New horizons in supporting older people's health and wellbeing: is social prescribing a way forward?
HAMILTON-WEST Kate, MILNE Alisoun, HOTHAM Sarah
Oxford University Press
Older people’s health and care needs are changing. Increasing numbers live with the combined effects of age-related chronic illness or disability, social isolation and/or poor mental health. Social prescribing has potential to benefit older people by helping those with social, emotional or practical needs to access relevant services and resources within the local community. However, researchers have highlighted limitations with the existing evidence-base, while clinicians express concerns about the quality of onward referral services, liability and upfront investment required. The current article provides a critical review of evidence on social prescribing, drawing on the RE-AIM Framework (Glasgow et al., 1999) to identify questions that will need to be addressed in order to inform both the design and delivery of services and the evolving research agenda around social prescribing. The authors emphasise the need for researchers and planners to work together to develop a more robust evidence-base, advancing understanding of the impacts of social prescribing (on individuals, services and communities), factors associated with variation in outcomes and strategies needed to implement effective and sustainable programmes. They also call on policymakers to recognise the need for investment in allied initiatives to address barriers to engagement in social prescribing programmes, provide targeted support for carers and improve access to older adult mental health services. The article concludes that social prescribing has potential to support older people’s health and wellbeing, but this potential will only be realised through strategic alignment of research, local level implementation and national policy and investment. (Edited publisher abstract)