Experts in the Media

Volunteering WA – The West Australian

Tina Williams, CEO of Volunteering WA

Tina Williams: Volunteers can provide crucial companionship in aged care.

As the community starts to reconnect after a very challenging two years, it is vital that we dra

w attention to an essential service urgently needed by those living in aged care: companionship.

Volunteers have been providing this vital social support for many years, but COVID-19 changed the volunteer landscape virtually overnight, with an estimated 64 per cent of West Australian volunteers being stood down when the paThere has been helpful media coverage highlighting COVID-19’s disruption to essential community services, which have been severely impacted these past two years. However there needs to be more attention drawn to the emotional support needs of the approximately 24,000 West Australians in aged-care facilities, many of which will go unmet without urgent action.

Even prior to COVID, aged-care experts indicated that only 40 per cent of aged care residents received visitors the preceding year.

Consequently, many residents are experiencing social isolation and loneliness without the company of visitors.

This is heartbreaking, and we must do better as a community. As the peak body for volunteering in WA with the purpose of empowering people and communities to enrich WA, we have launched a campaign with our nationwide counterparts to recruit new aged-care social support volunteers, and to welcome back those who have been on hiatus during COVID.

ndemic hit.

While things are slowly improving, unfortunately the WA community is still reeling from this huge shock to the volunteering ecosystem, and it will take some time to recover.

It is ambitious, but the need is urgent firstly to reverse the decline in volunteering, and then to reduce social isolation and loneliness in our older Australians. This program tackles both issues.

Eighty three per cent of aged-care facilities use the services of volunteers.

Volunteers are recognised as a vital part of the aged-care workforce providing the care, companionship and social support that is essential to the wellbeing of older people.

The campaign aims to boost volunteer numbers, increase visits, and lessen isolation for senior Australians.

Volunteer companions who visit residential aged-care facilities foster social and emotional connection, and have an incredible impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable in our community.

These volunteers may come in and play music, teach yoga, facilitate activities and games, discuss shared passions for books or travel, or share their life experiences.

Conversation and connection are incredibly important to all Australians, but especially to those whose circle of friends and family might be gradually diminishing.

Bankwest’s Curtin Economic Centre’s 2021 Stronger Together report showed that social connectedness has been deteriorating in every age group over the last decade, and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Many aged-care services responded swiftly during the height of restrictions to establish online friendship programs. While this has been embraced by the community, the human need to feel connected is very strong, and modern technology is no match for face-to-face contact.

People of any age may experience feelings of loneliness in this so-called connected, digital age. The magical aspect of companionship is that it is truly reciprocal.

Volunteering is truly reciprocal. In fact, volunteers often say that the balance of rewards tips very much in their favour.

Social connectedness can be achieved for the volunteer just as much as the aged-care resident.

Interestingly, surveys conducted during the early stages of COVID-19 confirmed that volunteers had a higher level of life satisfaction prior to COVID-19 than non-volunteers.

The impact of COVID-19 on life satisfaction and psychological distress varied by volunteering behaviour over the period, with those who managed to continue volunteering during COVID-19 faring much better.

Volunteering WA’s vision is a society in which everyone is inspired to make a difference. We hope the community will heed the urgent call to lend a hand of friendship to those in aged care in Western Australia.

Tina Williams is Volunteering WA CEO