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Living Well Now

29/11/2016 - Dr Claire Langsford, UniSA


What can research tell us about the ways that older people in Australia experience ‘going out' and ‘staying in'?

Research, especially the type that enables older people to describe their own experiences in their own words, can better inform the design of policies and services that affect older people.

Without research, governments, companies and services tend to make assumptions about the needs of older people. These assumptions may not reflect the lived reality of older people or may overlook the diverse needs of many different older people. People over 60 are not all the same!

From December 2016 to February 2017 COTA SA and the University of South Australia are conducting the Living Well Now research project exploring older people's experiences of home and community. Currently I'm interviewing people over the aged of 60 about their experiences of ‘going out' and ‘staying in'.

We hope to make the findings of the Living Well Now project available to COTA SA members in 2017, however, in the meantime, you may be interested to learn what academic scholars currently think about how older people experience ‘going out' and ‘staying in'.

Mobility - More than transport and moving bodies

When discussing how people move through their environments academic scholars in the social sciences, psychology, gerontology and occupational therapy tend to use the term ‘mobility' or ‘mobilities'. Mobility is a broad concept which can refer to how people move their bodies through space (walking, lifting, standing, using assistive technologies), or how people travel through their environments (driving, using public transport, flying), or even how people connect to others through technologies (using the phone or the internet).

Increased mobility has been linked to a greater sense of independence as well as improved physical and mental wellbeing for older people but what does this really mean in a practical sense? What are the ways that older people can be more mobile in their everyday lives and what are some of the barriers to mobility?

Going Out

It won't surprise many people to learn that the preferred method of transport for older people in Australia is driving their own car. Being forced to stop driving can cause practical issues for older people but has also been shown to have a significant emotional impact. Loss of driving ability can impact on people's sense of identity and empowerment. For more information on this issue, check out COTA SA's Moving Right Along program and COTA SA's blog on Vehicle Technologies and Older Drivers.

Walking, taking public transport and using mobility scooters can be great alternative forms of transport for older people. However, these alternatives work best for older people when cities, suburbs and towns are planned with the needs of older people in mind.

What about longer journeys? A lot of previous research has focused on older people's everyday local travel but some studies have pointed out that some older people need and want to travel significant distances on a regular basis. Aside from holidays, many older people travel across Australia or overseas to visit friends or family. With Australia's large migrant population, many older people may be separated from their immediate families. Researchers are also just beginning to explore the experiences of grey nomads, a group whose lives are organised around long-term travel.

Staying In

A lot of discussion around mobility focuses on transport and travel. However, people can be mobile in ways that don't involve leaving the house. Studies have found that older people who are largely housebound due to disabilities or illness can develop a highly ‘mobile' mindset through reading, watching TV, and talking to friends and family through the phone or internet, or hosting visitors.

There are even studies of mobility that have explored the ways that older people (metaphorically) travel through time in the comfort of their own homes. Research has shown that many older people use objects in their homes - photographs, clothing, cars or artworks - as a means of remembering or re-engaging with the past - memorialising absent loved ones, previous homes or homelands, or previous identities.

Accessing current research on older people in Australia

Interested to learn more what the psychologists, anthropologists, demographers, gerontologists and geographers have to say about older people in Australia?

Accessing current research can be tricky for non-academics as much of it is published in online pay-to-access journals; here are some ways to access academic research

  • Visit a university library. The major university libraries are open to the public and contain a very wide range of resources. Community members can join university libraries for an annual fee and alumni are often given a significant discount.
  • Visit the State Library of South Australia. The State Library has a large collection of online and offline resources including academic journals and periodicals.
  • Visit Australian Policy Online (http://apo.org.au). This website contains links and articles on all sorts of different research produced by academics, government, research centres and not-for-profit organisations. There is a specific section on the Ageing Society.

You're invited to get involved...

Do you have ideas and suggestions about how homes and communities could be better designed to suite the needs of older people? We'd like to hear from you.  Visit this page for more information on the project, including how to get involved - https://www.cotasa.org.au/requests/living-well-now-invitation.aspx