Group Tours Boost Happiness in Seniors: New Study
Whether it’s horseback riding, hiking, or riding a Harley, Macquarie University reveals the positive impacts for seniors of group dating.
Seniors felt happier, more confident and made new friendships when they went on group excursions such as horseback riding, river cruises or musicals, according to a new study of seniors living independently.
Outdoors: Relationship-oriented group activities can create a sense of belonging, says Dr. Joyce Siette.
To explore the impact on their well-being, researchers at Macquarie University evaluated an innovative program of 57 adults over 65 in Perth on group excursions that also included skating, riding a Harley Davidson and dinner at a restaurant, among other activities.
âThe benefits were largely related to social welfare,â says Dr Joyce Siette, who led the study at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation in Macquarie.
âThey loved having the opportunity to socialize and make new friendships. It was amazing – some of the attendees even started spending sleepovers with their friends as the relationships continued after the program.
According to figures from the Australian Psychological Society, around a quarter of older Australians are lonely and have much worse mental and physical health than those online. Most people need social engagement and interactions to have a sense of identity, to belong to a community and to live a fulfilling life.
As the number of older people increases as a percentage of the total population, it is important for caregivers and health authorities to understand how to fix it.
Dad came home and he was smiling ear to ear – and he was someone who was very depressed. The changes in behavior are therefore enormous.
To assess the benefits of field trips, Siette’s team used a widely adopted internationally standard tool – the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit – to design their survey and interviews. Before starting, most of the participants (average age 81) rated their quality of life as âmoderateâ, but after the excursions everyone reported feeling more confident and happier.
âI feel like I used to be again,â says Larry *, one participant who said he had retired âin a shellâ for about 10 years and had not come out. âSince the start of the program, I have been more connected and I communicate regularly.
Care and involvement in the community
The Royal Commission on the Quality and Safety of Elderly Care in 2020 found that most Australians want to age and receive care at home. At the same time, most older people also want to participate in their community for as long as possible, but some do not have the economic and social means to do so.
Breaking the Bread: Outings as simple as dining out improve social well-being, researchers have found.
Study participants were already living independently and receiving community-based services from the Government-funded Commonwealth Home Support Program or Home Care Package Program to manage or mitigate health risks by providing assistance with shopping, cleaning or gardening.
In addition to the regular support services they received from the government, for the purposes of this research, participants were able to do an average of one activity per fortnight, lasting from two hours to half a day. This was offered at no additional cost. Before and after going on the excursions for six months, Siette and her team interviewed them.
Even the anticipation of the excursion was positive for many participants. âIf you’re alone, you think I won’t do this or I will do it tomorrow,â said Dorothy *, another participant. âNow I’m pretty excited. I think tomorrow we go out and that gives me a boost.
Siette’s team also interviewed caregivers, who reported significant improvements from their loved ones after the excursions. âDad went ice skating yesterday. He came home and he was smiling from ear to ear – and he’s someone who was very depressed, âsays a caregiver. âSo the changes in behavior are huge. The caregivers also appreciated the program because it gave them a bit of a break.
Participants and caregivers agreed that the program was successful because the activities were carried out in groups and they had a choice of excursions.
In addition, the activities were convenient and accessible because participants were picked up and dropped off at their homes. The staff looked after physical needs such as accompanying them to the bathroom.
As a result of her research, Siette suggests that future government initiatives for seniors still living at home should focus on prioritizing initiatives that provide them with opportunities for social connection with the wider community.
âGroup excursions that focus on building and reconnecting can create a sense of belonging and inclusion, combat social loneliness, and improve physical, mental and social outcomes for older adults,â she says.
* Not their real names
Dr Joyce Siette (photo) is a post-doctoral researcher at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University.