Seniors Rights Service has commissioned the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) to undertake exploratory, qualitative research with the aim to support a focused examination of the factors, dynamics and effects of isolation experienced by older people in New South Wales as well as a consideration of the status of older people’s rights in this context. This research also aims to reflect the challenges identified by Seniors Rights Service, in connecting with older people who are experiencing isolation and who require services and support.
Social and geographical isolation
Isolation is a risk factor for elder abuse. The Australian National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study showed that lower levels of contact with family and friends was associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing elder abuse. Social and geographical isolation are of concern due to their impact on the wellbeing of older people.
Social and geographical isolation can be experienced separately or together.
Social isolation is an objective lack of connection and interaction with social networks, which can include family, friends and community.
Geographical isolation is marked by logistical and practical barriers to an older person’s connection to and active participation in the community. These barriers may be:
- related to limited transportation
- cultural and linguistic
- cognitive or related to other impairments.
Geographical isolation also affects older people’s access to:
- Health services
- Financial services
- Social and community services
- Legal and dispute resolution services
How is isolation experienced by older people?
- The findings indicated that experiences of isolation are characterised by ageism and social stigma around the ageing process.
- In previous research, older people have reported a tension between social isolation and the desire to maintain independence, which can reduce connection with others.
- The literature also showed that gender plays a role in experiences of isolation, with women more likely to engage in socially connecting activities than men.
- A lack of local opportunities, information and age-friendly infrastructure are barriers to engaging in the community.
- Interviews with service providers suggested that limited service capacity and accessibility to services in regional, rural and remote communities compounded the social isolation experienced by older people.
- Some service providers observed that geographical isolation exacerbated experiences of social isolation for older people.
What factors give rise to isolation?
- Family conflict
- Caring responsibilities
- Illness, reduced mobility, cognitive or other impairments
- Cultural and linguistic factors
- Lack of access to technology
- Low self-esteem
- Challenges such as those related to COVID-19 restrictions
- Stigma associated with the ageing process
- Socio-economic disadvantage and housing and financial stress
- Lack of access to services and community infrastructure
What are the effects of isolation on older people?
Our findings showed that the effects of isolation on older people were typically multiple and related to each other, including:
- poor personal or self-care
- decreased mobility
- decreased mood and memory
- apathy and reduced participation in previous areas of interest
- poor diet
How can we improve services and supports to meet the needs of isolated older people?
- Use formal screening tools to measure geographical isolation and develop connections in communities to identify isolated older people.
- Improve the usability of the My Aged Care portal for older people seeking support.
- Improve support for health care providers (such as general practitioners) to identify isolated older people.
- Councils and organisations to provide a sense of community and inclusion for older people