Improve health literacy to enhance social inclusion, European examples

Investing in health and social services, active citizenship and health literacy may enhance the social inclusion of vulnerable population groups. For example, support services for income, housing, food security, social support, and health care reduce social isolation experienced by disadvantaged older adults Download PDF here and Download PDF here. On the other hand, it has suggested that social engagement might reduce health literacy decline among older adults. Download PDF here


Promising practices to prevent social exclusion of older adults

A large range of initiatives in Europe were identified in the IROHLA project which may prevent social isolation of older adults by increasing their social network, social support and providing new opportunities for participation. Some of these practices show a clear impact on health and health literacy of older people

Examples are:

Netherlands Dutch social network for older people is a Dutch successful profile-based internet community which allows its 33.000 or so active senior members to expand their social network, engage in activities with people who belong to the same age group, and learn from each other. 50plusnet is a developed in partnership between the Dutch National Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Dutch public broadcaster Max. The initial goal was to reduce loneliness among older people, framing it in a positive way “the place to meet people”. Indeed over 1,000 groups have been formed, of which over half has a direct health objective, e.g. walking or cooking clubs. Virtual communities invite to real life encounters. Find website here

Germany – Coffee afternoon as therapy

At the Bethanien Hospital in Heidelberg, older people get together to bake cakes and cookies and exchange views during an “Erzählcafé.” They also invite medical students to join them and listen to their stories. These coffee afternoons prevent social isolation, promote contact between generations and improve the cake and cookie bakers’ motor abilities and cognitive skills.

United KingdomHome visit services to help vulnerable adults in the community to use computers and the Internet

CareOnLine provides a home visit service for advice, support and training to people who have difficulty leaving their home. The services are designed for people with little or no previous experience of using a computer or people who can no longer use them because of medical condition or age. CareOnLine talks to vulnerable adults about how a computer can help their life; how to get information on home care services, having shopping delivered to the door or exploring new ways of keeping in touch with family and friends.

Poland – Adopt a grandmother

A fascinating example of informal intergenerational support is provided by a NGO from the poorer regions in the southeast of Poland. They established a project to adopt a grandmother. They matched two particularly vulnerable groups in Polish society – lone mothers and old people living in institutional care. The lone mothers who agreed taking part in this scheme are visiting these older people on a regular basis. The lone mothers would come with their children to visit these so-called grandmothers. They also have common activities, like meetings, they talk to each other, they are playing cards. Many of them developed new friendships this way.

This informal socialising programme turned out to have practical beneficiary consequences as well. Some of the unemployed lone mothers found a new job in these care homes. Their voluntary involvement was seen as a very good preparation and recommendation of their attitudes.

United Kingdom – Age Action Alliance

The ‘Age action alliance’ in the UK is a supporting network/platform where many activities in the field of health ageing are being carried out. The Age Action Alliance is a network which brings together organizations and older people, in partnership. Drawn from civil society and the public and private sectors, it takes a positive approach to ageing and seeks practical ways to improve services and support to older people.The network is aiming at a comprehensive approach regarding ageing population, where social inclusion (including digital inclusion) and participation of older adults are an important factor. Find website here

United Kingdom – Kilburn Older Voices Exchange

The voice of older people is the most prominent success factor in the ‘KOVE: Kilburn Older Voices Exchange’ project in UK. The intervention is focusing on giving older people an important voice in the community and in this way empowering them to influence the existing system. The intervention offers them the opportunity to be engaged in problem solving in the community and adjusting the environment (context). Find website here

Germany – Erlebnis internet

The intervention ‘Erlebnis Internet’ is an interesting German example of how barriers to the access of the use of internet (digital literacy) by older adults with low SES or from other cultural backgrounds are been tackled by means of social support of peers, volunteers, tailor-made education materials etc. Download PDF here

Austria – Activ ins Alter

The intervention ‘Activ ins Alter; investition in die Zukunft alterer Menschen’ (AU) is focusing really at the vulnerable group of older people. It is a good example of a personalised approach and activation of elderly. The strong element is that it starts with a needs assessment; people are asked what their needs are with respect to a broad range of things (social & health infrastructures) and about the possible ways to the needed support. The intervention is promising in its outreaching character, through the use of home visits by health counsellors. Networks with stakeholders are build and awareness of the problem is raised. It is a very well described and analysed intervention. Also the evaluation on implementation, transferability, and sustainability is reported. A thorough analysis is available in the report Health pro Elderly. Download PDF here

Austria – Lebenswerte Lebenswelten

The intervention ‘Lebenswerte Lebenswelten’ focuses specifically at older women with low SES. This community based intervention uses existing structures and networks in the community in order to empower older people with respect to caring for their own health. Home visits by volunteers, intergenerational learning, health café’s and communication and networking amongst different organization are key elements in this intervention. Find website here


Institute fur Soziologie der Universitat Wien. Activ ins Alter; investition in die Zukunft alterer Menschen.Institute fur Soziologie der Universitat Wien: 2005


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