Social wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing: Social Production Function model for wellbeing as we age

It has long been accepted that being physically well and healthy is a vital part of living happily and experiencing “wellbeing”. However, we have given less attention to the importance of social wellbeing in its contribution to our overall wellbeing experience.

So much money is poured into medical research and rightly so. We have made wonderful discoveries that have improved our physical health so that we live longer and don’t die of the diseases we used to die with in the past such a infections or the flu. Health care settings were focused solely on making us physically well. This led to a focus on the patient and not on the person – a distortion that has become much more commonly recognised in health professions so that they are now more ‘person-centred’ in their health care behaviour, giving attention to the relationship they have with us and not just the conditionwe have come to have treated. Remember when nurses would refer to a person as a “heart attack in bed 6”? Nurses are now trained in patient-centred care these days wtih much improvement in the quality of care.

Even aged care is more socially focussed than it used to be.I remember the days when as a child I visited nursing homes and saw rows of people in beds where they stayed all day, in long open-plan rooms. Today we have much more attractive aged care homes and a more socially responsive care environment.

The Social Production Function model of wellbeing identifies two major domains of wellbeing: Physical and social. Physical wellbeing is satisfied by Stimulation and by Comfort. Social wellbeing is provided by Affection, Status, and Behavioural Confirmation.

Affection is what we might call attachment and the emotional satisfaction we derive from close relationships with people such as spouses, children, grandchildren and friends. Status is what we get from being recognised by others for our attributes such as education or employment. Behavioural confirmation is what happens when we act in a socially appropriate way and are included in groups, or belong to hobbies or interest groups and are accepted socially.

How well does your aged care home or one you are familiar with, do this?

As people age and are admitteed into an aged care home often we accept that they lose sources of life that once provided them with wellbeing. This is normal, things change. But does necessarily mean they have less wellbeing? Certainly we all change in the way we provide ourselves with wellbeing. We substitute new ways of living for old ways as we age and life changes. I am not as physically active and robust as I was when in my twenties but now I derive satisfaciton from other sources such as hobbies and interests and the status and behavioural confirmation I have as a teacher. People lose partners who previouslt provided them wtih affection and comfort, status and behavioural confirmation. How we achieve wellbeing shifts as we age, so how can we facilitiate wellbeing experiences for the people we care for?Just because you lose your sources of wellbeing does not mean you are no longer capable of experiencing wellbeing nor does it mean those who care for you can just accept that you don’t have a spouse now so you must accept loneliness or aloneness as your only option.

It willvary form person to person and we need to be knowledgeable about each person so that we can identify ways we can adapt the environment each person lives in so they have oppportunities for wellbeing. It might not be the same way it once was but we still need to find other ways so they have some access to wellbeing. It might be a simple hug and smile or it might be more complex and resource intensive like a bus trip to an art gallery. Whatever it is each person can expereince wellbeing if we only find something for that particular person to substitute for ways they previously utilised to expereince wellbeing and now are no longer available.