A suite of approaches designed to create meaningful social connections for older people is the key to addressing the serious issue of social isolation, Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Rajna Ogrin has said.
The Institute will bring together researchers, policy-makers, health and aged care industry representatives and community members at a Symposium on Social Connection in Older Age to be held at Victoria Park, Herston on 4 April.
Presenters will include Professor Cath Haslam, from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, whose significant work around social connectedness and health includes the Groups 4 Health intervention.
Lone person households in Australia are predicted to grow from 2.1 million in 2011 to close to 3.4 million in 2036.
In Queensland, about 10 per cent of people over 65 are socially isolated and an additional 12 per cent of older Queenslanders are at risk of social isolation.
Professor Haslam said research showed people who are lonely – experiencing unwanted social isolation – are at heightened risk of experiencing depression and may have a reduced life expectancy.
However, the health benefits of any social interaction depending on the strength of the connection achieved, which related in part to shared interests or experiences that could create a bond.
“Groups 4 Health aims to give people the knowledge and skills to develop meaningful, positive relationships that are going to protect their health in the longer term,” she said.
“Where relationships are positive and add meaning to a person’s life is where the benefits to health and wellbeing will emerge.”
Dr Ogrin said one problem with creating social connection programs was the tendency to “lump older people together”.
“We think of older people as aged 65 and above, but people are living into their 100s so we have a 40-year spread of people with different health needs, different backgrounds and emotional needs,” she said.
“What we are finding is that no one program meets everyone’s needs and so we are going to need to develop a suite of activities or different approaches that will help people connect with the community in a way that is suitable for them.
“Older people are more vulnerable and women living by themselves, for example, tend to lose their social connections as they get older.”
Dr Ogrin will also present at the Symposium around her work with older women living alone, while other speakers include Dr Genevieve Dingle, whose projects include the Live Wires Choir with retirement residents, COTA Queensland CEO Mark Tucker-Evans and Mark Bunting from the Men of League Foundation.
To find out more and register to attend, go to https://www.boltonclarke.com.au/symposium