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Friday, December 8, 2023

AMCS competition winners helping ward off loneliness with creative and imaginative ideas

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Australian Multicultural Community Services (AMCS) has been working to tackle loneliness in the community, awarding two cash prizes to members of the community who have come up with some promising strategies to mitigate the condition.

It comes as the condition is presenting more and more in Australians young and old, with research finding that one in four Australians experiencing loneliness at least once a week.

As Aged Care News has reported, loneliness is an underrated epidemic that can lead to serious, debilitating consequences for a person’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Whilst the condition can contribute to the worsening of depression, anxiety and paranoia; sustained loneliness has also been shown to increase the prevalence of major acute conditions such as heart attack and stroke, as well as chronic conditions like asthma, migraine, osteoarthritis, hypertension, back pain and tinnitus.

Elizabeth Drozd, chief executive officer of AMCS, tells Aged Care News that those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are especially at risk of developing the condition.

“CALD elders are most at risk of social isolation because of illness, disability, family or friends living far away, the passing of a spouse, language barriers or a lack of emotional connection with others,” she says.

Elizabeth Drozd, chief executive officer of AMCS, says her organisation is focusing on ways to reduce loneliness as CALD elders are at a heightened risk due to their cultural and often physical isolation from friends, family and community.

Competition winners provide inspiration for program development
AMCS has awarded $500 and $200 to a winner and runner-up, respectively, for their ideas that will be developed into future AMCS programs to ward against the risk of loneliness developing amongst their client-base.

First prize winner

Brian Edwards, 62, took out the first prize of the competition, with his idea involving the creation of ‘biography packs’ to be distributed to senior Australians at risk of social isolation.

Looking to retire in five years, Edwards says after reading of the competition in an Australian Senior’s Card newsletter, he contemplated the effects of isolation for those who are well into their retirement.

“I suspect the lack of diversity in one’s life could, in part, actually lead to a degree of isolation and potentially hopelessness – even in some cases despair – as to the value of themselves as a person,” Edwards says.

His idea includes the creation of a website, available for public viewing, where older Australians could submit their life stories with the community, “thereby giving dignity and value to the participants”.

His suggestions for participating older Australians would include sharing details such as:

  • Origins of the/your Family
  • Religion
  • Epitaph/remembrances of Mother and Father
  • Early remembrances
  • Early school life
  • Childhood home/s
  • What you loved doing as a child
  • Later schools .. achievements
  • Interactions with siblings 
  • Early working life
  • Leaving home/country
  • Career choices
  • Visits back to home country
  • Courtships
  • Marriages
  • Houses
  • Children
  • Work
  • From then/there to now
  • What life has taught you
  • What is most important to you
  • What do you believe
  • Regrets and triumphs

“Upon completion I would be hopeful that those that do complete their story, possibly with AMCS volunteer assistance, would then help others to tell their story. Hopefully friendships and understandings are gained,” he says.

Second prize winner

Second prize was awarded to Chandani Ramasundara, a development and support worker for Playgroups ACT, who documented the success of the Canberra-based intergenerational playgroup she has been helping facilitate for more than six years.

The program, which involves parents taking their children aged up to five years old for two-hour meetings each week with a group of older Australians, has provided amazing benefits for all parties involved, such as:

  • Encouraging friendship across generations
  • A reduction in the feelings of isolation associated with ageing
  • Fostering understanding and building respect between generations
  • Seniors sharing parenting knowledge and experience with the young parents  

“ACT Playgroups staff have witnessed many benefits to all involved and beautiful bonds formed during these playgroups,” Ramasundara says.

“Intergenerational playgroups are a vital opportunity for parents, children and residents in aged care facilities or seniors in the community to engage in childhood activities together; create opportunities for children to further develop their skills; parents to create a local peer support network; and provide isolated residents and seniors vital community interaction.”

Ramasundara notes that in order to develop a successful intergenerational program, participants should come to the table genuinely ready to learn from each other and engage with each other.

“Families choosing to attend these playgroups are choosing to come along as they have a desire and wish for themselves and their children to have real and meaningful connections with residents – many of these families don’t have grandparents or other older family members in Canberra and want that connection.

“The research shows the benefits, but it takes time, effort, structure, and support for this to happen.

When done right, as seen in her time facilitating Playgroups ACT, Ramasundara notes a “magical” resolution of loneliness and depression.

“… the connections [are] so phenomenal that there isn’t a dry eye in the house.”

More about AMCS

Australian Multicultural Community Services provides support to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) elders through a range of services and programmes.

Their volunteer visitor program is another popular service, which successfully aided CALD seniors in overcoming the risk of isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find out more about how AMCS can assist a CALD elder in your community, click here.

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