New research from COTA NSW has dispelled preconceptions about older people and their relation to their community.
COTA NSW conducted a broad-ranging survey of people aged over 50 in NSW in late 2020 and ran eight focus groups to explore the issues of connection to community in more depth. The findings are revealed in a report entitled Connections and Community released today.
Overall, around 66% of older people thought positively about their local community. Despite the stereotype of the scared elderly person, respondents generally felt safe in their neighbourhood (85%) and when they were home alone.
However online safety was more of an issue, with almost all respondents having some kind of negative experience online, including a significant majority receiving scam emails and 13% receiving dating romance scams.
The report also blasts the myth of the lonely elderly person, revealing that it is actually the people between 50-59 who report the highest levels of loneliness and disconnection. Older people receiving Job Seeker were the least likely to feel connected, reporting that they had less trust in others and felt like they were outsiders.
The report reveals the importance of volunteering, with 60% of respondents participating in some form. Volunteering rates increase in the older age groups, replacing the workplace as a focus for social interaction.
Other important ways in which older people connect to their community include sport, community groups, attending places of worship or registered clubs and undertaking further education. This was again affected by level of income ̶ people with low incomes were less likely to belong to a club or other organised social group, and less likely to volunteer.
In the older age groups, another factor affecting participation is transport. Dependence on the car, particularly in rural areas, means that non-drivers may be severely limited in what they can do. Difficulty in travelling by foot was also identified as an issue, with half the respondents saying they did not have access to good-quality footpaths.
‘We have found a positive picture of older people and their community, with the older age groups even more positive,’ said COTA NSW CEO Meagan Lawson. ‘However, low income can lead to increased isolation, and lack of transport and easy mobility can limit the participation and engagement.’
The report makes several recommendations to the NSW government including committed funding for the Reducing Social Isolation for Seniors Grant Program, ensuring access to information and support for people who don’t use the internet, and establishing a state-wide database of the NSW walking and cycling network. It also recommends supporting the campaign to raise the rate of Job Seeker.
A separate report from COTA NSW entitled Connections in COVID looks at how older people’s connection to their community was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.