At last night’s event, research findings which show that even the ‘older old’ (those 75 years and older) can age successful were presented. But what was meant by successful aging? Those indivdiuals who were found to be aging successfully had high mental quality of life but low physical quality of life. That is, the ‘older old’ were able to have a positive outlook on life despite poor physical health. This was particularly true in individuals who had increased social interactions. Other research supports these findings. Older people who consider themselves to be aging successfully have a sense of ‘self-efficacy’ and feel they have control over their lives while they may be physically frail.
What are some of the factors that inhibit social interaction older people? Lack of mobility is a key limiting factor. As people get older, they drive less and so getting around becomes more difficult. This particularly impacts on older people in rural and remote areas. In urban areas, public transport systems are not always easily accessible for older people. Lack of disposable income among older people limits their ability to go out and participate in activities; losing a spouse or friends; depression; lack of appropriate lifelong learning educational opportunities. These are but a few of the factors which make it difficult for older people to interact with others.
It is recognized there is a need to foster social interactions between older and younger people. But how can this be accomplished when there is evidence to suggest that older people ‘fear’ younger people (particularly teenagers) and find them threatening?
Given that there is convincing evidence that social interaction is key to successful aging and improves the quality of life of older people, two other key questions were raised:
Should promoting social interaction be a legitimate policy concern?
If social interaction is a legitimate policy concern, what should be done about it? That is, what should the roles of government, the voluntary sector and individuals be in promoting social interaction among older people?
You can download a copy of the policy-brief from our website: www.ilcuk.org.uk
We invite comments/answers to some of the issues and questions raised here.