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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Volume 13, Issue 1
Ireland, north and south, is witnessing a transformation in the meaning and experience of ageing.
We are growing older than ever before, both as individuals and as an island. Issues affecting older people are increasingly a focus of government policy, service providers, the research community, media, and of course older people themselves. However, it does seem that too often our increasing life spans and ageing populations are being seen as a problem and talked about only in terms of a burden and cost. I am struck by the need to challenge, reflect and counter balance the “demography of doom”. This tendency to focus only on the cost of health and social care and pensions, important as they are, means the immense contribution that older people make to society as carers, consumers and citizens can be lost.
Older people must be recognised for their important contribution to economies and communities. Experience of ageing is diverse and must be understood to a much greater degree across a wide spectrum of issues including: work, education, leisure, culture, sport, transport, income and housing as well as health and care services.
We must also recognise that an individual’s experience of ageing and later life, including their health, well-being, financial security or social position, is determined by their life-course in its entirety, rather than by simply the events of their later life in isolation.
An underlying message of this edition is the need to support activities, structures and services that build people’s resilience throughout their lives, to better prevent avoidable problems arising – exclusion, poverty, abuse and disability.
This edition takes a selection of research funded by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI) grant programme and maps the varied experience of ageing in Ireland – north and south. Common to the funded research in this edition is that it provides a comparative analysis of experiences of ageing on both sides of the island of Ireland and avails of interdisciplinary perspectives to undertake the research and analyse the findings.
The first article sets out the context of ageing in Ireland, mapping out the development of CARDI and in particular the delivery of its grants programme as a model for supporting ageing research to work across disciplines, sectors and borders.
In the second, Professor Eamon O’Shea and colleagues at the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology in Galway explore community perceptions of the relationship between age and social exclusion in rural areas in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is the first time such a comparison has taken place and it helps our understanding of the social exclusion of older people across the island of Ireland. The study focuses on five different rural community types and found four interconnecting themes: place, economic circumstances, social provision and social connectedness. Understanding the tipping points into and out of exclusion will be of great relevance to policy makers.
This research project developed out of a Call 1 funded network and involved seven different disciplines, two universities, two rural-based community organisations and one government agency. It also successfully secured funding from the Call 3 grant programme.
The next paper is based on research led by Professor Paddy Hillyard and focuses on “Inequalities in old age: the impact of the recession on older people in Ireland, North and South”. This research was the first systematic, comparative study into the impact of the recession on older people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The research, combining diverse disciplines from social policy to accountancy, involved scrutinising existing data sets and undertaking focus groups with older people in Ireland, north and south. It revealed significant disparities in income and pensions within the older population across the island. One recommendation is for policy makers to improve the process of data collection and measures to allow them and researchers to examine the current and future impact of the recession. We were delighted to support Professor Hillyard with a further award in the data mining call to explore the latest income data.
Given the vulnerability of the older population on the island of Ireland to fuel poverty, CARDI was pleased to fund a study in December 2009 to examine fuel poverty in older age groups. The research was led by Professor Patrick Goodman at the Dublin Institute of Technology and included an analysis of existing data and research on fuel poverty, a survey of older people on fuel poverty issues and an examination of mortality patterns in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
This paper is based on analysis of data derived from a dedicated survey of older people living in Ireland. It examines their lived experience in cold weather periods and finds that older people who find it difficult to heat their homes are more likely to experience ill-health and social exclusion, with significant implications for fuel poverty policy.
The value of capturing the real life experiences and views of older people is further emphasised by the fourth paper in this edition. Traditionally the development of elder abuse services has been defined from the perspective of policy makers and professionals. This research project, led by Dr Emer Begley from Age Action Ireland, points to a link between elder abuse and older people’s status and value to society.
This innovative, interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research was the first all-Ireland study to consult older people on their perceptions of interventions and services to support people experiencing abuse. Furthermore, by training four peer-researchers to assist in recruitment, data collection, analysis and dissemination, it gave a voice to older people themselves to say what elder abuse is and how it can be prevented or at least minimised.
A key message for the policy community is that empowering older people and ensuring they have an active role in society may reduce situations in which abuse is likely to take place.
The position of older people in the final stages of life is discussed in the final paper and highlights the need for specific guidelines for nursing homes delivering end-of-life care to residents with dementia across the island of Ireland.
The research, led by Dr Suzanne Cahill of Trinity College Dublin, combines sociology and medicine and shows that while good work is being done to meet the needs of older people with advanced dementia, there is a need for specific quality standards and training to take account of the very specialist care needs of all those in the final stages of life.
Based on the study’s findings, a set of guidelines for the delivery of quality care in long stay residential institutions was developed in consultation with eight health service professionals. It is intended that these guidelines will contribute to improvements in the care of people with dementia at end of life and will form the basis of future development of policy, practices and procedures.
This special issue not only explores the work of CARDI in supporting ageing research but also helps illustrate the quality and breadth of research on ageing being carried out across the island of Ireland in diverse disciplines and its potential to inform and support policies and services that can help improve the lives of older people and plan for all our futures.
Roger O’SullivanDirector, The Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland.