Initiatives offer connection for isolated seniors in Australia

New social prescribing initiatives and outreach projects supporting health literacy and social connection are among the positive approaches being developed by aged care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Not-for-profit health and aged care provider Bolton Clarke has made social connection a focus for clients at home and in residential communities. 

Led by its Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI), the organisation has fast-tracked a telephone social support project to roll out nationally. While the project will initially support isolated older people living at home, planning is underway to expand its reach to residents in aged care communities. 

Volunteers will be trained by partner organisation Friends for Good and will make regular calls to older home care clients. The project is modelled on the successful HOW R U? initiative which provided post- discharge telephone support for older people to improve social connection and reduce loneliness. 

BCRI Principal Research Fellow and Head of Research, Adj Professor Judy Lowthian said addressing social isolation and loneliness was important for health outcomes and wellbeing, and even more so during and in the post-COVID-19 world. 

“Telephone support has been found to reduce feelings of social isolation, loneliness and depression and to improve quality of life,” she said. “Individuals are matched with a volunteer who calls them regularly. 

“We are working closely with Friends for Good, who have trained volunteers ready to commence and will also provide training for Bolton Clarke team members who are working from home in the current environment.” 

Bolton Clarke’s Homeless Persons Program Manager Mary-Anne Rushford said people without secure accommodation were at risk during the pandemic, with physical distancing measures leading to temporary closure of many supports like community kitchens. 

“There was a lot of anxiety among clients when the kitchens were closing and there was a real food security issue among homeless people,” she said. 

“With the support of donors, we have been able to give our nurses food vouchers so they can shop for clients and provide essentials.” 

The move to telehealth has also required rapid adaptation for the specialist HPP team. “One of the key roles of our HPP nurses is supporting access to health services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Ms Rushford said. 

“Now that a lot of appointments have moved to telehealth, most of our clients don’t have the ability to access those visits. 

“Where clients don’t have a telephone, our teams have been setting up devices and providing support for telehealth appointments with outpatient services and GPs.” 

Other Bolton Clarke initiatives rolling out to improve social connection include: 

  • Roll-out of iPads across residential aged care (supported by a trained co-ordinator) and home care package clients to support “virtual visits”. The daughter of a Caboolture, QLD at home support client says: “So far mum has been chatting to family in the UK, friends in the Philippines plus family and friends over here. It is so nice to see her happy connecting to people she cares about. We have also used it to talk to her friends nearby and of course to be in touch with my daughter and the new baby.” 
  • Launch of an “innovation tournament” across retirement living and residential aged care communities to co-design new ways of supporting social connection 
  • A downloadable resource for children to support virtual visits and continued communication with grandparents. 

About Bolton Clarke 

Bolton Clarke is the new face of RSL Care + RDNS. Together we have provided healthcare and aged care services for more than 200 years. We are one of the largest Australian owned and operated not- for-profit healthcare and independent living service providers, with a passion for ensuring our customers live the best possible life across home support, retirement living and residential aged care.

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