Jul 30, 2021

Study reveals that group excursions boost happiness in older people


To explore the impact on their wellbeing, Macquarie University researchers evaluated an innovative program of 57 adults over the age of 65 in Perth on group excursions that also included skating, riding a Harley Davidson, and having dinner at a restaurant among other activities.

“The benefits were largely related to social wellbeing,” says Dr Joyce Siette, who led the study at Macquarie’s Australian Institute of Health Innovation.

“They loved having the opportunity to socialise and make new friendships. It was amazing — some of the participants even started having sleepovers with their friends as relationships continued after the program.”

Widespread loneliness

About a quarter of Australia’s older adults are lonely and have significantly worse mental and physical health than people who are connected, Australian Psychological Society figures show. Most people need social engagement and interaction to have a sense of identity, belong to a community and live fulfilled lives.

As the number of older adults grows as a percentage of the total population, understanding how to address this is important to carers and health authorities.

To gauge the benefits of excursions, Siette’s team used a standard tool adopted widely internationally — the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit — to design their survey and interviews. Before they started, most participants (whose average age was 81) reported their quality of life as “moderate”, but after the excursions everyone said they felt more confident and happier.

Care and community involvement

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in 2020 found that most Australians want to grow old and receive care in their own homes. At the same time, most older adults also want to participate in their communities for as long as possible, however, some lack the economic and social means to do so.

Participants in the study were already living independently and receiving community-based services from either the government-subsidised Commonwealth Home Support Program or the Home Care Package Program to manage or alleviate health risks by giving them some help with shopping, cleaning or gardening.

In addition to the regular assistance services they received from the government, for the purpose of this research, participants were offered the opportunity to go on an average of one activity a fortnight, lasting from two hours to half a day. This was offered at no additional cost. Before and after they’d taken part in the excursions for six months, Siette and her team surveyed them.

Even the anticipation of the excursion was positive for many participants. “If you’re on your own you think, I won’t do that or I’ll do that tomorrow,” says Dorothy*, another participant. “Now I get quite excited. I think tomorrow we’re going out and it gives me a lift.”

Siette’s team also interviewed carers, who reported significant improvements of their loved ones after the excursions. “Dad went ice-skating yesterday. Came home and he was just grinning from ear to ear – and this is someone who was highly depressive,” says one carer. “So the behavioural changes are enormous.” Carers also appreciated the program because it gave them some respite.

Also, the activities were convenient and accessible because participants were picked up and dropped home. Staff tended to physical needs such as accompanying them to the toilet.

As a result of her research, Siette suggests future government initiatives for older people still living at home should focus on prioritizing initiatives that provide them opportunities for social connection with the wider community.

”Excursion, group-based activities that focus on building and bridging relationships can create a sense of belonging and inclusion, address social loneliness and improve older adults’ physical, mental and social outcomes,” she says.

*Not their real names

This article was originally published by The Lighthouse

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