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Older Australians are invited to evaluate the government’s answer to isolation

<p>How does loneliness impact older Australians? [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

How does loneliness impact older Australians? [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • The risk of premature death associated with social isolation and loneliness is similar to the risk of premature death associated with well-known risk factors, such as obesity
  • Australia lacks comparable data on loneliness that would allow for reliable international comparisons
  • Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme volunteers have access to training that provides an understanding of advocacy services available to the aged care recipient

 

A team of researchers will conduct a study for the Department of Health and Aged Care to assess and address social isolation and loneliness among older Australians and their peers.

People aged 65 years or older will be able to evaluate the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme, which sees volunteers visit older people to provide friendship and companionship.

The ACVVS — previously known as the Community Visitors Scheme — is intended to improve quality of life through personal visits. Researchers will evaluate whether it meets its goals for all stakeholders, including recipients, volunteers, service providers and the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Monash University research has already revealed that lonely Australians aged 65 and over feel ‘abandoned,’ ‘rejected’ and ‘left to die.’ They also face increased dementia and cardiovascular disease risk.

Previous studies have found that older people may feel that loneliness is just a part of ageing, but when asked whether they still felt lonely in the context of isolation being related to age, lived experiences varied.

Longitudinal data has shown that one in five older Australians feel loneliness, especially those aged 75 and over. That increases for older people living in aged care facilities, where it is estimated that between 35 to 61 percent of residents feel lonely.

Survey lead and Monash University epidemiologist Dr Rosanne Freak-Poli said older people at risk of loneliness and social isolation included those living in care homes or alone and those with health problems.

“We hope to evaluate the benefit of social activities and how they can enhance the well-being of aged care recipients generally,” Dr Freak-Poli said.

 

“The results will identify their social needs and provide evidence needed to minimise social isolation and loneliness in later life.”

 

Latest government information has revealed that the ACVVS providers are available in all Aged Care Planning Regions, except:

  • Kimberley — WA
  • Mid-West — WA
  • Pilbara — WA
  • Wheatbelt — WA
  • Indian Ocean Territories — WA
  • Flinders & Far North — SA
  • Central West — QLD
  • North West — QLD

 

Under Subsection 82-1 of the Aged Care Act 1997, ACVVS is only available to recipients of an Australian Government-subsidised Home Care Package and recipients of an Australian Government-subsidised residential aged care facility.

This study will also consider improvements for diverse groups such as First Nations and LGBTIA+ communities, people from culturally diverse backgrounds and those living in remote or rural areas.

Evaluation lead and Monash University technology and ageing sociologist Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves said the study was an opportunity for people to have their say and improve government programs. 

“We know that socialising helps our health, well-being and quality of life,” she said.

“Early focus groups told us that the ACVVS is extremely beneficial for recipients and volunteers, but needs wider support to reach more lonely and socially isolated older people.”

The survey, which takes approximately 25 minutes to complete, is available online and researchers have hoped to track survey participants’ experiences over the course of three years, with a round in early 2024, late 2024 and again in 2025.

 

Researchers have suggested the following tips to eliminate loneliness and improve an older person’s quality of life:

  • check on your neighbours, especially if they live alone and particularly during festive seasons and public holidays;
  • engage in meaningful conversations;
  • involve them and show that you value their opinions
  • stay connected — either online or through the use of technology;
  • help them to forge new connections with those who share similar hobbies or passions, from programs in public libraries to requesting a volunteer visitor.

 

How do you combat loneliness? Have you got the spare time on your hands to become a volunteer visitor in aged care or do you need someone to talk to? Let the team at Talking Aged Care know. Subscribe to the newsletter for more information, news and industry updates.

 

To participate in the survey, visit the consent and participation portal.

 

Related content:

Unlocking global talent to fill critical gaps in Aged Care workforce

What older Australians want out of the new Aged Care Act

Australia’s first look at the new Aged Care Act

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