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Fighting loneliness and isolation with friendship

If you ask 79-year-old Carol Inglis and 78-year-old Carol Jackson, the power of friendship among older Australians is a force to be reckoned with.

Besties Carol and Carol (Source: Benetas)
Besties Carol and Carol (Source: Benetas)

Since meeting over dinner as mutual residents at Benetas’ Corowa Court Aged Care Apartments in Mornington, the two Carol’s have been helping each other to live, not just exist.

Their unique and inspirational bond is one of many within the Benetas community that have spurred a new campaign – ‘Benetas Besties’ – to acknowledge the importance of friendship and the link between social connectedness and emotional health.

“I came in here and met this old chook, who makes life worth living,” Mrs Jackson says.

“We think the same way, say the same things and share the same sense of humour.

“I think we’re keeping each other alive.”

Since forming their friendship, the delightful duo can often be found spending their time together tending to their apartment’s garden, sharing a meal together, buzzing down Main Street on their matching scooters or even hosting weekly exercise classes and coordinating fortnightly puzzle competitions.

Mrs Jackson says the friendship the two women have is something they are extremely grateful for and adds that it makes a significant difference in day-to-day life.

“We just know we’ll see each other and cope with whatever comes,” she says.

“I wish everybody here could have that.”

Benetas Chief Executive Officer Sandra Hills says the campaign was developed to recognise the special bonds formed between older people who have met in residential aged care and the important benefits it has to their wellbeing.

“Besties like the ‘Carols’ in Mornington are so special because they prove that life doesn’t end just because you’ve entered residential aged care,” she says.

“These ‘besties’ are as active and as involved as ever, spending their time investing in and enriching the Corowa community.”

Celebrate Ageing Director Dr Catherine Barrett says the impact of friendship, like that seen in the Carol’s, and social connection, is of great importance when it comes to the wellbeing of older Australians.

“Friendships and social connectedness provides pleasure in life,” she explains.

“It has the capacity to allow people to share stories and laughter – it gives us joy and love.”

The lack of this, though, she says, has the capacity to do the opposite.

“Research backs up that older people are vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation and while some people may be happy to live more isolated lives, for the majority isolation makes them feel lonely and I think that human contact is a powerful force in ageing and ageing well,” Dr Barrett says.

“These negative feelings impact people physically just as much as they do mentally and I think Mrs Jackson is really right in saying that a positive friendship like the one she has with Ms Inglis is helping keep them alive.

“We see it all the time – one person, a partner, child, someone significant, dies and the other person who is left wills to not live themselves.

“Without that connection people lose the will to live – it just goes to show that emotions and connection have an extraordinary impact.”

Dr Barrett says she is thrilled to see that friendships, like that shared by the Carol’s, are being acknowledge by an aged care provider.

“I think it is interesting and fabulous that this is being recognised in residential aged care facilities,” she explains.

“So many people talk about ending up in aged care with people they normally wouldn’t choose to live with or be around, and to see this movement to promote the friendships fostered in these homes, that are meaningful and give people reason to live and make life worthwhile, is just great.

“I couldn’t encourage older people enough to get involved and out and about where they can.

“We also need to work on asking them to be more involved in our communities and developing more age friendly communities.

“Recognising the impact of friendships in older people living in aged care is about recognising what is fully human and good on them!”

The ‘Benetas Besties’ campaign was launched during the 2017 Seniors Festival and celebrates the friendships formed between residents at 13 of the providers aged care homes.

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