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Social relationships are key to the good health of older people.

Published: 7 June 2023

Public health experts in Wales are highlighting the importance of providing opportunities for older people to be more socially active to protect their health. Researchers at Public Health Wales have looked at how the Covid-19 pandemic and on-going cost of living challenges have impacted the social networks of older people. They underline the big health benefits that can be created by providing opportunities for older people to be more socially active and engage in their communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undermined the social confidence of many older people, particularly those in ill health or with disabilities. With the cost of living increasing the price of essentials, older people are also likely to find themselves less able to spend money on the things that might have previously enhanced their social networks, such as travel, social activities or visiting friends or family. Social relationships and networks are a valuable protective factor in sustaining psychological well-being and good health throughout a person’s life.

Communities in Wales who were best placed to respond to the challenges of the pandemic were those with pre-existing social networks.  These were often able to work together with the public sector to facilitate volunteering. “Social capital” is therefore of central importance to policy makers and service providers looking to improve health and reduce health inequality.

Professor Jo Peden, Consultant in Public Health at Public Health Wales says:

“As we face a cost of living crisis, we must not forget the lessons from Covid-19, that relationships and social connections play a vital protective factor in health.

"This Volunteers Week, it would be great if more organisations thought about how we can create those opportunities for social connections for older people. For example, using social prescribing, volunteering, and befriending, as well as how we can nurture those connections indirectly by considering them in areas of transport and planning.”

Reducing financial hardship for older people could enable them to spend more on social activities, while better public transport could improve their ability to access their communities and local services.

Building the social relationships of older people in Wales: challenges and opportunities report.