Steve Smith, Public Affairs Manager for the Royal Voluntary Service, on ‘Involving Older Age: The route to 21st century well-being’
A new report built around a joint project by the Royal Voluntary Service, the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, the Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University reveals that older people have much to contribute to the debate on well-being and services for older people. At present over two thirds say that they are rarely or never consulted on services that impact on them. The research challenges common perceptions and the portrayal of older people and the assumptions that those providing services for them often make.
Traditional services for older people, whilst addressing important practical needs, can also encourage passivity and dependence. Many of these services do things “for” older people rather involving older people and responding to what they themselves would like. Older people reported being patronised or not sufficiently involved or valued.
The Shaping our Age project defined what constitutes well-being for older people by consulting with older people. Key factors which determine well-being included good mental and physical health; achieving and accomplishing in life; and leading an independent life. Keeping fit and active and being involved with other people were also seen as important. Relationships and social contacts with friends and family are essential and participating in groups and clubs, as well as volunteering, were cited as important. We all recognise the negative impacts on health and well-being of loneliness.
Through consulting with older people, as well as five local projects carried out as part of the project, the report suggests a future model for services for older people which would involve older people themselves in helping develop the kind of services and activities that will contribute most to their well-being. Key factors include starting with the older people and using their expertise and knowledge, having small groups for activities and actually doing what older people want to do rather than dictating what they should do.
This is an exciting and innovative research project which should act as a wake-up call for those of us providing services for older people. A culture shift towards a user-centred and human rights based approach to understanding well-being and the tools to deliver it, will offer benefits to the wider UK older population. There are of course a number of barriers to overcome such as structures, education and training and often negative perceptions around older people and what they can’t do. But an involvement-led approach which values the potential of older people offers new possibilities for tackling barriers to well-being and issues of exclusion.
The Royal Voluntary Service provides support for over 100,000 older people through its army of 40,000 volunteers. The organisation is passionate about helping older people live active and fulfilled lives which is why it supports the Age Action Alliance vision to improve the quality of later life through partnership working and creating communities where older people feel secure, valued and able to contribute to society.
The full report and supporting documents can be found on the Royal Voluntary Service website.