The Connection Prescription: The Transformative Power of Social Activities in Aged Care

Monday, 29 January, 2024

The Connection Prescription: The Transformative Power of Social Activities in Aged Care

In a study spanning nearly two decades, researchers unveiled compelling evidence that frequent socialising may significantly extend the lifespan of older individuals. The results, garnered from an extensive longitudinal study, revealed a remarkable delay in time to death — 110% for those who engaged in social activities at least weekly, compared to a less substantial 42% for those who only socialised occasionally.

While acknowledging that other factors may also contribute to life longevity, the data serves as a beacon of encouragement for those dedicated to promoting an active and social lifestyle among the elderly.

“It’s encouraging because it’s not always easy to get residents participating in activities. They may have limitations with their mobility, they may be introverts, or they may just believe they won’t enjoy that day’s activity,” says TriCare Ashgrove Lifestyle Coordinator, Regalyeda Pearsall.

“But as the data shows, an engaging lifestyle program is just as important as medication management or doctor visits.”

To address participation challenges, Regalyeda reveals she employs strategic approaches to engage residents, recognising the substantial benefits to overall health that participation brings.

Simple strategies, such as offering residents roles in managing or setting up activities, empower them to take an active role in their community. Additionally, involving loved ones in activities provides familiar faces, boosting confidence and enhancing the sense of connection for residents.

TriCare, a residential aged care provider, incorporates a variety of social activities into their homes, with programs unique to each residence based on preferences and feedback.

“Each one of our residences have a completely different lifestyle program,” explains Pearsall.

“We gauge our residents’ interests, and that can be greatly influenced by the cohort’s social and cultural backgrounds. But across the board, we find our social events the most popular. The activities where residents get to enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed, casual setting.”

The importance of staying engaged and finding joy in everyday life for good mental health cannot be overstated. By participating in communal gatherings, celebrations, and sharing stories, residents forge bonds that nourish the spirit and foster a sense of connection.

TriCare incorporates an update on a resident’s participation into their communications to family, finding it just as important as sharing clinical updates on their health.

And longevity of life isn’t the only benefit of social engagement; a varied lifestyle program can also greatly improve quality of life. Similar studies carried out within ageing populations also noted that frequent social interactions, monthly or weekly, can greatly reduce the risk of dementia or other cognitive impairments.

For the elderly in residential aged care, a sense of belonging is particularly important. Having spent a lifetime maintaining their own home, family, and community, many struggle with the transition.

Creating an atmosphere of belonging through friendships within their new community is not only beneficial, but also, one could argue, essential to their health.

With dementia the second leading cause of death in Australia and an all-too-common illness for those 65 and over, it’s important to look at all prevention pathways. Loneliness has been found to increase the risk of developing dementia by as much as 20%. Therefore, the opposite could be said of those with regular opportunities for interaction and even companionship.

Reflecting this awareness, Regalyeda emphasises, “TriCare’s lifestyle program is more than just a ‘nice-to-have’; it’s seamlessly woven into our care program, an essential extension that enhances the overall well-being of our residents.”

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