Social isolation in aged care is not uncommon in Australia, and it can have a significant effect on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. So what are the risks of social isolation, and which types of aged care support can help people stay socially connected at every age?


Understanding elderly social isolation 

It’s important to clarify what social isolation actually means, and how it can affect Australia’s older population.


What is elderly social isolation and its impact?

Social isolation and loneliness are not one and the same, so let’s look at the definitions of both.

  • Social isolation is an objective state. It means the absence of social interactions or relationships on an individual level and on a broader social level. 
  • Loneliness is a subjective state. It involves feeling distress or unpleasant emotions about the inadequacy of one’s social connections, along with a desire for social relationships that are more satisfying.

So it’s possible to feel lonely even when there are lots of people around. It’s also possible to be socially isolated without necessarily feeling lonely. That being said, the two often go hand in hand.

Research suggests that the average frequency of social contact has actually been trending downwards for every age group since 2001 in Australia. We can be lonely and socially isolated at any age, but evidence suggests that there are higher rates of social isolation in later years. Even prior to the pandemic around one in five older Aussies were socially isolated, and data indicates that adults over 65 are in one of the most likely age groups to be socially isolated or lonely. What’s more, a 2022 report by the Centre for Health Service Development indicates that a lot of older people are reluctant to share how lonely they feel because of the perceived stigma.


The health effects of social isolation and loneliness in seniors

It’s been found that loneliness and social isolation can negatively impact both physical and mental health. 

Research from the CDC indicates social isolation and loneliness can contribute to anxiety and depression in older people, with isolation also associated with around a 50% increase in dementia.

The risk of premature death associated with loneliness and social isolation is said to be on a similar level to that of issues like smoking and lack of exercise.


What can contribute to social isolation?

Some of the risk factors for social isolation include living alone, losing a spouse and deteriorating health, which can all be more likely to happen as we get older. A person might be living with disabilities, sensory impairments, decreased mobility, have language barriers or live in a place that stops them from having regular social interactions.

Fortunately, there are so many positive steps we can take on an individual and broader level to combat social isolation in aged care in Australia.


Ways to reduce social isolation in the elderly

Let’s look at some of the ways that aged care residents can enjoy a socially rich and well-connected life.


Fostering social engagement in aged care facilities

In a general sense, there are some key elements that make all the difference in minimising aged care social isolation and loneliness. These elements include:

  • Regular visits with family and friends
  • The formation of friendships with other residents
  • Varied social activities and lifestyle programs  
  • Care by friendly, compassionate staff
  • Having a sense of contributing and giving back, and
  • Taking part in social, physical and cognitive reablement.

What is the reablement approach for seniors?

At Aurrum’s aged care locations, we have found that a reablement approach can significantly minimise the prevalence of social isolation in residential aged care. Reablement challenges the notion that mental and physical declines are irreversible in older age. Instead, we can support each resident to maintain and sometimes even regain their physical, mental and social abilities through tailored programs.

Learn more about reablement at Aurrum


Contributing and collaborating to reduce social isolation

Everyone has something to give to the world, and contributing can be wonderful for our wellbeing. This is why we collaborate with our residents to co-design the social engagement and support they want to see at every Aurrum Aged Care location. Residents are warmly encouraged to participate in the planning and provision of social activities, in order to create a lifestyle program that genuinely interests and inspires them. Another key way residents can contribute is through our intergenerational program.

What are intergenerational experiences?

Aurrum cares for the young as well as the young at heart, through our early learning centres. Where possible, we bring young and old together with our Aurrum intergenerational experiences. You might have come across this concept on the ABC TV program, Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds. We find that people of every age can receive and contribute something in this program, from rediscovering a sense of play to learning meaningful life lessons.

Learn more about our Grandfriends program


Frequently asked questions on how aged care can reduce social isolation

Learn more about how aged care isolation can be minimised through thoughtful support.


How can lifestyle programs help to combat social isolation?

A lifestyle program isn’t a set of mandatory activities, but rather a diverse range of activities that residents can choose from. These can provide amazing opportunities to share experiences, make friendships and expand one’s horizons. Here’s just a sample of what you could find at an Aurrum Aged Care home, for example: 

  • Art and craft therapy
  • Cooking sessions
  • Group outings to art galleries and museums
  • Carpet bowls
  • Music therapy and choir
  • Yoga and strength training 
  • Happy hour
  • Local community activities
  • Men’s Club
  • Mobile clothing shops
  • Musical entertainment
  • Library services

And additional services such as hairdressing, manicures and massage can also provide fun social interactions on a regular basis.

How can aged care facilities help to remove barriers for social connection among residents?

In addition to the risk factors above, some of the barriers to social connection in older age can be a lack of access to transport and a lack of access to digital technologies such as smartphones. As a residential aged care provider, we’re passionate about removing barriers that can contribute to social isolation in aged care facilities. For example: 

  • We can assist with transport options for outings and social visits
  • Our care teams can help residents make phone calls and video calls to loved ones through our in-home technology
  • Our dining rooms are arranged so that residents can chat and enjoy a delicious meal together, and
  • At some of our locations we also have private dining rooms where families can celebrate milestones together, complete with silver service.


How else does Aurrum prioritise the emotional wellbeing of seniors in its care?

No two people are the same, which is why we adopt our person-centred approach to aged care. We can support every individual to interact and socialise in ways that feel just right for them. To provide a couple of examples: 

  • If the person loves animals, they can take part in live pet therapy. 
  • If a person has a religious faith, we can support them in attending spiritual services as part of our lifestyle program – and families are always welcome to join.

Through personalised care and supportive social connection, it is entirely possible to minimise isolation in aged care and support every single resident to live a beautifully connected life.


Find a caring aged care home

We know finding an aged care provider you can trust is a big step. If you’re looking for the right aged care facility in your local area, our guide to aged care can be a helpful place to begin. You are also very welcome to ask our team questions or book a tour, at any of our aged care homes throughout Victoria and New South Wales.