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Major new report reveals flawed approach in traditional services for older people

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The findings of Shaping our Age, a pioneering three-year research project involving older people themselves, are published today. The research shows that older people have a great deal to contribute to the debate around well-being and services for older people and yet 71% say that they are rarely or never consulted on services that impact their life.

Shaping our Age, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, is a joint project between the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University, the Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University and older people’s charity the Royal Voluntary Service . The research challenges the common perceptions of ageing and seeks to question the portrayal of older people and the assumptions that those providing services for them often make.

To coincide with today's launch, Shaping our Age commissioned new quantitative research amongst over 65s which is also being published. This highlights older people's own concerns about their position in society; 61% of over 65s think that society sees them as a burden and the majority (57%) think that the media encourages the idea that older people are a problem for society. Two-thirds of older people (66%) feel that they are stereotyped and, worryingly, well over half (56%) think that older people are ignored.

Despite the views of others, the vast majority (62%) of over 65s do not feel as old as they are and two-thirds (61%) don't see age as important.

Shaping our Age illustrates the huge contribution that older people have to make to the debate around their own well-being and how best to provide services and support for older people and yet only a third (33%) of older people feel that the contribution that older people make to society is recognised.

The report shows that 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 than working alongside them, involving older people and responding to what they themselves would like. Older people reported being patronised or not sufficiently involved or valued.

These findings are echoed by the survey results which found that although a majority of over 65s (57%) do not use services specifically for older people; for those that do, one in ten feel that the services provided are not really what they want nor are they interesting or stimulating enough. 16% say that the services are the stereotypical ones that people think older people would like.

"The fact that, as a society, we are living longer is a wonderful thing but the challenges that this brings with it has led to older people being seen as a burden. This report lays out what many of us already know: that older people have a huge amount to give back to society and we should harness that expertise and enthusiasm to make services better for older people by involving them more in decision making. Shaping our Age is an exciting and innovative research project which should act as a wake-up call for those of us providing services for older people."

David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service Chief Executive

"The biggest issue older people see as needed for improving their well-being is more social contact and they want to play a bigger part in changing things for the better. Services for older people have to shift from a paternalistic ‘doing-to’ model to the ‘involvement-led’ approach older people value. What’s needed now are the twenty-first century equivalent of the old ‘Darby and Joan’ clubs, not just more of the same"

Professor Peter Beresford OBE, Director, Centre for Citizen Participation, Brunel University

"Shaping our Age clearly demonstrates the need to involve older people more in both the debate around their own well-being, but also the actual services that they use. Participation in activities makes a massive difference to an older person’s sense of well-being and that in turn can have a positive effect on loneliness, which we know has a knock on impact on mental and physical health."

Jennie Fleming, Reader in Participatory Research and Social Action, Centre for Social Action, De Montfort University

Shaping our Age defines what constitutes well-being for older people by consulting with the project's participants. Key factors which determine well-being were found to be 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.

Through a national consultation with older people, as well as five local projects carried out as part of Shaping our Age, 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.

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest volunteering charities in Britain powered by more than 40,000 volunteers who regularly provide practical help to over 100,000 older people in their homes, communities, hospitals and during emergencies. If you are over the age of 14, we have volunteering opportunities in communities, in hospitals and in emergency situations.

Find out how you can become a volunteer, call 0845 608 0122 or search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

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