Social inclusion among older Australians is immensely important, not only for mental wellbeing but physical health as well.
In fact, a cuppa and a chat with likeminded peers can even keep the doctors at bay.
“There’s lots of empirical evidence that says the more socially included you are, the better your health outcomes are,” Dr Samantha Clune, a researcher from LaTrobe University’s Australian Institute of Primary Care and Ageing, says.
“And in older people, there’s a reduction in avoidable hospital admissions.”
Clune says there isn’t really a sufficient understanding of what social inclusion means for people in residential aged care or which parties are responsible for it, and there are currently no performance measures based on social inclusion for the sector.
Clune and her team of researchers hope to see this change however, through their project Scoping Social Inclusion Opportunities and Desires for Older People Living in Community and Residential Care Facilities.
“The aim of this project is to create a better understanding of what social inclusion is for older people in residential aged care, how we might achieve that for them and how we might provide a degree of governance around that, so that care facilities understand their responsibilities, and across all levels of government as well, so there’s adequate funding and appreciation for the importance of it,” Clune explains.
The research is ongoing, but Clune says some consistent themes have been picked up in the data so far.
“Essentially, in terms of social inclusion, it’s not actually what they do, it’s who they do it with,” she explains.
“It’s not the activity, it’s the doing and the anticipation of the doing.”
And rather than seeking a best friend, participants were simply looking for opportunities to be around others who cared about and understood them.
This finding was consistent for those in residential aged care as well as those still living in the community.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be a grand occasion, it can just be sitting around have a cup of tea reading the paper with each other,” Clune says.
“But it’s important to have those options, and primarily it was about feeling like people are seeing you and that you’re not an invisible bod.”
Clune and team members Deirdre Fetherstonhaugh, Jo-Anne Rayner, Linda McAuliffe, and Sandra Cowen will continue their research with hopes of completing the project in November.
The mixed methods study has so far involved a survey sent to all of the listed residential aged care facilities in Victoria, as well as interviews and focus groups.
In the coming months, Clune says the researchers will be working to make sure their sample is truly representative of the Victorian community.
“At the moment we’re trying really hard to recruit culturally and linguistically diverse groups, as well as socio-economically isolated groups,” she says.
“We’re trying to make sure that we get everybody’s voice including the voice of people who are not often heard in this kind of research, that is, people who are homeless, people who don’t speak English as a first language…”
“And culturally and linguistically diverse groups, it’s important to understand what works for them.
“There is an assumption across the community that social inclusion is generally family driven, well is it? And what is the carer burden for the families?
“Is that actually the truth or should we explore that a bit more so we can provide assistance?”
Clune is thrilled with the participation so far, especially amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, and says the study wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Department of Health.
“Because we’re trying to create performance measures, having that kind of governmental buy-in is crucial to our project.
“So we are appreciative of that, [and] we’re hoping that we’ll get some kind of broader impact as well.”