The isolation of older people is recognised as a major social problem in contemporary Western society. While the risk factors and social or health outcomes of isolation and loneliness in later life are well documented, evidence regarding the effectiveness of programmes aimed at reducing social isolation in older people remains inconclusive. This paper reports on the challenges of attempting to undertake a rigorous evaluation of three demonstration pilot projects targeting older people at risk of social isolation, conducted within different social settings in Queensland, Australia. The demonstration projects were part of the Queensland Cross-Government Project to Reduce Social Isolation in Older People (CGPRSIOP) led by the Office for Seniors within the Queensland Department of Communities. In the absence of good evaluation of programmes aimed at social isolation, this government-run programme incorporated validated psychological measures to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions. While use of these measures suggested some promising results, the focus of this paper is on the methodological and practical challenges associated with utilising evaluation measures in community-based interventions. The detailed consideration of the methodological issues involved in this programme highlights some key lessons and offers new insights into evaluating interventions for reducing social isolation.
The active ageing appoach has become a leading global response to population ageing, having been widely adopted as a policy direction across the European Union (EU) and various national and local governments. This trend has been greatly influenced by the World Health Organization pulication of Active Ageing: A Policy Framework (WHO 2002), which has provided the basis for many national policies. The framework defined active ageing as 'the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age' (WHO 2002: 12). The WHO model conceptualises active ageing broadly as 'continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spriitual and civic affairs, not just the ability to be physically active or to participate in the labour force', and highlights the importance of maintaining autonomy and independence (WHO 2002: 12). Both culture and gender are recognised in the WHO model as cross-cutting factors that have a major influence on active ageing. Given that it is over a decade since the release of the WHO Active Ageing Framework, it is timely to consider the impact of this initiative, particularly on how older people from different cultures and groups experience active ageing.