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  • Writer's pictureJenny Collieson

We're all growing older but we're not all the same!

The charity Independent Age recently published a timely new report, In Focus examining the diversity of experiences of ageing of older people (65+) in England, and particularly those people whose voices often go unheard and whose needs may be overlooked or not fully understood.

The report highlights the fact that we need a much more nuanced understanding of the diversity of older people’s experiences and less recourse to assumptions and ageist stereotypes. Lumping everybody over 65 into a homogenous “older” group clearly denies the reality of lived experience and the existence of major inequalities.

It’s great to see that people who are ageing without children are one of the six groups identified as part of the research and that we are recognised as a growing demographic.

In Focus defines this group (estimated at 1.5m older people) as older people who do not have any living children (those who have never had children or whose children have died). Members of AWOC will recognise that we suggest a broader definition which also includes people who may have adult children who live at great distance, are estranged or unable to offer assistance, increasing the number of those potentially without the support of family as they grow older.

One of the key findings was that older people without children have different care outcomes, being more likely to need care but not receive any (unmet needs,) as well as less likely to receive informal care. The report notes that the participants interviewed had less support with tasks such filling in forms, managing finances, applying for grants etc all of which we know are part of a range of practical support adult children often provide for their ageing parents alongside helping with shopping, hospital visits, and home maintenance. Helping older relatives navigate complex health and care systems and advocating for them is an important part of the emotional support adult children and grandchildren often provide.

The fact that other areas considered by the researchers like financial security and social connectedness reveal a mixed picture with some differences between quantitative and qualitative research findings, indicates that more in-depth research on the challenges of ageing without children continues to be needed as this demographic grows. It is reported that many of the respondents said that they were not particularly thinking ahead about issues that they might face as a result of not having children.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current restrictions people are living under has changed life for everyone, and is likely to have amplified and exacerbated the challenges facing all the groups featured in this report. Low income, poor health, social isolation, the digital divide and ageist attitudes all contribute to older people finding it difficult to access support when it is needed and reduce the quality of later life.

With the current pandemic sharpening focus on these issues we want to find out more about the day-to-day experiences of AWOC York members in relation to the impact of Covid-19 and are building upon Sue Lister’s monthly collated record of Experiences started in March, by circulating a short survey of targeted questions (to be completed by 22 May). Sue will mail print copies with SAE to those members who are not online.

We hope to get as many responses from York members as possible reflecting the range of different views and experiences in order to use this information (anonymised) to inform an online policy seminar planned for the end of May.

  • How has life has been for you during this time – have you be able to use your regular sources of support, and been able to access relevant information easily?

  • Do you have particular tips, coping strategies or advice which others might find helpful?

  • How have you maintained your social connections or developed new ones?

  • Has being a member of AWOC York been helpful in preparing for a crisis like this ?

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