What are the best ways to help Australians?
A new study has found volunteering could be one of the most effective ways to reach out to older Australians who might otherwise have left their community behind.
The study of more than 200,000 Australians aged 75 and over found that helping older Australians aged over 75 and those living alone was the most likely way to make a positive difference in their communities.
In other words, people who volunteered were more likely to have positive impact in their community.
The Australian Social Survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI in 2016, found that 71 per cent of Australians aged 65 and over volunteered in the previous year, compared with 67 per cent for people aged 25-64.
However, those who had not volunteered were the most at risk of missing out on opportunities to do so, the study found.
The research also found that older Australians living alone were more apt to have a negative effect on their community than those living with someone else.
“When people are alone and they feel lonely, there are a lot of things that they are missing out,” said Dr Lisa Aiesek, a professor at the University of Sydney.
“I think people who are struggling with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are a particularly high-risk group.
They’re the ones that are going to be the ones missing out.”
The survey found that among older Australians in particular, those with no family ties or close friends were more at risk than those with a history of community service, such as serving at a nursing home or attending a service at home.
Dr Aiesew said it was important for older Australians to be seen as active and caring and not to be pigeonholed as being a ‘lonely’ person.
“They have to be involved in their own community and have their own goals, they have to have their values, they should not be the lone person, they shouldn’t be the one who is missing out because they don’t have a family member who can volunteer,” she said.
“People who are really active and involved in the community are actually much less likely to be missing out in terms of their community impact.”
The study found that those who were the only older Australians at home had the most positive impact on their communities, and were also more likely than those who did not live with someone were to say they would like to return to the community.
However the researchers also found older Australians with a long-term partner were more than twice as likely to volunteer, compared to those without a long term partner.
“We found that people who have a long time partner are more likely be involved with their community,” Dr Ariesek said.
The survey of more then 200,200 Australians aged 55 and over was conducted between April and July this year and involved 1,531 interviews.
It found that more than half of those who volunteered had been involved with community service for a minimum of one year, while another 27 per cent had been engaged for five years or more.
Dr Amy Johnson, of the Australian Social Science Research Institute (ASSRI), said that the survey’s findings are important as they showed older Australians could make a difference.
“One of the main drivers of the survey was older Australians’ need to be engaged in their local community, particularly with those living in remote areas, which is where most of the work is done,” Dr Johnson said.
She said the findings also showed older people who had had an active role in their social and cultural life were more able to connect with their communities and those in care.
“It’s also important to recognise that volunteering in your own community is a lot more important than people think, particularly as the older people tend to be more dependent on the community, and so that may be a factor in why some people are reluctant to do it,” Dr Joanne Brown, of ASSRI, said.
One of the other key findings of the study was that older people with a disability were more concerned about their community’s wellbeing and more likely the person they are volunteering for was able to make lasting changes.
“If you are looking for opportunities to make changes to your community, it’s more important that you’re engaging with people who know how important it is to them,” Dr Brown said.