Social inclusion of seniors in urban neighbourhoods

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"Individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality." (Source: Julianne Holt-Lunstad et al., 'Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review', 2010)

*UPDATE* The Antwerp scenario has changed considerably since the initial design brief below. Click here for an update.


Prevention and Detection of Socially Isolated Senior Citizens

A certain percentage of senior citizens are “socially invisible”, particularly in a metropolis such as Antwerp. They rarely express their feelings of loneliness, they postpone their requests for social contact or are insufficiently aware of the existing welfare services, all of which have a direct impact on their quality of life.

The social isolation of elderly people as a result of shrinking social networks is often difficult to detect. Some senior citizens have difficulties finding their way to care and welfare services and thresholds are often too high. The “supermarket model” only seems to work well for those who already have good social skills. Contact points need to be more at a district and neighbourhood level (consumerist model).

As public servants, we can push things even further, i.e. actively develop a location-oriented search.  We can provide the so-called “out-reaching” approach that provides care and welfare services at home and in places where senior citizens can usually be found. Furthermore, the outreaching approach is necessary to find and contact active citizens, key people and volunteers, in order to build a local network together with welfare and care services and senior- and neighbourhood associations for the active detection of senior citizens with a lack of social contact.

This local community-based network can be stimulated to become a neighbourhood network that takes care of senior citizens and that can prevent the shrinking of their social network. The cooperation between care and welfare services, neighbourhood and senior associations, active (senior) citizens and volunteers in a local community-based network is necessary to offer an attractive, low-threshold program of social and cultural activities and to detect seniors in need of more social contact.

Promoting Active Citizenship, Active Ageing and Solidarity

Care tasks are not the sole responsibility of professional organizations and government institutions. There is also a growing appeal to neighbourhood initiatives and to individuals, also to informal care provided by family members. Since family and social networks around senior citizens are shrinking, we are in need of motivated volunteers to provide a social network or to guide the senior to one.

Local authorities in Antwerp try to raise the level of social solidarity by increasing awareness and through a social policy that supports programs that will stimulate social contact and networking, integrating the different age and multicultural groups of our society. It is important to find ways to involve Antwerp citizens in the “care” for other citizens.

The project NeighbourhoodNet Attention for Senior Citizens (project Wijknet Aandacht voor Senioren) of Antwerp Care Company, establishes and maintains local networks of volunteers and active citizens. These volunteers accept a welfare task for older citizens. It may include visits at home (keeping company), shopping together, a sunday afternoon walk, etc ...

The road to socio-cultural activities is easier for senior citizens if they are accompanied by volunteers. Social contact with active citizens and volunteers can reinforce their social network. Promoting active citizenship, active ageing and solidarity includes the reinforcement of a local neighbourhood network that will take care of its senior citizens. It also encourages solidarity between generations and different cultures and stimulates the cooperation between services and citizens.

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Another update from Antwerp

As the DAA project draws to a close, we would like to give you one final update of what's happening in Antwerp.