Social isolation and loneliness are gaining attention globally through public awareness campaigns such as the UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness and AARP’s Connect2Affect. But which interventions are successful, and how cost-effective are they?
One approach to combat loneliness and social isolation has been labelled befriending, which prior research suggests improves emotional and social connectedness. Emotional connectedness consists of a sense of belonging, while social connectedness consists of engagement in the wider social world. A recent study took a closer look at a befriending service that also included an element of re-ablement, which aims to enhance active aging, reduce dependency, and enhance well-being and quality of life. In this study, researchers looked at the program’s impact on older adults and its cost-effectiveness.
In this program, older adults who request or are referred for assistance receive a home visit in which their needs and aspirations are identified via the Older Person’s Outcomes Star or the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit, which focus on aspects of well-being and assist in providing individualized solutions. With these tools, the Befriending and Re-Ablement Officer (BRO) and the older adult each gain a better idea of the individual’s needs and jointly create a plan of action. Following this assessment, the older adult initially has weekly contact with a BRO; these are followed by less frequent follow-ups and phone contact.
Examining the program’s impact, researchers noted improvements in key well-being criteria within six to eight weeks. All participants reported better self-care as a result of this program, which included paying more attention to their appearance, cleanliness of their residence, and healthier daily habits such as drinking, eating, and getting out of the home. The researchers noted that the morale that came from human contact was needed to maintain these efforts.
In interviews, individuals’ relatives and friends reported the program had been impressive in resolving a difficult situation, had increased older adult confidence and happiness, and provided caregivers greater ease of mind.
In terms of the program’s cost-effectiveness, the researchers reported significant cost savings due to the program’s success in empowering older adults to increase self-care and reducing the need for greater care or emergency care by preventing deteriorating conditions before they can become crises.
McGoldrick c, Barrett GA, and Cook I. Befriending and Re-ablement Service: a better alternative in an age of austerity. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy (2017); 37: 51–68.