Exploring social connectedness in older Australians with chronic conditions: Results of a descriptive survey
Background: Loneliness and social isolation have serious health consequences. Understanding the causes and extent of social isolation and loneliness for high-risk groups can inform interventions to address this critical issue. Aim: This study sought to explore the extent of loneliness and social isolation among older people with complex chronic conditions, and investigate their perceptions of their health, well-being and social connections. Methods: A survey was disseminated between November 2020 and January 2021 via mail to people enrolled in a chronic disease management program in a regional Australian community. Findings: Among the 85 respondents, the median number of chronic conditions was four. The most problematic activity was engagement with usual activities, with 26.2% reporting severe or extreme problems. More than half of respondents (55.9%) had moderate, severe or extreme challenges with mobility. Only 9.5% of respondents described having no pain or discomfort. Despite relatively low levels of loneliness, some respondents still lacked companionship, felt left out and isolated from others. Only 26.7% of respondents demonstrated high levels of social connection despite having people to help if needed or people to socialise with. Conclusions: Older people are already at risk of loneliness and social isolation because of their life stage. This study demonstrates that those with chronic conditions experience reduced social connections related to restrictions in mobility and access to social networks due to their health. Study findings also emphasised the impact of pain and lack of mobility on the ability of older people to engage in both everyday and social activities. Supporting older people with chronic conditions to engage with others to reduce loneliness and social isolation represents an opportunity to enhance health outcomes and quality of life, preventing chronic loneliness and depression.