Older people without adequate social connections have an increased risk of poorer mental health and wellbeing which negatively impacts on their physical health and use of health services. In response to these ongoing issues, this project aimed at reducing isolation and loneliness and improving mental health of participants. Our social connectedness projects were based on a Compassionate Community approach.
Improving Social Connections for Older People
In 2019, the Social Connectedness of Older People in the Hawkesbury pilot project held three Community Workshops in targeted areas of the region. Over one hundred professionals, volunteers and community members participated. A comprehensive report on the outcomes of the workshops has been produced by Synergia.
As a result of the workshop outcomes and committee guidance, three strategies were developed:
- Training of practice nurses in general practice to become Health Connectors
- Establishment and training for Community Connectors and Community Connector Points
- Development and promotion of Website Directory - MyHealthConnector.com.au.
In 2020 we commenced the Social Connections for Older People initiative in Penrith and Blue Mountains as a part of the Australian Government’s mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative aimed to support older people who may be experiencing social isolation and/or loneliness by promoting connections to services and support to improve their mental health and wellbeing. Similar strategies were implemented for these communities.
In 2023 our work on social connection continues to expand with more Health Connector positions and Community Connector Points being offered. The Health Connectors in general practice will continue to have conversations with patients about health issues, including staying connected.
Who is Involved?
Health Connectors are specially trained practice nurses who work one-to-one with patients and carers. They help people to develop their social support networks, especially those people who are vulnerable and at risk of ‘falling through the cracks’. This is a free service offered in practices across our region. These practices can be found by searching health connectors in the My Health Connector Directory.
Community Connectors are members of the general population who know what services are available in the community and can share that information with people in need.
Training was provided to support the community be confident to have conversations around social isolation and use the My Health Connector directory as a resource. Over 100 Community Connectors in the region. Community Connectors can be of any background or profession – neighbours, volunteers, taxi drivers, baristas, retail workers. Anyone who has contact with older people and an interest in helping older people can volunteer.
Community Connector Points
Identified community organisations can provide face-to-face or telephone assistance for improving social connections and reducing social isolation of older people in the Hawkesbury, particularly those without internet access. The Community Connector Points built sustainability for the program beyond the pilot period. You can access a community connector points on the My Health Connector website. The success of this Hawkesbury pilot project has resulted in the program expanding to the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Penrith LGAs and ongoing in Hawkesbury.
My Health Connector Website
The My Health Connector website is a free online directory to help people improve their social connections and lifestyle supports. The directory provides information about local health and community services available to support people living in our region. My Health Connector can be used by both services and community members. It can also be used as a resource for Health connectors and Community connectors to promote services available in the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury, Lithgow and Penrith areas.
If you would like to find out more about the Improving Social Connections for Older People or how to be involved, email our Project Support Officer, Hayden Welsh or call 4708 8108.
Watch the videos below for these important initiatives.
Community Connector Points