Angela Burton

Imagine that you are an older adult who gets up every day with nagging joint pain. Because of that pain, the mere act of moving your body feels like you are trudging through thick concrete.

Or your cholesterol is teetering at higher levels. Perhaps you feel depressed and hopeless, with a sense of dread as you stare at the same surroundings with little to no contact with other human beings. Feels dismal. 

You decide to go to your doctor to find some medical relief. We are a highly “prescribed” country, so surely there will be something, you think. Your doctor may not only prescribe medication to help address your needs but a new approach to helping people manage their health and wellness called “social prescribing.”

To your surprise, you might walk away with a prescription for going to the ballet or taking a stroll around a park to consume nature. You may also be asked to join a virtual art class or learn to express yourself by writing your feelings and stories down in a journal. 

Social prescribing is intended to address an individual’s personal interests, hobbies or passions. Rather than your healthcare provider focusing on the physical or medical problem at hand, they’re addressing your social/emotional needs too. The practice has been on the rise in Europe for several years, and it’s beginning to take hold in the U.S.  

And it comes at a very important time. As the pandemic lingers, our social wellbeing is at risk. The isolation and loneliness we’ve endured are taking their toll on our health.

Charles de Vilmorin

By providing people with a prescription for creative pursuits – art, music, writing, dance, drama, and so much more – we allow curiosity and purpose to bloom. Further, when people have autonomy and choice to create, moving toward a common goal, the stage for true social connection is set. There’s a harmonizing outcome. We see people’s sense of belonging literally emerge alongside a genuine pride in what they’ve produced amongst peers and for themselves. It’s a whole-person approach to wellness.

In London, the King’s Fund, an independent charitable organization committed to addressing public healthcare in England, wholeheartedly supports a mission to grow social prescribing as a necessary means to improve health.  

“Population health is an approach that aims to improve physical and mental health outcomes, promote wellbeing and reduce health inequalities across an entire population,” the organization stated in a report. The UK was also the first country to appoint a “Loneliness Minister” in 2018.

Though the U.S. has been generally slower to adopt such practices, we are beginning to see a trend toward acknowledging the many benefits of integrative health. That includes participating in a more holistic approach with the arts, the outdoors, and through activities that encourage social connectedness.

Studies are emerging that show how these practices improve our overall health and wellbeing. A recent New York Times article is encouraging, stressing, “Social medicine programs, which often encourage patients to engage with other people, can help address dementia, isolation and more.”

Linked Senior’s 2022 Activities Strong Virtual Summit zeroes in with “Enabling the Social Prescription” on June 21, 2022. The summit is designed to educate and inspire activity and life enrichment professionals in senior living. 

There is a lot to gain as a society in establishing this kind of practice. We now know through the work of social determinants of health that psycho-social-based interventions can impact the quality of life up to 70% – often at a fraction of the cost of traditional medical interventions. 

The long-term care industry has often taken a medical-first approach to caring for older adults. Considering the individual’s psychosocial preferences in addition to this though is a promising balancing act that we ought to consider since finding purpose is a basic human right.

Angela Burton is the Founder & Chief Writing Motivator of Feet to the Fire Writers’ Workshops®, a creative program that inspires older adults to challenge themselves through expressive writing. Burton holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from the University of Louisville. 

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.