As Commissioner for Senior Victorians, I am privileged to hear first-hand from seniors across Victoria about their experiences of growing older. In 2015, the Minister for Disability, Housing and Ageing, Martin Foley MP asked me to provide advice about the important issue of isolation and loneliness of Victorian seniors.
My investigations included a literature review and a listening tour of Victoria where seniors told me about their experiences. I also sought input from an advisory group and a wide range of community organisations and services.
One of the most common and compelling messages I received from senior Victorians is that as we age we all still have a role, purpose and contribution to make. For example, we only have to look within local community organisations across Victoria, such as U3As, to recognise the enormous contribution seniors make to their communities through volunteering, membership of local committees and boards, and supporting charitable, sporting and arts endeavours.
Yet, for many the journey of moving through their senior years is marked by fundamental changes in roles and responsibilities, as well as income levels. As people move through their senior years, the nature of their friendships and relationships often change. The roles they have played throughout their life also fundamentally change. If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the journey of life and the journey of ageing are individual and enormously varied life experiences.
For many, the transition into senior years is marked by exciting and interesting opportunity, yet for others it is marked by continuation of challenges present throughout their lives or by new challenges such as social isolation and loneliness.
My research has identified that at any point in time approximately 10 percent of Victorian seniors are experiencing chronic isolation and loneliness.
Yet there are so many opportunities in communities across Victoria, for both individuals and organisations, to reach out to the older people who live in their community. Local community groups can ask themselves the question - can we do better in reaching out to disadvantaged seniors our community?
Just as there is significant opportunity for local community organisations to think about ‘age friendliness’, there is also enormous opportunity for each of us to be better prepared and think about the experience of ageing. To what degree do each of us, as we move towards and through our senior years, commit to finding our ‘purpose in life’ as our life circumstances change. Sometimes this will require a willingness to take risks, make new friends, put ourselves in new situations or being willing to experiment.
I congratulate the many thousands of people across Victoria who ensure that local community groups continue to provide exciting opportunities for social participation and learning. I would also encourage each group to ask whether there are opportunities to reach out to those seniors who are more vulnerable or disadvantaged, including those experiencing isolation and loneliness.
Commissioner for Senior Victorians
Gerard Mansour is a passionate advocate for the rights and needs of older Victorians, with more than 25 years’ experience working in the aged and wider community service sectors. He has contributed significantly to policy development and implementation for myriad services assisting senior Victorians.