A pioneering new study conducted by older people has provided valuable insight into what people want and need to make them happy as they age.
As part of the project, involving the University of Stirling and Age Scotland, community researchers aged between 50 and 84 were engaged to carry out their own research and analysis of Scotland’s older people and what they thought constituted a good quality of life.
Dr Corinne Greasley-Adams has led the pioneering research.
The study, A Good Life in Later Years, was funded with a grant of £97,000 from the Life Changes Trust. Led by the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, the project actively involved the subjects of the research – older people - to play a central role themselves.
Thirty community researchers were recruited from five areas across the country – Aberdeen, Galashiels, Kilmarnock, Perth and Stirling – who then received training to collect data, carry out analysis and establish findings. The process allowed participants to learn new skills, refresh old skills, have their voices heard and also provided enjoyment.
The community researchers made key findings across a range of topic areas including communities, health and well-being, services and facilities, learning and education, and hobbies, pastimes and activities.
The community researchers captured photographs that symbolised happiness in older age.
The data has already been used to inform Scottish Government policy and has also formed part of Age Scotland’s local election manifesto. The findings will be presented at a Scottish Parliament reception, hosted by Bruce Crawford MSP, tonight [6 September].
Principal investigator Dr Corinne Greasley-Adams, University of Stirling, said: “For this project, we used a unique approach that blended the knowledge and skills of both community and university researchers, whilst providing a platform for new learning and experiences.
“By doing this, we were able to demonstrate how it is possible to do research with people rather than about people that can make a real, tangible difference to their lives."
Community researchers began by capturing images which they thought conveyed a good quality of life in older age. One example showed walking boots and walking pole alongside a chair. This conveyed their idea that older people enjoyed being active – but also had to set aside rest time too.
For the second phase of the project, the community researchers established their own focus groups – involving other older members of their communities – to discuss the topics that had emerged from the images.
The project’s research phase concluded with a national survey of older people, which was composed by the community researchers and attracted a total of 748 responses.
Being part of a community is considered vital for a good life in older age, with more than 96 per cent of survey participants indicating such.
Health and well-being were also reported to be central factors in being able to live a good life in later years, as many reported living with a long-term condition. Walking, swimming and cycling are popular among older people for keeping fit, while crosswords and other puzzles allow people to keep mentally active.
Those living in rural areas raised concerns that they are on the periphery of public services. In one example, an island community was forced to travel to the mainland after the doctor service was removed.
Intergenerational aspects of community were found to be particularly important to those polled, with 82.3 per cent indicating that the most effective communities encourage generations to come together.
Some of those surveyed feared the potential impact of frailty and outliving family and friends, with people generally wanting their social connections to continue as they aged.
Technology is increasingly important in allowing older people to communicate with family and friends.
Having enough money to live relatively comfortably and not having to worry about struggling financially in their retirement is important to older people.
Independence, freedom and choice, good public transport and housing were also among the areas assessed as part of the study.
Bruce Crawford, MSP for Stirling, said: “It is a privilege to host a parliamentary reception to celebrate the success of this pioneering project from the University of Stirling and Age Scotland.
“I welcome the findings of this study, which provides an important insight into the lives of older people. This work will help to inform and influence future policy decisions to ensure that people in their later years continue to enjoy a good quality of life.
“It is great to see that older people themselves were empowered to be involved in this research and I congratulate all of those involved.”
Keith Robson, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “Age Scotland has been particularly pleased to be involved in this project because it has enabled older people themselves to take the lead in researching what issues are important for a good quality of life in later years. It shows that older people are concerned about stereotypes which we are committed to challenging. The report also highlights the importance of issues like good care services, access to transport, community resources, and intergenerational cohesion. These findings will inform our future campaigns in these areas of policy.”
Anna Buchanan, Director of the Life Changes Trust Dementia programme said: “This project has given older people the opportunity to voice their own opinions and aspirations about what they think constitutes a ‘good life’ in later years, and what is needed to achieve this. It asks what would best support people through changing needs and circumstances - for example retiring, becoming a carer or developing a long term condition like dementia. This work will enable older people and services to think about how to plan better for later life in order to maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible. The project has actively involved older people themselves, and the results will be used to influence policy development and service provision.”