Measuring wellbeing in later life

At the start of February, Age UK launched the Index of Wellbeing in Later Life. The Index highlights what determines wellbeing, the importance of considering an older person’s wellbeing in the round and subgroups of older people who experience high or low wellbeing.

In spite of prominent news stories on the day, the Index received plenty of attention, securing coverage in national written press such as The Times, Independent as well as TV and radio. There was particular interest online from organisations involved in supporting and delivering creative and cultural activities. These groups highlighted the Index finding that creative and cultural participation is the strongest determinant of wellbeing in later life.

Since the launch, we have been contacted by organisations who are keen to do more with the Index. Age UK Oxfordshire, for example, incorporated the Index into a bid and secured part funding from Esmee Fairbairn and Baring Foundation to embark on the “Creative and Cultural Participation project”, and are now planning to use it to shape their work. Visit http://www.ageofcreativity.co.uk/ to find out more about how creativity and the arts can support older people to achieve better health, wellbeing and quality of life.

Our measure of wellbeing has also caught the attention of local councils. We are in discussion with a number of representatives in Local Government about helping them to measure wellbeing in their area. This information could help target services to areas of highest need, reflect on the availability of public services, the degree to which they are person-centred and over time, evaluate their impact.

The Index has also sparked conversations around the importance of assessing an older person’s wellbeing in the round. As discussed in a previous blog, domains of life are inextricably linked. The Index is helping Age UK to think across areas such as housing, care, finances and health.

There are significant benefits to considering all aspects of wellbeing when supporting an older person. For example, if in designing an exercise class to prevent older people from falling, other facets of wellbeing are also considered such as an assessment of the home environment, it is more likely that the intervention will be effective.

Or imagine a discharge team says that you are OK to leave hospital but you need to attend a follow-up appointment. If there is no regard for whether you have access to a car or public transport or perhaps a relative or friend to take you, it may be very difficult to attend the appointment. Missing the appointment may adversely affect your health and lead to you needing emergency or unplanned care sometime in the future. This is bad for the patient and costly for the health and care system.

To support an individual in one area of their life, you need to be mindful of other areas. For this reason, we may construct a tool that will help Age UK to better understand how different areas of life are interconnected. This could facilitate more joint-working across subject areas within Age UK.

We also plan to do some further data analysis to find out which groups of older people are participating in creative and cultural activities such as visiting museums, historical sites, libraries or the cinema, and reveal some of the physical and attitudinal barriers for those who are not.

Our next significant piece of work is to gain a deeper understanding of how some people are able to preserve their wellbeing throughout later life and in the face of adverse life events such as bereavement or a diagnosis of a health condition. We will explore the role of public and charitable services, individual behaviour and family/friends/community networks in improving wellbeing.

We will be releasing a full report of the Wellbeing Index in Later Life at the end of the summer. In the meantime, if you haven’t already read the summary report, you can find it here: www.ageuk.org.uk/wellbeingresearch.

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