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Ageing and Psychology: Different perspectives come together in Seminar Series

Posted in Ageing, and Psychology

Myself, Prof Michael Murray and Dr Carol Holland ran a seminar series which ended earlier this year on the psychologies of ageing. A write up was in the April issue of The Psychologist and we are now working on a Special Issue of Working with Older People based on it.

We deliberately, and unapologetically, used psychologies plural to actively signal the wide range of social, critical, cognitive, biological and community psychology perspectives adopted when researchers and practitioners focus on the topic of ageing. Seminar one was about Ageing in Context: Identities and diversities. There were nearly 100 delegates, included student nurses, health care assistants, occupational therapists, service users, and care home workers and providers as well as academics.

Ageing in Context explored social research that recognises diversity in ageing across genders, sexualities, illnesses, contexts and lifespan trajectories. We asked what does a recognition of different identities mean for ageing well? And how does psychology, health and social care best engage with identities and diversity within an ageing population? One of the speakers was Christine Bryden, who was diagnosed with younger onset dementia in 1995. She movingly discussed questions of identity from her personal perspective of having received a “toxic dementia prescription” at diagnosis that communicated hopelessness and helplessness. Christine’s ‘inspirational’ talk offered a framework for people with dementia to find meaning, highlighting the key components of identity, connectedness, security, autonomy, meaning, growth and joy.

This seminar foregrounded chronic and long-term conditions such as dementia, which disproportionately affect older people. It moved beyond traditional psychological research that has emphasised the ageing individual, and explored the relational and social contexts of dementia care and end of life decision-making. There was lively small group discussion about how individuals’ different identities can best be supported as they age, and how can psychology, and health and social care best engage with diversity issues.

The second seminar looked at Positive Ageing: Lifestyles and living well and stressed preventative strategies with a focus on the prevention of cognitive decline and frailty. Sixty people from a range of backgrounds including supported living provision, care homes, local government, and health care practitioners came alone. We explored how active or “healthy” environments interact with personal variables such as coping styles, cognitive health, mobility and co-morbidities. A key thread throughout the day was the malleability of frailty and the potentials for reversibility. One of the speakers, Prof Eef Hogervorst, reviewed the evidence-base that suggests that diet can help prevent dementia symptoms such as memory loss, and discussed the healthy lifestyle related issues that can reduce dementia incidence. She also led a ‘cooking for cognition’ practical workshop which demonstrated how combining some of the ingredients that have been associated with a reduced dementia risk (e.g., turmeric, olive oil and tempe) can be used in tasty meals.

The final seminar, spotlighted Ageing in Place: Independence and communities and ways of enhancing community participation among older people. The 40 delegates came from other universities including Copenhagen, Staffordshire, Lincoln, as well as local authorities, housing agencies, community and older people’s organisations and advocacy groups such as the Campaign to End Loneliness. Many older people have lived in their neighbourhoods for a large part of their lives, yet social exclusion from social and civic activities can negatively impact people as they age.

The seminar series was rounded-off with a talk from Paul McGarry, Manchester City Council, about the policy, practical, and fiscal challenges in building an age-friendly city. He discussed key issues connected to social inclusion and exclusion, strategies for engaging people in times of austerity and budgetary cuts, and the advantage of applying an ‘ageing lens’ to services and city infrastructure.

Look out for the forthcoming Special Issue of Working with Older People !

Elizabeth Peel @profpeel