In May 2017, the University of Stirling and Age Scotland were commissioned by the Life Changes Trust to explore what makes a good life for people as they get older.
The research adopted an innovative approach, underpinned by theories of ageing, coproduction and social movements. It recognised the skills that older people might bring to the project, but provided the possibility of further opportunities for personal learning and for new experiences. The method saw older people themselves become volunteer community researchers that would work with researchers from the University of Stirling to gather and analyse data about how to support a good life in later years.
Thirty community researchers, worked in five teams based in Aberdeen, Galashiels, Kilmarnock, Perth, and Stirling. They gathered the views of over 800 people over the age of 50 years old and living in Scotland using visual methods, focus groups and a survey.
Researchers have identified that there were 17 components that could contribute to the experience of life as we age. One key aspect to a good life was having social friendships and relations. Having the opportunities to keep connected with others was seen as defying the possibility of becoming lonely, which was further thought to lead to depression. Taking part in volunteering, employment, and hobbies (three other components of a good life) were all seen as ways in which people could foster social relations with others. Being able to get out and meet people was seen as vital for supporting good health. Spaces such as community centres, local shops, banks and pubs or clubs, were all seen as important for providing the chance for people to meet and talk with others:
“I go back to the centre because I remember my granny was always in the town every day and it kept her active and I thought if you go to town there has to be somewhere that you can meet and somewhere you can meet new friends” (Focus group participant).
Public spaces not only gave people the chance to meet and talk with people their own age, but also with those from other age groups. Having the opportunities to meet, talk to and share experiences with younger people was seen to add another quality to life. Where people have the chance to get together and meet each other there can be organic growth of resilient communities (another factor that was seen as contributing to a good life). Communities where all generations might work together towards common good and where people will look out for each other. Communities where everybody is respected and valued, and where everybody can be included irrespective of health or wealth.
This image was captured to show how one lady, who found it difficult to leave her home for health reasons, remained connected with what was happening in her community and continued to feel important through the visits from friends and family. She also felt of worth and value by being able to act as a confident and support people through difficult times.
Other participants in the research discussed how being out in the garden at their home gave the option of developing friendships with neighbours and in speaking to people of different generations. In addition, many older people were utilising technology to support ongoing communications with friends and family that lived distantly.
To find out more about this research or to receive a copy of the findings please contact: Corinne Greasley-Adams, Corinne.firstname.lastname@example.org