Fighting the Loneliness Epidemic

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Article by 

Alicia Renfrew

WHAT IS LONELINESS

Loneliness is a growing epidemic impacting seniors across the country. 1 in 4 older Australians are lonely, which greatly impacts their physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. This is more likely to lead to depression, anxiety, and chronic illness. They are considered significant health and wellbeing issues in Australia because of the impact they have on peoples’ lives.

It affects people from all walks of life. It’s a feeling of distress when people do not experience social relationships in the ways they would like. It causes a feeling of social isolation, which is different from feeling alone. Social isolation is seen as the state of having minimal contact with others. Some definitions include loneliness as a form of social isolation while others state that loneliness is an emotional reaction to social isolation. The two concepts do not necessarily co-exist. A person may be socially isolated but not lonely, or socially connected but feel lonely.

Research suggests that loneliness is highly stigmatised. Those affected are reluctant to talk about their experiences of loneliness. Some worry it is a sign of personal weakness and how they will be judged by expressing their feelings. This makes identifying people at risk of loneliness and social isolation more challenging. Part of the challenge in reporting on social isolation and loneliness stems from a lack of information about these experiences. This is coupled with a lack of universally agreed upon definitions.

We need to form meaningful connections with others. Loneliness may be a sign that a person’s relationships are inadequate or don’t meet their needs or expectations. Research has found that loneliness is related more to the quality of the relationships, rather than the quantity. A staggering 30% of Australians do not feel part of a group of friends. A person experiencing loneliness feels their relationships are not meaningful and they are not understood by others,

COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT ON SENIORS AND CARERS

Some of the measures implemented to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, such as physical isolation and lockdowns, have potentially exacerbated pre-existing risk factors for social isolation and loneliness, by limiting human contact and connection, or removing it altogether. In surveys undertaken since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, just over half (54%) of respondents reported that they felt lonelier since the start of the pandemic.

The pandemic has seen carers experiencing a decline in psychological well-being, concerns about their own personal health and well-being, with increased practical and logistical concerns, and reduction, withdrawal, or suspension of the care recipients’ key support services. This has resulted in increased social isolation, lack of information, added challenges with daily activities and overall heightened stress levels.

In addition to an increase in the number of hours of care provided, carers also said they were needing to take on different types of support than before. The lack of respite supports was a common reason carers gave for their decline in their wellbeing. This highlights the considerable negative impact the pandemic has had on our carers health and wellbeing, which exacerbates pre-existing risk factors for social isolation and loneliness.

TO THE RESCUE

We know that isolation and loneliness is a huge problem for this community. We recognise the impact this has not only on seniors themselves, but also their caregivers. Our organisation’s foundation is based on our mission, which is to use the power of connection to relieve isolation and loneliness for Australians. We are a non-profit organisation that has been specialising in community connection for 49 years. That’s why we develop and deliver cutting edge social connection programs – to improve the lives of others, to engage our communities and build happiness and confidence in our seniors and their carers. Thats why we have built a community where everyone feels valued and comfortable to join in and connect on their terms. We have the experience, capabilities, and passion to create a community that provides connection, enjoyment and belonging.

As leaders in connection, we are positively enhancing the lives of older Australians who are vulnerable to loneliness and isolation. Our Social Connection Programs are designed to connect seniors to volunteers, their peers, friends, family, and their greater community, using the power of digital technology.

Our programs are developed with both the carer and participant in mind and have proven very successful in providing much needed, additional support for our carers, as well as the people for whom they are caring. Carers have found the programs hugely beneficial not just for themselves, but also the people they care for. Our programs enable carers to improve the level of care they provide, by offering additional resources to support the participant to create other meaningful, social connections, whilst also providing the carer with much needed support and valuable time to be able to carry out other activities in the home, or even just some welcomed rest.

SPECIALISED PROGRAMS

These programs are open to seniors in specific aged care planning regions in Australia. Our specialised programs are designed for participants and volunteers to connect, learn, and enjoy. We are a Connecting Community that delivers experiences for participants and volunteers that are enjoyable and inclusive. We connect people together, creating a place they feel valued, comfortable and can belong. Our simple technology and easy to join specialised programs allow you to completely connect to the community, whether it’s connecting with individuals, groups, or family and friends.

Our programs are funded by various government grants including the Commonwealth Home Support Program and the Federal Community Visitors Scheme. They are completely free for the participant; however, some eligibility conditions apply. If the participant does not meet our funding criteria, we will always be happy to refer them to a similar service funded in their specific area.

  1. Turn your device on
  2. Get comfy in your favourite chair
  3. Your volunteer connects the call to your device; you see their smiling face on the screen.    

PROGRAMS – COMFORTABLY CONNECTED 

Learn new skills, gain knowledge and confidence using technology with our supportive learning programs. Find enjoyment in discovering new interests, revisiting favourite activities, and coming together for special events. We have a diverse range of specialised programs and activities delivered through our easy-to- use digital technology. We are a thriving community offering something for everyone. All you need to do is join in. You can play bingo, the ultimate online trivia, or be whisked away on a virtual adventure with others, or if you prefer to have a virtual visit all to yourself. Would you rather see a smiley face in person? You can join our face to face program, where you can share stories, memories, and experiences with your volunteer over your favourite cuppa.

Interested in learning digital skills? Our learn2tech program has been designed to teach you anything and everything about the digital landscape. All you need to do is choose your topic and join in with your very own, dedicated Digital Mentor. We empower our community by providing the tools, support, and skills to give people the freedom to connect on their terms. Each participant is provided with a digital tablet on loan. The tablet is specially programmed with easy-to-use software and a mobile internet connection built into the device (via a SIM card). This enables each participant to access the this community, even if there is no internet connection at home.

NOW IT’S TIME TO JOIN

The Inclusee community is a place where people can make new connections and revisit old ones. You can learn new skills, and find enjoyment in activities, interests and events. Our goal is to increase inclusiveness and connection by creating a community. We aim to deliver experiences for participants and volunteers that are enjoyable.

You can connect with us by calling 1800 287 687 or visiting www.inclusee.org.au 

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In Need of Support?

Carer Gateway is an Australian Government program providing free services and support for carers. Call Carer Gateway for support and access to services, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm local time.

Assistance with accessing emergency respite is available any time, 24/7.

1800 422 737 

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