Dancing and swimming, recipe of Austrian doctors against loneliness and poverty

Jesus Calero

Vienna, 20 Nov. Exchanging medicines for dance or swimming classes is part of a project promoted by several medical centers in Austria that prescribe social activities to their patients to combat loneliness and poverty.

The so-called “social prescription” is a formula financed by the Austrian Ministry of Health to guarantee access to activities that promote “social health” for people who live in isolation, many of whom are elderly and have limited financial resources.

Experts recognize the positive influence of personal relationships on physical and mental health in patients whose problems are not solved with medication.

So far this year, 220 social activities have been prescribed in Austria within the framework of this programme.


For Daniela Rojatz, responsible for this pilot project in which nine health centers are currently participating, prescribing social activities serves to integrate patients into neighborhood associations and sports clubs where they can interact.

The doctor tells how she had noticed that some elderly people came to her center to warm up or not feel alone.

“Thanks to the social prescription we realized that people need someone to talk to,” he explained to EFE in Vienna.

According to official figures, almost half of Austrians over the age of 60 live alone.

“Normally, the needs of the patient are determined by the doctor, who writes the prescription,” says Rojatz. Then, once diagnosed, the patient waits in a room where a social worker is ready to talk with him.

The specialists, who can also be nurses or therapists, function as a link between doctor and patient, to whom they refer to groups with activities, which can be self-help or dance or swimming classes, among others.

In many cases, the patient reported relief from physical or emotional ailments.

Another option is for patients to seek a solution on their own. In this case, the objective of the social prescription is to provide them with “that little push to help them get out of the house,” says Rojatz.


The “social prescription” is also intended for people with financial problems, who receive help from organizations such as AmberMed, which provides “pro bono” health care to people without health insurance in Austria.

For his staff, made up of eight doctors and two social workers, prescribing sports activities is only the last step in a “pyramid of needs”, but at least thanks to them, patients have access to sports facilities that they could not afford on their own.

“Telling someone who lives in extremely precarious conditions to pay 30 to 50 euros in a sports club, or to integrate into their local community without speaking German, is very difficult,” explains Lisa Lehner, one of the doctors at EFE. AmberMed.

“To prescribe social activities, you first have to solve existential problems. Without food, you cannot exercise,” he adds.

Many of his patients work illegally and without legal protection, so they do not have public health insurance.

Social Prescribing is just one of several projects that AmberMed finances with the public funds it receives to facilitate access to health benefits and social activities for marginalized people.


Within the spectrum of services offered, patients can also receive psychological help and nutritional advice.

One of Lehner’s patients is 36 years old and a single mother of two. She lives in her sister’s apartment, from whom she receives the basics to make ends meet, and she has weight problems that put her health at risk.

“When she talked to us, the woman told us that depression prevented her from getting out of bed. She felt unmotivated to do things that she used to enjoy, like cooking, walking or taking her children to the park,” says the doctor.

Last June, AmberMed decided to prescribe physical exercise courses and a diet program.

Two months later, the woman, of foreign origin, asked to learn German in order to integrate into the social life of Vienna. Thanks to the social prescription program, AmberMed got him a place on a course.

“Since then, the woman has participated in the classes and sent us photos of her successes in the course. She has also started cooking and walking again,” Lehner concludes with satisfaction. EFE


(photo) (video)

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