Social isolation refers to limited social contact and interaction with others, resulting in feelings of loneliness and disconnection. It disproportionately affects the elderly due to factors like loss of friends and family, retirement, reduced mobility, ageism, and limited access to technology. The elderly are at higher risk of social isolation as they may experience a shrinking social circle and face barriers to social participation. Social isolation has significant detrimental effects on their mental and physical well-being, leading to increased rates of depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and reduced quality of life. Addressing social isolation among the elderly is crucial for promoting their overall health and happiness.
Social prescribing is a healthcare approach that recognises the importance of social factors in overall well-being. It involves connecting individuals with non-medical activities and community resources to improve their health and quality of life. Healthcare professionals, such as doctors or social workers, “prescribe” activities like art classes, gardening, exercise groups, or support groups, which can address underlying social determinants of health and promote holistic well-being. By addressing social isolation, mental health, and lifestyle factors, social prescribing aims to enhance individual health outcomes and reduce the burden on healthcare services.
Social prescribing provides support in various areas of people’s lives, leading to increased confidence, improved navigation of systems, and enhanced friendships and trust in healthcare, while communities should be designed in an age-friendly way to prevent isolation.
In Part 1 of the Models of Care on Social Prescribing, Australian Health Journal spoke to 4 people advocating for social prescribing in Australia:
- Dr Michelle Lim, Scientific Chair and Chairperson, Ending Loneliness Together
- Patricia Sparrow, Chief Executive Officer, COTA Australia
- Dr Paresh Dawda, General Practitioner, Director and Principal, Next Practice Deakin. All well as being a UK GP
- Tracey Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, Inala Primary Care
The discussions with these advocates emphasise social prescribing is a necessary solution to address isolation, loneliness, and stress, but it requires more resources, funding, and support to make it accessible and affordable for individuals, particularly older Australians.