Group interaction among elderly is the key to significant health outcomes
7 December 2012
The health benefits of 'water clubs' in care homes for the elderly, where residents gather together regularly to drink water, owe as least as much to the social nature of the activity as to the value of drinking water itself, an investigation by psychologists has shown.
The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), supports other findings that interventions aimed at improving individuals' wellbeing and quality of life can be far more effective if they are carried out among groups of people in ways that generate a strong sense of group identity.
A team led by Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter became interested in water clubs when one received widespread publicity. Small groups of residents in a care home met together to discuss the benefits of drinking more water and were encouraged to increase their intake of water. Members of the club reported enhanced wellbeing, fewer falls and better hydration than those who drank water alone.
"It is clear from this research and a series of other investigations that we have carried out that when people belong to a group, the sense of 'us-ness' that this creates plays a critically important role in processes of health and wellbeing," said Professor Haslam. "We refer to this as 'the social cure'," collaborator Professor Catherine Haslam said, "and it is far more potent than many of the other treatments that are out there. Whether we are talking about stress, depression, or recovery from stroke, a supportive group life plays a critical role in a person's clinical path."
The researchers, together with another ESRC-funded researcher, Professor Jolanda Jetten, have published their findings in a book, 'The Social Cure', which brings together evidence from around the world showing how groups are central to health and wellbeing. "Humans are social animals – we have evolved for group life," said Professor Jetten, co author of the book.
"Groups can boost our wellbeing but, at times, they can also drag us down and be a social curse. Precisely because group life is such an important determinant of health and wellbeing, we need to better understand these processes and dynamics" Professor Jetten concluded.
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Notes for editors
- This release is based on the findings from 'The Individual in the Group: Social Identity and the Dynamics of Change' funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The research was conducted by a team at the University of Exeter. Professor Alex Haslam, who led the research, is now based at the University of Queensland in Australia. Co-investigators include Jolanda Jetten,Tom Postmes, Catherine Haslam, Michelle Ryan and Huw Williams.
- The researchers, together with Professor Jolanda Jetten, have published their findings in a book, 'The Social Cure', which brings together evidence from around the world showing how groups are central to health and wellbeing.
- The team carried out a wide range of research including surveys and field-based intervention studies investigating the impact of social identity on various outcomes, including performance, stress, health and wellbeing. As well as the water club study, the team looked at patients recovering from stroke, and the value of group nostalgia among people with dementia, as well as several other studies. The research has resulted in the publication of more than 30 research papers in leading scientific journals.
- The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
- The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peers review. This research has been graded as outstanding.