Sport and Health Sciences at Brighton

close up of an eye

Brighton research highlights importance of dignity and sense of personal control as UK population ages

Investment in supportive approaches that increase a sense of personal control are needed to make sure older people in the UK have the care support they need to live independent, fulfilling lives in their later years.

Research led by the University of Brighton as part of a Europe-wide project found that ensuring older people retained a sense of control and freedom to continue to engage in what is important to them in life was key. Older people themselves flagged the need for earlier assessment so that they can consider life changes and future care needs.

Findings from researchers in the UK, Denmark, Greece, Norway and Sweden will be presented to the public, stakeholders and project partners at a conference in Birmingham on 1 June 2023 – and the messages are clear.

photo of Kathleen Galvin

Professor Kathleen Galvin

“We need to reframe, rethink and reflect again on the narrative that ageing is all about decline,” says Kathleen Galvin, Professor of Nursing Practice in the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Brighton, who has led the INNOVATEDIGNITY research project investigating the challenges around caring for older people in an ageing European population.

The four-year, €4.5 million project has concluded that efforts should be made to ensure older people retain control over their lives, that emotional support is as important to many as practical support, and transitions between settings should be carefully managed. In addition, different perspectives and dilemmas associated with family care as opposed to residential care need to be considered and issues of gender as people age must be taken into account. Finally, the benefits and challenges of adopting digital technology are complex; much more research is needed to ensure that these innovations improve wellbeing for older generations in reality.

The project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), involved early stage researchers who focused on specific topics and the research has become increasingly relevant given ongoing discussions and debate about the provision of social care before, during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the growth in the ageing population.

Census 2021 results confirmed there are more people than ever before in older age groups. More than 11 million people – 18.6% of the total population – were aged 65 years or older, compared with 16.4% at the time of the previous census in 2011. This included more than half a million (527,900) people who were at least 90 years of age. In the next 25 years, the number of people older than 85 will double to 2.6 million.

“We want to begin a conversation about growing old and ageing,” said Professor Galvin. “The meaning of ageing cannot be reduced to decline in our everyday understandings. We are interested in wellbeing and living well. These are the kinds of conversations we want to have with the public, as well as policymakers and practitioners.

“Fresh ideas for providing sustainable and dignified care for older people, at home as well as in residential, municipal and hospital settings have global relevance. Our in-depth findings span several European countries, our data is available in multiple languages and our analysis offers coherent insights and directions for policy and practice.”

One of the key achievements has been the emphasis on engaging the public with discoveries about ageing through short films, facilitated conversations at interactive events and exhibitions. The When We Get Old exhibition took place at the Museum of Nursing History in Kolding, Denmark this Spring, attracting over 2000 visitors, and will transfer to the UK in 2024. The exhibits aim to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ aiming to communicate ‘voices from the nursing home’, ‘caring for each other’ and ‘digital horizons’ and has been praised for bringing first-hand perspectives from older people to life.

Both professionals and the general public are welcome to attend the free INNOVATEDIGNITY conference taking place at The Studio in Birmingham on 1 June 2023. For information and to reserve a place, visit the INNOVATEDIGNITY conference booking website.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s H2020-MSCA-ITN-2018 programme under grant agreement No 813928.

Kerry Burnett • 22/05/2023

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