How can the cultural sector support older people’s well-being as part of social prescribing?

Tierney S, Mahtani KR, Wong G, Turk A, Gorenberg J, Libert S, Shaw L, Webster E, McDougall B, Warburton H, Potter C, Eccles K, Husk K, Chatterjee H. (2020) How can the cultural sector support older people’s well-being as part of social prescribing? Recommendations from a review, interviews and a questionnaire.

Social prescribing is a non-clinical approach to addressing social, environmental and economic factors that can affect people’s health and well-being. The Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network, based at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford, received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to address the following question: ‘Cultural institutions as social prescribing venues to improve older people’s well-being in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: What works, for whom, in what circumstances and why?’

Data they collected highlighted the importance of ‘tailoring’ from link workers and cultural sector staff. This involves adaptation and flexibility (and adequate resources) to meet the diverse needs of older people, who will have differing expectations and requirements of cultural offers that form part of a social prescription. Tailoring is important for connecting older people to a suitable cultural offer, provided in a way that supports them, which is appropriate for meeting their non-medical needs.

Elements of tailoring they identified that relate to the research question were:

  • Messaging – how the suggestion of a cultural offer is made to an older person.
  • Matching – understanding what an older person might be open to trying and might benefit from in terms of a cultural offer.
  • Monitoring – adapting cultural offers based on feedback and input from older people and link workers.
  • Partnerships – human interactions are key to tailoring, between older people, link workers and cultural sector staff.
  • Maintaining boundaries – having the capacity and support to manage the emotional impact of this work.

The research suggested that through tailoring, older people might experience one or more of the following benefits from engaging with a cultural offer as part of social prescribing:

  • Immersing – people becoming absorbed in a cultural offer, which temporarily takes them away from life concerns.
  • Holding – providing a space or environment where people feel safe and valued.
  • Connecting – enabling people to develop their social networks. Transforming – changing how people see themselves and their place in the world.
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