OWN NSW defines wellbeing as having good physical and mental health, social inclusion, and the ability to access public amenities, such as transport and healthcare.
These features allow older women to fulfil small or large life projects, and enhance their rights and ability to live a dignified, satisfactory and meaningful life.
Having good physical health, mental health and social connectedness are all linked to a healthy ageing process.
“… the women spoke of how the relationships and friendships formed through the activities kept them coming to the Bankstown Wellness Centre week after week, supported them in dealing with chronic diseases, kept them healthy and active, and helped them deal with and survive traumatic and stressful life crises…”
– 2018 Evaluation Report on the Bankstown Wellness Centre (Bazeley and Mears, 2018) –
The OWN Wellness Centres are designed to promote positive, active ageing, social connectedness and participation through programs of affordable facilitated classes and meaningful activities.
of people who say ‘I can’t really make ends meet’ also say money is a barrier to making social connections
Source: Loneliness in Australia: Research, Context and New Findings 2019, Friends for Good.
People who feel lonely for at least 1 day each week
Source: Australian Psychological Society 2018
Australian lone person households
Source: 2016 Census of Population and Housing
Leading an active lifestyle is essential for older women to maintain the ability to perform daily activities, reduce mobility disability, and improve overall mental health.
Performing aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility activities, as well as minimising prolonged sitting periods, are important aspects of active living.
Older women above 70 are also prone to frailty and fall injuries due to functional limitations, vision and hearing impairment, and hazardous home environments.
The prevalence of chronic health conditions (such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and stroke) also increase with age for women.
Mental health problems (such as depression and anxiety) affect some older women badly. It is thought that between 10 and 15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety.
Dementia, which affects 10% of all Australians, is a major contributing factor to depression and anxiety.
Mental health problems can be attributable to a variety of factors (such as financial difficulties, housing insecurity, loss of a partner, violence or abuse as well as other life stresses that older women face).
Some older women who are carers suffer from poor mental health due to the stresses they face in having to cope with their own personal circumstances, and having to care for another.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, social connectedness refers to how an individual positions herself as part of the community.
This means having social contacts with people outside of their immediate household, having someone’s support in a time of crisis, and engaging in activities (such as community events, volunteering, groups and clubs, and/or recreational activities).
At the same time, loneliness is becoming a public health crisis in Australia and a leading factor for premature morbidity.
Most of the time people find it hard to recognise and admit their state of loneliness.
Older people over 75 are among the groups most affected by loneliness.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 older carers (or 234,000 people) are primary carers, who provide the most informal care to another person or for themselves.
Older women make up 57% of older primary carers (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
Most carers provide care for their families and close friends, especially young children.
Grandparenting has been found to improve cognitive health, especially executive function and social engagement for older women.
However, the high frequency and demand of physical and emotional work involved in informal care may have adverse health effects for some older women.
How to promote health, wellbeing, and social connectedness among older women
Activities to promote physical wellbeing should also be linked with activities to promote mental wellbeing and social connectedness.
Physical activities and social activities, as well as connections, are vital to fight off depression, stress and anxiety.
Promoting social connectedness means making older women feel like a part of the community. The government needs to support community based activities. A significant number of older women do not have the disposable income which enable them to participate in activities which benefit them. Our research shows that subsidised wellness activities provide the best health outcomes for older women.
Community projects that connect older people living in the community to do activities together also help to increase social networks and reduce loneliness.
The older women who live in residential aged care institutions should not be forgotten. It is important for residential aged care institutions to develop a more sociable and enjoyable experience for its residents.
Read our Resources for more information on healthy ageing, improving physical and mental health as well as social connectedness.
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