quality of life.

In particular, he said that the research validated the focus on lifestyle programs within aged care settings, and emphasised their continued importance into the future.

“It means a lot in terms of quality of life for people to continue to able to do things that give their life meaning and purpose,” he said.

However, Mr Mansour said the research also identified that social isolation and loneliness, especially when associated with ill health, could impact upon older people’s confidence. It was important that professionals such as aged care staff recognised this and used lateral strategies to encourage people to continue with activities they enjoyed.

Aged care can identify those at risk

The report highlighted the important role of aged services, as well as other health and community services, as a channel for identifying and reaching out to older people at potential risk of social isolation and offering a pathway to support and information.

“There is enormous opportunity within this broad range of services to provide much clearer and effective pathways and referrals to improve personal resilience and reablement, and to meet social and inclusion and participation needs,” said the report.

For example, one group who were identified by the research as at high risk of social isolation and loneliness were family carers. Mr Mansour said it was “critically important” that providers, when offering home care or respite, also explored the needs of caregivers.

Government response

In response to the report, the Victorian Government has launched the Age-Friendly Victoria Initiative, with aims to promote inclusion of older people, and support services, businesses and communities to better plan for the needs of seniors. The government has also signed a declaration with the Municipal Association of Victoria to establish age-friendly communities.

You can access the full report here

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Tags: gerard-mansour, loneliness, social-isolation,

2 thoughts on “‘Whole-of-community’ approach needed to address social isolation among seniors

  1. Aged care and aged care services are fragmented and centrally controlled. People fall through the cracks. This centralised approach is unsuited to community services.

    On our web site we have suggested the creation of local community aged care focused groups to be involved in and have control of aged care services in each locality and integrate them. They would support the vulnerable in each area to ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks and have the power to protect themselves (or be protected) in what is now a free market in which they are vulnerable and easily exploited. Government and important projects like this would work through or in close cooperation with these community groups who would already be working in the community and closely with seniors.

    There is growing evidence that community services work best when the community is directly involved and plays a key role.

  2. I work in community development for a local Western Australian Council. We see a role for local government in assisting with linking individuals and groups in the community to other groups, activities, programs and events of interest. Local government community development teams are a resource holding a wealth of knowledge about what is happening in the community across the demographic spectrum. We have a great working relationship with service providers, support groups, government agencies and businesses that deliver services and products to seniors. I agree it is a whole of community issue and working collaboratively will provide the best range of solutions.

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