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Project tackles social isolation

A Melbourne-based research project has been funded to reduce health issues and social isolation in senior women living alone.

Bolton Clarke Research Institute’s Older Women Living Alone project was funded through a $250,000 Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation grant, and will seek to develop new interventions to improve the wellbeing of senior female residents.

The two-year project so far includes a compilation of interviews and forums with women over the age of 55, living alone in Melbourne.

Research project manager Marissa Dickens said as Australian women were living longer, they were also at increased risk of homelessness, poverty, poor mental health, physical health issues and social isolation.

“Not only is social isolation an unpleasant experience in and of itself, it is also associated with higher mortality among older individuals,” she said.

“The risk of social isolation increases with age, as older people experience significant and ongoing life changes that require continual adjustment. These changes can include life transitions such as retirement/redundancy, bereavement, or divorce. They may also lead to transitions in living situation which result in a person living alone.

“Functional health is another significant risk factor, and the development of an increasing number of health conditions. Older adults with four or more chronic illnesses are 1.7 times more likely to be socially isolated than those with fewer than four chronic illnesses.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, older women are also more likely to live alone than their male counterparts, and more commonly experience financial pressure due to “systemic factors” such as wage and superannuation inequality.

Dickens said the interviews had so far revealed a concerning number of women experienced loneliness and financial stress, exacerbated by a feeling of having limited options.

“A lot of my friends go out for dinner and I have to say no because it’s just not affordable,” one participant said. “If I do go out, it’s rare and a lot of bills have to wait because I can only just cover everything.”

The project will now use feedback from the forums to work with older women and service providers on developing service solutions to reduce isolation and promote greater wellbeing and independence.

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