The strategy that is combating loneliness – and poverty

Many older Australians forced to rent are open to sharing living spaces.

Poor and afflicted woman with hands on face sitting on the steps of a church

One in five older Australians feels lonely, especially those aged 75 and over, and 41 per cent of participants aged 55-plus are struggling financially due to low income and rent increases, according to PRD Research.

But older renters are seeing benefits in returning to younger behaviours and sharing a house, the research found.

“All participants who were independently renting indicated that splitting the rent and operational expenses with another tenant is an effective way of easing financial struggles and stress,” the 2020 Shared Living Preferences of Older Australians report said. 

“In comparison, the majority of owner-occupiers were less positively inclined towards the idea of shared living and were instead re-entering or remaining in the labour force in order to sustain their financial positions. 

“However, owner-occupiers have indicated loneliness as a potential reason why they would consider shared living.”

Though sharing might have been forced on them because of financial difficulties, after entering shared living arrangements many renters said they were enjoying retirement more.

Almost 60 per cent of survey respondents said ‘yes’ to shared living, with most of those being renters. 

According to the report: “All participants that were already in a shared living environment stated the main reason behind their decision was due to unaffordability to own their own home or to rent by themselves.”

The report said that for many over-55s, maintaining rent on a single income was too difficult. 

“In addition, studies have shown that the growing number of older Australians aged 55 and over in the rental market is increasing and that median rental prices have increased in recent years,” the report said.

Research has shown that lonely and socially isolated older people are more likely to experience pain, frailty and dementia. They’re also more likely to die younger than their more socially connected peers.

In 2017, co-housing was promoted as a way to help older people find socially connected, financially sustainable housing.

Co-housing aims to mix private and shared living spaces to balance privacy and the need for community. 

Usually, prospective residents participate in the design process; the design mixes private dwellings with shared spaces, and residents are involved in governing the property.

Many older Australians surveyed then about co-housing thought it was the domain of hippies and communes and disliked the idea of sharing living spaces. They worried about losing their independence, others not doing enough of the maintenance work and the demands of governance. However, up to 20 per cent were interested.

“A market of 10 to 20 per cent (for co-housing) could make a very significant contribution to meeting our housing challenges,” the researchers concluded for The Conversation.

Why is loneliness important?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) states that social isolation and loneliness can be harmful to both mental and physical health.

“They are considered significant health and wellbeing issues in Australia because of the impact they have on peoples’ lives. 

“Social isolation is seen as the state of having minimal contact with others. It differs from loneliness, which is a subjective state of negative feelings about having a lower level of social contact than desired.”

It says living alone is a substantial risk factor for loneliness.

Relationships Australia’s report on the ‘epidemic’ of loneliness says social connection is vital to wellbeing across the life span, particularly in later life.

“So important and fundamental is our need to belong, it has often been considered as central to human evolution, with group membership increasing the survival of the human species by encouraging our ancestors to coordinate activities that promoted advantages such as sharing and protecting food, shelter and resources.

“It is, therefore, not surprising that deficits in experiences and feelings of belonging have been associated with a range of poor mental, physical and socio-economic outcomes for people, their families and communities.”

It said that people who are socially isolated or lonely are at risk of premature mortality at rates comparable with other well-established risk factors, including lack of physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, poor mental health, injury, and violence.

Loneliness is also linked to poor mental health, including depression, lower levels of self-worth, life satisfaction, and subjective wellbeing.

“For older cohorts, loneliness has been found to be a predictor of functional decline and premature death, with a lack of social connection carrying health risks equivalent to other known risky behaviours such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“Both men and women face a greater risk of social and emotional isolation if their financial situation has deteriorated or they have lost their jobs.

“For both males and females, employment was consistently associated with lower rates of loneliness and receipt of income support was consistently associated with higher rates of loneliness.”

Poverty, unemployment, and poor relationships are associated with loneliness and lonely people are likely to make greater use of the healthcare system.

Staying connected
The onset of the pandemic and the lockdown of many aged care facilities led to greater isolation for many older Australians. Researchers Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves and Sandra Sanders suggested the following to help isolated older Australians:

· schedule regular phone calls
· send routine text messages — just to say hi or to forward an article of interest
· exchange a picture a day via text message, email, or social media. Why not start a photo challenge?
· organise video calls to share mealtimes or activities
· participate in shared virtual experiences such as joining or starting online book clubs, streaming TV shows or movies at the same time, or virtually visiting a zoo, museum, or gallery together
· return to the days of snail mail by sending a postcard or handmade artwork. It's a good time to encourage grandchildren to write letters or send drawings· neighbours can leave notes in letterboxes with their contact information for those who need someone to talk to, help with errands, or provide assistance navigating information in different languages.

Would you consider shared living or co-housing?

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    johna53
    27th Oct 2020
    9:41am
    Shared living can be good but if you like your privacy volunteer or join a club. Join a bowls or golf club. If you’re not that active join a Lions Club or Rotary. Help put a sausage on a piece of bread and raise some money to help your own community. You can do as much or as little as you want. It’s not hard.
    tisme
    27th Oct 2020
    10:45am
    i am paying most of my income in rent but the idea of sharing with or being close to strangers really freaks me out i cant suck it up i cant get used to it ,
    Anonymous
    27th Oct 2020
    3:07pm
    That's sad, tisme, but as long as you are not asking for more handouts, it should be your choice whether to share or live alone. I do not, however, see why the taxpayer should indulge people who just want more handouts to live as they choose, when those of us who do not get rent assistance - or even pensions in many cases - are forced to cut out cloth to suit our means. It really irks me that people who live within their means - often making huge sacrifices - are subjected to whinging and demands from people who expect the government to indulge their wants. Nothing personal. You may well be among the many who accept the obligation to live within your means.
    Nanna75
    27th Oct 2020
    10:47am
    After my husband died 5 years ago, my son who was co- renting a unit in Surfers suggested whenhisleasecame up he could come and live with me. I was a bit concerned about the financial situation as I couldn't afford to pay the mortgage on my pension. I decided to sell and rent. We now rent a home together, splitting all expenses and rent. He looks after the garden and cooks some of my meals. He has a home office, own bedroom, toilet etc. We have separate lives and do our own things. Its worked out very well, we value each others privacy, and I have the comfort of knowing he is available 24/7 if needed.
    stekmer
    27th Oct 2020
    11:15am
    Loneliness and financial hardship are certainly relevant factors and sharing accommodation may be one solution for some people over 55 years of age (or at any age).
    However: The 2019 study has a sample size of 64 people in one suburb cluster (inner Brisbane) and was undertaken by a group with a vested interest in rental accommodation- IE it is hardly representative of the situation post COVID-19.
    jaycee1
    27th Oct 2020
    1:44pm
    While I can see the benefit in sharing accommodation it is not suitable for everyone. I would hate sharing my space with someone else.
    My home is set up to suit me. I am surrounded by things I have collected over many, many years - some of which, if sharing, would need to go to accommodate the other persons belongings.
    I do not want to feel I have to make conversation when all I want to do is read a book, do some craft, watch the tv or be on my computer. I have a fair amount of visitors, 90% of the time am glad when they go home and my house is mine again.
    If that makes me selfish then so be it!
    Sen.Cit.90
    27th Oct 2020
    1:55pm
    Hi, jaycee 1,
    I don't get many visitors for the rest of your comments;
    Me Too.
    Marigold
    27th Oct 2020
    2:34pm
    I think shared living is a good idea but just having another person in the house does not mean loneliness will disappear as a natural consequence. There has to a good connection with that person. If that is not there then the loneliness will remain and probably be worse. Its just as hard to find a housemate who matches your needs and vice versa as any other relationship. Our home, wherever and whatever it is, is fundamental to our well being and who we share it with must be as congenial. Thats the hard bit, especially as we are older and more set in our ways. Prrsonally speaking - I own my home and my children are unlikely to move back. I would like to have someone else rattling around in my house but have no idea how and where to start - and I am scared of them seeming ok and then discovering they are awful to actually live with or we just don't jell.
    Teacher
    28th Oct 2020
    12:12am
    Just a word of warning for those renting Government Housing premises. If you take on another resident and they are in full time employment, your rental will go up to full amount which would make it even harder for you to find half of that.
    I prefer not to share because as you get older you get set in your ways for using kitchen/cooking facilities; bathroom facilities; and excess toilet use due to medical conditions may not be compatible with another resident.
    Difficulties may also arise regarding grocery purchases and whether you share that cost or not.
    I was married to a very good man for 54 years and we grew old together. I don't think I would be lucky enough to get that same kind of compatibility again whether male or female.
    I think I'm better off on my own but belonging to various social groups and having hobbies such as computing, reading, sewing, and exercise classes.


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