Putting ‘community’ into community aged care

social connections and loneliness

Who is responsible for reconnecting older people to their community or social networks when there are limited family or friends to help?

I ask this as a result of a recent article which showcased the work of Wellbeing Enterprises, a winner of the Health & Social Care award at the UK Social Enterprise Awards 2016. Wellbeing Enterprises works “help people find things that make them smile”.

In this article the story of Mike is told and how they worked with Mike an avid cyclist, whose dementia was worsening, to build a community of support with a local cycling groups to pick him up and be taken him home after every cycle journey.

While Wellbeing Enterprises are not specifically working with older people they are consciously building networks and communities to support wellbeing as a social enterprise.

My belief is that a similar focus funded and supported in aged care would go a long way to build better health outcomes and community connections.

question-mark-blue-circle_gkuou8l__lWhy bother

There has been extensive research and evidence that demonstrates the impact of ageing, social isolation and loneliness on health outcomes and longevity. Rather than regurgitate this here I will leave you to review some of the ‘additional readings’ below.

As a community we have  accepted the argument that connections and community building have benefits. For example in Western Australia we have public health programs like “Act Belong Commit” that encourages social connection and contribution to support positive health outcomes.

What more can be done

So if we accept that there are benefits from building and supporting such networks then we should have mechanisms to establish and foster them?

The evidence on the impact of social isolation and loneliness and related work led Aged and Community Services Australia to identify some priority areas for action in their 2015 paper ‘Social Isolation and Loneliness’

  • Introducing interventions as part of a wider strategic approach;
  • Targeting specific groups of older people;
  • Using existing community resources;
  • Using volunteers to run programs;
  • Using targeted and tailored approaches;
  • Involving older people in the planning, delivery and evaluation of programs.

A problem shared

problem shared problem halved

Some might argue that this is a shared responsibility of the ‘community’, but being a practical person I want to know ‘who’ should do this where no one naturally steps into the void?

How do we as a community address this need?

What would be welcomed is an Australian Government response that recognises and presents a coordinated policy framework that brings together multiple programs and activities and actively supports social connections as a valuable service option in aged care.

Existing Aged Care Options

The existing Community Home Support Program Manual makes no specific mention of the role of providing social connections and building social supports for eligible clients but does allow funding to “participate in community life” through the ‘Social Support – Individual’ service type with the following direction:-

CHSP Manual social support individual

Positively they go on to say

“Funding must be targeted at supporting older people to participate in community life.”

But is this enough guidance and is it constrained by the earlier examples.

Do we need social support ‘connectors’ in community aged care?

Following on from the work of organisations like Wellbeing Enterprises does community aged care need to invest in social support connectors – services that identify and connect individuals into their community and networks?

What next

The late Adele Horin urged us to consider loneliness as a national health priority back in 2013 – alas, little has been done since then. Perhaps as demographics shift this issue will gain more momentum.

Interestingly the Victorian Government in its report ‘Ageing is everyone’s business’ identified as its first priority the need for an integrated and coordinated response.

So lets advocate for a national policy framework that guides and supports active participation in community life for older people who have become ‘disconnected’ for whatever reason.

Additional Reading

About the author – Helen Attrill, MBA

Hi, Just a bit about myself – I have over 26 years as a leader in the aged care and not for profit sector and have led the successful implementation of significant sector, profession and organisational change.

If you’re struggling with some aspect of change management or need help with non-profit management then maybe I can help please feel free to contact me by emailing me at helen@helenattrill.com.

To find out more about my work visit Meet Helen page.