A COTA survey of more than 7,500 older people looks at the impact of social connections on health and wellbeing.

People aged between 50 and 60 are more likely to be lonely than older groups, according to a survey of more than 7,500 people .

Karen Appleby

The 50+ Report 2021 – Connections and Community, released by COTA NSW this month, looked at the impact of social connections on the health and wellbeing of older people who are living in the community.

The report is based on more 7,500 older people from NSW and a series of online focus groups during October 2020.

It found that people between 50-59 experienced the highest levels of loneliness and disconnection.

Challenging assumptions

COTA senior policy officer Karen Appleby, one of the report’s authors, says the results challenge societal assumptions that people aged 75 and over are more likely to feel lonely compared to younger groups.

 “We found it was actually younger people in the 50-60 year group that were feeling lonelier and not as connected to their local communities,” she told Community Care Review.

“There’s that assumption that it’s that older group (that’s at risk of loneliness) but by far and above it was that younger age group.”

Ms Appleby said this could be explained by the younger group being worried about employment, facing mortgage worries and possibly also caring for older children or ageing parents.

In comparison, older groups may have had more time to adjust to lifestyle changes.

Community connection

However, Ms Appleby says it’s positive that overall the survey shows a high level of community connection among those questioned.

Sixty-six per cent of people aged over 50 thought positively about their local community and 85 per cent felt safe in their neighbourhood.

“We actually found most old people feel connected to their communities in most ways and they felt safe,” she said.

“There’s lots of assumptions that older people don’t feel safe but it was really clear that they did.”

The report said the results confirmed the benefits of having a range of easily accessible community facilities or businesses, as well as transport options and good walkability, with well-maintained footpaths.

 Forty-six per cent rated the walkability of their area – including footpath coverage, maintenance of paths, safety and accessibility – positively, although those over 70 were more likely to be dissatisfied with the quality of paths in their area compared to younger cohorts.

Sixty per cent did some sort of volunteering which also provided an opportunity for social interaction in the absence of paid work. Sport, community groups, places of work, clubs and education were others.

Source: COTA

Implications for home care

Ms Appleby says the findings underscore the importance of older people being able to remain in their communities.

“If there’s the ability for older people to stay at home, with the right services to support them to do that, of course it’s going to be better for them to be able to see friends and family, attend social groups, go to the local shops,” she said.

“Its really to maintain all of those things and being socially connected can be a prevention against dementia, so the longer people can have that support to stay in the community the better.”

Among the report’s recommendations are funding the state government’s Reducing Social Isolation for Seniors grant program to 2031, taking initiatives to improve walking and cycling networks and looking at implementing an on-demand bus and coach service.

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