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Group trips boost happiness for older people: study

Older people are happier, more confident and form new friendships when they go on group excursions, a new study found.

Researchers at Macquarie University studied a group of adults over the age of 65 who went on group trips such as horse riding, river cruises or to musicals, and even riding Harley Davidson motorbikes, and found that group activities improved the participants' quality of life.

“The benefits were largely related to social wellbeing,” said Dr Joyce Siette, who led the study at Macquarie University’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.”

Siette and her team surveyed the adults prior to the excursions and most of the participants, whose average age was 81, reported their quality of life as "moderate".

After the trips, participants felt happier and more confident.

"I feel like my old self again,” said Larry*, a participant who said he’d withdrawn “into a shell” for about 10 years and didn’t go out.

“Since the program started I’m more connected and I’m communicating regularly.”

The adults, all of whom were living independently and receiving community-based services from either the Commonwealth Home Support Program or the Home Care Package Program, were offered the opportunity to go on an average of one activity a fortnight, lasting from two hours to half a day.

Siette and her team surveyed the adults after six months in the program.

Participants liked doing activities in a group and having a choice of activity. Having a day out to look forward to was also a positive for many of the adults.

“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.”

The researchers also interviewed carers who reported significant improvements in their loved ones, while the trips also gave them some respite.

Siette said the government should focus on initiatives which provide older people the opportunity to engage with the community and form social connections.

"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 said.

*Not their real names

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