Baynes, H and Orpin, P and Walker, JH, Social connectedness and rural ageing, Abstracts for the 43rd National Conference of the Australian Association of Gerontology, 17-19 November 2010, Hobart, Tasmania, pp. 3. (2010) [Conference Extract]
Background: Older rural people’s family and community
connections are crucial in helping them successfully deal
with age/health-related changes. Despite this we still do not
have a good understanding of the ways in which these
informal social networks function in practice to meet, or not
meet the individual needs of older rural people.
Methods: This presentation draws on data from semistructured
interviews with 69 older rural people from six
localities in Tasmania collected as part of an Australian
Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant project.
Findings: Findings reveal that the size, and even the makeup,
of networks are not necessarily good indicators of what
constitutes an effective resource and support network in
terms of meeting individual older rural people’s needs.
Rather, effective networks appear to share four characteristics.
Firstly, they encompass a range of connection types –
including the intense and close, the episodic and occasional
and the gossamer-like webs of connection that develop over
an extended shared history. Secondly, they contain
considerable functional overlap and some level of redundancy.
Thirdly, there is some element of reciprocity and fi nally, they
achieve the right balance between availability when needed
and permitting the individual to maintain their sense of
privacy and independence. These characteristics, in
combination, allow the individual the fl exibility to use their
connections in ways that most closely meet their needs at
any particular time or in any specifi c respect.
Conclusion: These fi ndings argue against simple service
models and uni-dimensional interventions to address the
support needs of older rural people. Successful supports,
formal or informal, should address the functional breadth
and complexity that mark effective support networks. The
benefi ts of incorporating the older person’s perspective are