This blog post was contributed by Dr Marcus Green, Social and Economic Research Manager, at Age UK.
There can be a difference between how we say we are when asked “how are you doing?” and how we really are – through our research, we have found this to be true. As a charity trying to help older people lead fulfilling later lives, Age UK needs an accurate assessment of how older people are doing in order to support them towards this, which goes beyond a subjective measure of life satisfaction and happiness.
To define a good later life, we have used the term ‘wellbeing’. Older people have told us that the concept of wellbeing is appropriate and it covers many domains of life including the domestic and social environment, health, finances and the local community. To understand how to support older people, we need to consider their lives in the round because all these areas are interconnected.
Following a period of consultation with older people, experts and data analysis, we have constructed Age’s Index of Wellbeing in Later Life which reveals the deciding factors for a good later life. And emerging amongst the most important factors is participation in social, creative, cultural and civic activities. These include going to a cinema, museum, historical site, taking part in a street arts event or play, or being active in a community or voluntary group. A common feature across these activities is that many have a social element.
Factors such as being in good health and having enough money are also shown to be important but not to the same level as participation. The Index also shows that physical activity is very important to wellbeing along with an open attitude to trying things out and a positive outlook. There are in total 40 indicators of wellbeing.
The Index allows us to assess the wellbeing of the population aged 60 and over in the UK which is scored out of 100 per cent. The current average score is 53 per cent out of 100. This means that the average score would need to move from 53 to 100, an increase of 47 percentage points before every person aged 60 and over in the UK experiences maximum wellbeing.
We can also identify and understand groups of older people with low wellbeing. We now know that around three million older people in the UK have low wellbeing. This struggling group are very likely to live on their own, not have any friends and be disengaged from their local community. The vast majority have a long-standing illness or disability and are financially poor.
Cuts to local government funding is affecting the provision of community and public services and this is limiting communal spaces for older people to socialise, participate and access essential healthcare and social care. This is imposing barriers to wellbeing for many people and must stop.
There are older people in poor health and finances who are experiencing higher wellbeing. It appears that these individuals have built and protected their social networks and benefit from the support of their family, friends and community and participate in social, civic and cultural activities. And many of these individuals are in their 80s and 90s emphasising that age is not a barrier to wellbeing. These individuals hold the key to understanding how wellbeing can be maximised so that as many older people as possible can lead a fulfilling later life.
For more information about this research you can read the full report at www.ageuk.org.uk/wellbeingresearch