Social participation

Key points

  • Social participation refers to an individual's engagement in various social activities, interactions, and relationships within their community or society.  
  • Social participation helps combat social isolation by connecting individuals and reducing feelings of being excluded and loneliness. 
  • This summary suggests a list of effective group-based, multidimensional activities such as a combination of music, exercise, arts, educational programmes, and intergenerational interactions to facilitate social participation and reduce social isolation among older people. 

Social participation refers to people's engagement in activities that involve interactions within a community or society. [1] Engagement is crucial for all populations, especially among older adults, as it contributes to better mental and physical health outcomes. For example, social participation has the potential to reduce cognitive decline, lower risks of depression, and create a sense of belonging. [2] Social participation can alleviate social isolation and feelings of loneliness . [3, 4]

A broad range of social participation activities for older individuals exists to cater to their diverse needs, interests, and lifestyles. [3, 4] This diversity acknowledges the individuality of aging experiences, allowing older adults to choose activities that suit their preferences and abilities. [3, 4] These activities aim to promote social connections, cognitive stimulation, and a sense of purpose, contributing to better mental and emotional wellbeing. [3, 4]

This evidence theme on social participation is a summary of one of the key topics identified by a scoping review of the social isolation research. If you need more specific or comprehensive information on this topic, try using our PubMed searches provided below.

The available evidence, drawn from an analysis of 11 studies, highlights a range of effective activities shown to enhance social participation among older people. [5-15] These activities include choir singing, radio programmes, physical exercise, arts and recreation, educational programmes, as well as participation in psychosocial and nutritional programs.  [5-8] Additionally, engaging in social activities to expand social circles and participate in intergenerational interactions has proven effective in boosting social support, promoting self-motivation, and shifting the focus from oneself to others. [5, 8-10]

Moreover, the evidence highlights the importance of engaging in these activities within group settings, as this has been demonstrated to enhance their effectiveness in reducing loneliness and minimising the risk of social isolation.[10-12] Group-based activities play a significant role in strengthening social connections, fostering social integration, and promoting a sense of belonging and companionship within the community. [11, 12] Additionally, undertaking multicomponent activities (i.e. psychosocial group activities and creative arts) has been shown to increase social and community participation among older people. [8, 13, 14] 

One review specifically examined social participation activities for older people in nursing homes. [15] The evidence indicates that activities like exercise, craft classes, gardening, and participation in religious activities can increase interactions among residents, add interest to their lives, and reduce feelings of unfamiliarity between them. [15]

  • Find out from a person what types of activities they would like to participate in 
  • Invite older adults to enrol in classes or workshops related to their hobbies or interests.  This could prove a great way to enhance or acquire new skills, as well as interact with like-minded individuals.
  • Initiative conversations with older adults to create meaningful connections.
  • Provide information and access (i.e., transportation) to local events, gatherings, or cultural activities. This can provide opportunities to allow older adults to meet people and engage in social interactions.
  • Collaborate with community organisations and agencies to expand the range of services and social participation opportunities available to older adults.
  • Prioritise group-based activities to strengthen social connections and minimise feelings of loneliness and social isolation, recognising the importance of a sense of belonging and companionship.
  • For organisations working with older adults in nursing homes, find out from older people what they are interested in doing and use this information to design a varied range of activities. This could include exercise, chess, literature, information sessions on areas of interest, craft classes, digital technology, gardening, and religious engagement to promote interactions, add interest to residents' lives, and reduce unfamiliarity among them.
  1. Levasseur M, Lussier-Therrien M, Biron ML, Raymond É, Castonguay J, Naud D, et al. Scoping study of definitions of social participation: Update and co-construction of an interdisciplinary consensual definition. Age and ageing. 2022;51(2):afab215.
  2. Tcymbal A, Abu-Omar K, Hartung V, Bußkamp A, Comito C, Rossmann C, et al. Interventions simultaneously promoting social participation and physical activity in community living older adults: A systematic review. Frontiers in Public Health. 2022;10:1048496.
  3. Aroogh MD, Shahboulaghi FM. Social participation of older adults: A concept analysis. International journal of community based nursing and midwifery. 2020;8(1):55.
  4. Siette J, Berry H, Jorgensen M, Brett L, Georgiou A, McClean T, et al. Social participation among older adults receiving community care services. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 2021;40(9):997-1007.
  5. Chunxu C, Shannon K, Napier S, Neville S. Loneliness among older adults living in aged residential care in aotearoa new zealand and australia: An integrative review. Nursing Praxis in Aotearoa New Zealand. 2022;38(1):5-15. doi: 10.36951/27034542.2022.02.
  6. Veazie S, Gilbert J, Winchell K, Paynter R, Guise J-M. Addressing social isolation to improve the health of older adults: A rapid review. 2019.
  7. Shvedko A, Whittaker AC, Thompson JL, Greig CA. Physical activity interventions for treatment of social isolation, loneliness or low social support in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Psychology of Sport & Exercise. 2018;34:128-137. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2017.10.003.
  8. Hoang P, King JA, Moore S, Moore K, Reich K, Sidhu H, et al. Interventions associated with reduced loneliness and social isolation in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(10):1-20. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.36676.
  9. Zhao IY, Holroyd E, Garrett N, Wright‐St Clair VA, Neville S. Chinese late‐life immigrants’ loneliness and social isolation in host countries: An integrative review. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2023;32(9-10):1615-1624.
  10. Zhong S, Lee C, Foster MJ, Bian J. Intergenerational communities: A systematic literature review of intergenerational interactions and older adults' health-related outcomes. Social Science & Medicine. 2020;264:N.PAG-1. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113374.
  11. Manjunath J, Manoj N, Alchalabi T. Interventions against social isolation of older adults: A systematic review of existing literature and interventions. Geriatrics (Basel, Switzerland). 2021;6(3). doi:  
  12. Thompson C, Halcomb E, Masso M. The contribution of primary care practitioners to interventions reducing loneliness and social isolation in older people-an integrative review. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences. 2023. doi:
  13. Smallfield S, Molitor WL. Occupational therapy interventions supporting social participation and leisure engagement for community-dwelling older adults: A systematic review. The American journal of occupational therapy : official publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association. 2018;72(4):7204190020p7204190021-7204190020p7204190028. doi:
  14. Tong F, Yu C, Wang L, Chi I, Fu F. Systematic review of efficacy of interventions for social isolation of older adults. Frontiers in psychology. 2021;12:554145. doi:
  15. Zhang Y, Leuk JS, Teo WP. Domains, feasibility, effectiveness, cost, and acceptability of telehealth in aging care: Scoping review of systematic reviews. JMIR Aging. 2023;6:e40460. doi: 10.2196/40460.
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