Our social environment considers things like our families, our friends and our communities, and any of the people or places that are important in our lives.
Our overall social wellbeing is the result of a combination of different factors that can either increase resilience or create vulnerability. Some of these factors are objectively quite easy to observe and some are less obvious unless given more careful consideration.
For example, it is easy to observe such things as:
- Whether an older person lives alone or with other people;
- How often they go out or take part in social activities with their family, friends or local communities;
- Whether they receive input from formal care services.
However, far more engaged communication and consideration on the part of the observer is required in order to understand other very important, but more subjective aspects of people’s lives, for example, whether:
- The older person is experiencing feelings of loneliness;
- They are missing people or places that were previously important to them;
- They have people they are close to and feel they can confide in;
- There are people that they feel they can rely upon for emotional or practical support.
The National Voices report I’m Still Me emphasises the importance of being able to be in control of the nature and extent of social contacts to older people. In other words, although many people would like to have more social contact, others value time alone, and, most importantly, older people want to be able to decide for themselves how and when they spend time with other people.
The National Voices report also found that many older people felt lonely, particularly because they were missing partners or friends who had died. This report also highlighted that having frequent social contact is not enough to prevent feelings of loneliness and that some older people who lived with family also reported feeling lonely. This can also be the case for older people living in care homes.
An older person’s social wellbeing is also influenced not only by their current social circumstances, priorities and support networks, but also by other experiences gained throughout their lifetime, including their own beliefs and values. Understanding an older person’s life story, including their individual cultural and religious background, can also offer great insight into their individual social priorities and social wellbeing in older age.
The social domain of frailty has close interactions and interrelationships with the other domains of frailty, for example:
- An older person’s ability to maintain social contacts outside their home might be limited by aspects of their physical domain, such as access to transport systems;
- The person’s wish to engage in social activities is likely to influence and be influenced by their psychological status;
- Systems of care for people with frailty will also have a major impact upon the social domain.