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Improving health through social connection

Improving health through social connection

A new program using an innovative social prescribing model to improve wellbeing is already making a difference for older people in Glen Eira, Victoria.

Connect Local, launched this week and led by Bolton Clarke Research Institute, uses a co-designed community-wide social connection model to improve health and wellbeing for isolated older people in the South East Melbourne Primary Health Network area.

The project works with GPs, clinicians, service providers and The Alfred Hospital to link older community members with existing social and wellbeing activities.

Local resident John Gibson was among the first to use the project when it kicked off earlier this year.

“My wife died about six months ago, she had been sick for a long time and I had to look after her,” he said. “Once she died I had nothing to do, I was lost -I didn’t have a clue what to do.

“I just happened to see at the bottom of the page in the local paper something about Connect Local, so I thought I’d fill in the form online and see what happened.

“I was surprised to get a phone call the next day. The key benefit has been mixing with other people – before Connect Local was there I was going for days without speaking to anyone, I was really quite lonely.”

Fellow local Loraine Fabb also made the call when she was feeling lonely and bored.

“I always think of myself as being such a strong, independent cuss – I don’t need anybody and I can always do it for myself,” she said. “But with COVID it was very very tough, devastating even – I was alone and I felt it.

“Now I’m doing an Indian cooking class and possibly setting up an acting class. It’s a matter of feeling wanted, feeling that I have a place again, I have something to do, I have a purpose.”

Bolton Clarke Executive General Manager At Home Support Deidre McGill said research shows clearly that loneliness is associated with poorer health outcomes.

“This is why it is a focus of our work to connect people and help them age well,” she said.

“Connect Local is a program to address the gap between the health and social systems, providing practical supports and linkages to local community services and activities.

“Trained community connectors spend time with community members to identify meaningful goals and a personalised plan to address their non-medical needs and improve their overall wellbeing. The connectors then follow up to make sure the supports or activities are making a positive difference.”

Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Rajna Ogrin said at any one time up to 150,000 Victorians aged 65+ experienced chronic loneliness, with meaningful social networks an important protective factor.

“An intersectoral approach including individual, group and societal level interventions is needed to support healthy ageing and reduce loneliness,” she said.

“Effective solutions are more likely to be found in social rather than clinical contexts.

“Social connection through social prescribing is one way of addressing these non-medical needs that can affect people’s wellbeing.”

Dr Ogrin said in the short-term researchers expected project participants to experience a measurable reduction in social isolation, loneliness and depressive symptoms and improved social connectedness and mental, physical and social wellbeing.

“Longer term we would expect to see a reduction in avoidable emergency department presentations, unplanned hospital admissions and length of stay,” she said.

“Ultimately we would expect the program to be implemented in other communities throughout Victoria and Australia to provide the supports that older people need and want in an ongoing and sustainable manner.”

Connect Local is funded by The Ian Potter Foundation. For more information or to sign up visit