As a Baby Boomer, chances are you know the importance of friendship and being social as you get older. Whether it’s catching up with a friend for coffee or having a chat with a mate over the phone, these interactions can not only provide you with something to look forward to, but a useful support network and shoulder to lean on when times get tough. For our parents who are even older, it’s also important for them to feel valued and maintain a social life for their health and wellbeing.
According to research by Aged Care Report Card, there are links between loneliness, psychological distress and poor wellbeing, with the outlook and overall mood of older people greatly impacted by being lonely and isolated. These people are known to present in emergency departments because of lack of social interactions or simply because they don’t cope with being alone. In many cases, it’s not due to a medical problem. Lonely people are 60 per cent more likely to access emergency services than people who aren’t lonely, and are twice as likely to end up in an aged care facility.
If that wasn’t enough, an 80-year-old study conducted by Harvard University has found maintaining happy and close relationships with friends, family and the community can help people live both happier and longer. The study claims good relationships are actually more influential than social class, IQ or even genetic makeup when it comes to living longer, healthier and happier lives. Other studies have also shown that certain cancers, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s are some of the health conditions that can be reduced when strong social ties are maintained.
“This is often a time that’s otherwise characterised by loss,” Brotherhood Aged Care case manager Alice Hodges explains. “People are experiencing a loss of mobility, possibly loss of employment if they retire and then through that, it can be a loss of income.”
Through her work, Alice finds it’s people with an active social life that seem to enjoy life more because it provides them with a welcome distraction from other challenges they’re facing such as pain, illness or anxiety.
One of the clients she works closely with is Maria. The pair have shared a long-term relationship over the years, with Alice, the Brotherhood case manager offering not only support, advocacy and information resources which help Maria to live independently, but also banter, a listening ear and regular activities for her to feel comfortable in.
Alice notes Maria faced difficult challenges earlier such as caring for her late husband who had Parkinson’s and dementia, but being social and sharing a laugh with her carers and others in the community now gives her a purpose.
“If you don’t have that social activity, you’ve really got nothing in your life,” Maria says. “Your family grow up and they move on. They’re busy and have their own lives and children, so you’ve got to make a life for yourself.”
For Alice and the Brotherhood team, it’s important for clients to remain social and participate in group activities that reflect their passions. For example, Alice has two clients in their 90s who are passionate about art, so she helps them attend weekly art groups where they can develop their passion and increase their self-esteem in a social setting.
“I look at those two and see them as absolute success social stories because they’re social integration has a foundation based on their interests in art,” she says. “That’s another kind of situation we support – trying to support people and direct them socially in an area that’s an interest to them or in an area that they wish to develop a skill.”
Brotherhood also offers an array of group outings through their Social Connections program to help clients maintain a thriving social life, while one-on-one outings can also be arranged for those who don’t cope as well in group situations.
“We try to foster a sense of belonging to Brotherhood because it’s a time when people are challenged in terms of feeling that they belong in society,” Alice notes.
As for Maria, she hopes more people learn about the benefits that can come with care at home and realise that living alone doesn’t mean being lonely.
“There are so many people who don’t know anything about these places and I know of people personally who are struggling to cope on their own because they’ve never heard of the Brotherhood and other organisations,” she says. “If somehow the word could get around a bit more and people could take advantage of what’s out there, like me, they’d be so much happier.”
For Alice, the joy in her job is helping older people remain social and happy in their later years.
“I can’t stress how important it is and how critical it is to wellbeing and longevity of life,” she says. “We don’t also just want to live long lives, we want to live lives that we enjoy, that we feel we have purpose.”
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