University of Tasmania
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Staying connected : peer-run community organisations and their contributions to older people's perceived health and wellbeing

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:06 authored by MacKean, RM
The recent increase in the number and proportion of older people worldwide has prompted a search for new policies and practices to help them remain active, happy and healthy participants in their community. Although older people's wellbeing is a well-researched topic, there has been little or no research into where, when and how they can most easily find opportunities to observe, learn and practise strategies that lead to feelings of wellbeing. This study explores a prevalent but under-researched area of older people's activities that is likely to be an important contributor to the search: their participation in groups run by and for their peers. The study's aims are to identify the common characteristics of different groups run by and for older people and the ways in which they contribute to their participants' feelings of wellbeing. It appears to be the first study to examine the range and variety of older people's peer-run groups throughout a local government area, supplementing previous research that focused on one type of group. The chosen methodology, mixed methods, uses an explanatory sequential research design (Creswell, 2015): a survey sent to a range of older people's groups in a designated area, followed by semi-structured interviews with current participants in nine of the groups and with relevant service providers. Data were analysed by an iterative thematic process integrating the qualitative and quantitative data. Theories used in interpretation of the data include Lifespan Theory (Baltes, 1987), Atchley's Continuity Theory (1989) and Laslett's concept of four lifestages (1989, 1991), particularly his concept of a third age as an era of active independence after leaving paid work. The study finds that older people's peer-run groups have both a manifest and a latent function in promoting their participants' feelings of wellbeing. The manifest function is to fulfil their participants' need to restore or replace life satisfactions that have changed or diminished in their transition to older age. Interviewees interpreted the satisfaction of these needs as an expression of their personal concepts of 'wellbeing'. Furthermore, all the groups were found to play a role in their participants' feelings of wellbeing regardless of the activity offered. The groups' latent function is to help satisfy their participants' dual needs for independence and support. Older people's peer-run groups are found to be both a resource of experiential knowledge and an arena where strategies for successful ageing can be observed, learned and practised in an atmosphere of sharing and reciprocal support. The study then identifies the characteristics that enable older people's peer-run groups to satisfy their participants' needs and interests. Three enabling factors are found within the groups: voluntarism: the free choice of participants to choose which group to join and the extent of their involvement; the lifestage of the participants, with the predominance of one generation cohort, the third age; and self-governance of the groups by their members. The fourth enabling factor is outside assistance from other organisations in domains where the groups are under-resourced, such as the provision of suitable and affordable places to meet. The study concludes that, in this time of rapid demographic and social change, the groups run by older people for their peers are a manifestation of the new and growing lifestage cohort: neither older paid workers nor dependent elderly but the third age. The peer-run groups act as a resource and a focus of this emergent generation cohort's unique contribution to their own wellbeing and to the wider community. These findings on the third age cohort and their groups have important implications for the development of policies and practices to improve older people's wellbeing, by recognising their potential for contributing in their own way to society in the twenty-first century.


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