“The people make it fun, the activities we do just make sure we turn up on time.” Factors influencing older adults’ participation in community-based group programmes in Perth, Western Australia
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Rapid ageing in western societies is placing increasing strain on health and social care services. In response, governments and health agencies have sought to promote healthy ageing through a range of interventions, many of which aim to enhance social engagement and participation among older people. Such interventions are based on evidence that being socially engaged through participation in various activities leads to better physical, mental and psychosocial health outcomes. The research reported here employed focus groups and individual interviews to address research aims: (a) identify enablers and barriers to participation in community‐based group activities among a sample of older people (n = 35, median age 71 years) living in a local government area in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and (b) examine how these factors differ between those who regularly participate and those who do not. Our research highlighted four themes: Friendship and Function; Availability and Accessibility; Competing Responsibilities and Priorities; and Changing of the Guard. In particular, this research highlighted the importance of group activities in offering social support as a platform to develop friendships. The findings also indicated that opportunities for social interaction should be embedded in the structure of the group, beyond that which may occur incidentally during activities. This is important, given that while interest may motivate older people to join a group, a sense of belonging and connectedness generated through the group is more likely to maintain their attendance. Barriers included limited availability of local programmes, limited accessibility related to programme scheduling, and lack of programmes relevant to those who do not find traditional seniors’ centres appealing. Recommendations include incorporating social engagement as an outcome measure when evaluating the efficacy of programmes targeting older people, and encouraging local governments to work with seniors’ centres in developing activities attractive to a broader cohort of older people.