BAB recently held the second meeting of a group focused on improving evidence based practice within BAB projects. It’s an informal group which comes together to discuss a piece of research and what it might mean for BAB, our delivery partners and others working with older people.
We read this article, called ‘Barriers to Social Participation Among Lonely Older Adults: The Influence of Social Fears and Identity’ (Goll and colleagues, 2015). The study looked at how personal identity can be a barrier to taking part in social opportunities, even for individuals who feel very lonely. Some of the key insights from the article and our discussion are listed below.
If you would like to be involved in this group, let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org, you would be very welcome. It is an informal group which meets approximately every 2 months and is focused on what the research means for you. We summarise the research at every meeting so it is not necessary to have read it beforehand.
Here are some of the key insights from the last meeting:
1. The older people interviewed in the research were reluctant to spend time with people who had a different identity to themselves, for example if they believed others in a group were too old, too youthful, too ‘common’, not ‘jolly’ enough, too greedy etc. Despite feeling lonely, these individuals chose to avoid social opportunities that would involve mixing with people who they perceived to be too different from themselves. As a group we were initially surprised by this finding but, during the discussion, realised that it made a lot of sense and fitted with our own experience.
2. To overcome this, there needs to be a range of different activities available to suit different identities. Even within the same activity (e.g. an art group), some people may be put off if the art is too serious/advanced while others may be put off if it is too casual. For this reason, there may well need to be multiple groups of the same activity.
3. The fear of no longer seeing themselves as independent was a large barrier to taking part in social activities for some of the older people interviewed. It was important for them to feel useful and able to bring something to a group, rather than as someone seeking help and ‘taking’ from others. Those who were regularly intellectually challenged in the past are likely to continue wanting this in later life as it has become part of their identity.
4. We spoke about how people have different identities in different situations. Sometimes, knowing other people in the neighbourhood can encourage someone to take part in social activities (because they already know some friendly faces), but sometimes it can discourage this (if their identity in that neighbourhood is someone who doesn’t like a certain activity). For this reason, they may travel to a different location in order to do this activity, where they are less likely to see someone they know.
5. If someone is not used to looking for social activities or events, it can be difficult to know where to start. They might assume that the only activities on offer are bingo and coffee mornings and therefore not seek out any other information. In these situations, word of mouth might be the main way they find out about opportunities.
6. It is valuable for community groups/activities to explicitly promote that new members are welcome. Individuals may fear that a group will be cliquey or that everyone else will know each other and they will not be included in discussions/activities. By making it explicit that new members are welcome, individuals at least know that the group will not be too surprised by their attendance. However this may not be enough for those who have been lonely for some time; they are likely to need additional support such as a ‘buddy’ system (see below).
7. The research suggested that one way to reduce individual fears is for community groups to incorporate the principles of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This could include emphasising the friendliness of the group, having a ‘buddy’ system for new members, recognising that social fears are normal, and supporting gradual steps towards someone participating.
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