There are now a range of measures to address the problems associated with ageing. One is the Single Assessment Process, a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment that aims to put older people at the centre of their care (1). Another useful development is the increased broadening of the concept of health to incorporate well-being, rather than just focusing on those in current need. Highlighting the importance of ‘active ageing’ and providing support for older people to remain independent have also been significant areas of focus in recent social policy (2). Investment in strong community support for older people is perhaps the most valuable of these measures (3).
However, more could be done to promote positive ageing and well-being for older people, both through building on these policies and initiating new ones. In particular, we would recommend the following:
- More funds made available to local authorities and community enterprises to invest in involving older people in their local communities. Valuable work has already been done on this by South Tyneside council, as part of a suite of Positive Psychology initiatives to improve well-being.
- Creating initiatives to give older people more choice and opportunity around staying in the workplace, or using their gifts and abilities – which, as we see here, are greater than many think – to do useful work and create more meaningful lives through voluntary work.
- Building forward-looking strategies to support people in learning to develop the skills that will bring them a healthier old age. This includes both physical and mental exercise, as well as mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to reduce the thinning of the cortex associated with ageing.
- Investment in education, both for older people and the wider community, about the story of positive ageing. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it helps older people to remain optimistic and motivated to engage in activities that will support a positive old age. This effect can be quite dramatic – research shows that people who believe that old age is a positive state actually live longer! (4) The second reason is equally important, though – this education will encourage people in the wider neighbourhood to value the contribution that the old can bring to their lives, so that they can remain a valued and valuable part of their community.
(1) National Service Framework for Older People, London (2001): Department of Health
(2) Audit Commission and Better Government for Older People (2004), Older People: Independence and Well-being, London: Audit Commission
(3) Milne, A, Hatzidimitriadou, E. & Wiseman, J. (2007). Health and quality of life among older people in rural England: Exploring the impact and efficacy of policy. Journal of Social Policy, 36(3), 477 – 495.
(4) Levy, B.R., Slade, M.D., Kunkel, S.R. & Kasl, S.V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261–270