Gerard Mansour is a respected advocate for the needs of older people. He is Australia’s first Commissioner for Senior Victorians, and he has over 25 years’ leadership experience within the aged and wider community services sectors.
In 2015, the Minister for Disability, Housing and Ageing, Martin Foley MP asked Gerard to provide advice about the important issue of isolation and loneliness of Victorian seniors.
We know that older people who are socially engaged are happier and healthier than those who are socially isolated. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true – older people who are not socially connected can experience loneliness, and without intervention, may suffer from depression and poor health.
Loneliness and isolation can manifest in older people in different ways as a result of their individual experience. Some people are lonely or unconnected throughout their lives and bring this experience into their senior years.
For others, the situation can be brought on by ‘trigger events’ such as the loss of a partner, or a series of events like beginning or ceasing a caring role, no longer being able to drive, or moving to a new location.
These experiences can be exacerbated for those who are also part of more vulnerable groups – people with low income, limited English skills or mental health issues, who are physically isolated or have a disability.
The importance of building resilience and staying connected becomes more pronounced as we age, says Gerard Mansour, Commissioner for Senior Victorians, who recently released Ageing is everyone’s business, Victoria’s report on the prevalence of isolation and loneliness in the community.
Government, business and communities can work together to provide opportunities for older people to participate in the community.
Ageing is everyone’s business confirms that isolation and loneliness are significant issues for Victoria’s ageing population. The report identifies some of the causes of isolation and loneliness in senior Victorians, and suggests ways to help mitigate the negative impacts for individuals and their communities.
We concluded that everyone has to play a part in strengthening the roles and value of older people in our community, says Gerard.
That’s individuals, communities and governments. We all have to be able to reach out to isolated older people in a considered and sensitive manner. We can achieve this in a range of ways.
The report makes recommendations such as developing targeted government policies, as well as improved transport options, ‘better neighbours’ schemes, and encouraging local councils and businesses to implement more age-friendly practices.
He also made special mention of the power of volunteering and intergenerational programs.
Volunteering is a very important activity both for seniors who volunteer and the people they help, he says.
Intergenerational programs can help older people make connections in the community and foster a sense of respect and presence that minimises the feeling of being 'out of sight and out of mind'.
How can we better look after one another?
We need to examine the ways we can provide meaningful social participation for older people, Gerard says.
Gerard asks that seniors themselves consider two things.
First, think about your own social connections and interests, and explore what is available in your local community. As an example, there is no better time than during the Victorian Seniors Festival in October to find opportunities to remain active and involved in free or low-cost ways, right around the state.
Second, if you are already part of a group or organisation, think about what you can do to make the group experience a better one for others. Sometimes little tricks such as providing speaking notes for people to read if they have hearing loss can make it much easier for people to participate.
According to Gerard, mutual support and effort are needed.
If we are, as governments, individuals and communities, better prepared to look after each other and to make an effort where we can, the benefits will be enormous.