Wellness in older adults

Foottit, Jenneke Anna (2009) Wellness in older adults. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Understanding perception of wellness in older adults is a question to be understood against the backdrop of concerns about whether global ageing and the ‘bulge’ of ageing baby boomers will increase health care cost beyond what modern economies can deal with. Older adults who age in a healthy way and who take responsibility for their own health offer a positive alternative and change the perception that older adults are a burden on their society’s health system.

The concept of successful ageing introduced by Rowe and Kahn (1987; 1997) suggested that older adults age successfully if they avoid disease and disability, maintain high cognitive and physical functioning and remain actively engaged with life. This concept, however, did not reflect older adults’ own perceptions of what constitutes successful ageing or how perceptions of wellness or health-related quality of life influenced the older adult’s understanding of his or her own health and ageing.

A research project was designed to examine older adults’ perceptions of wellness in order to gain an understanding of the factors that influence perception of their own wellness. Specifically, the research wanted to explore two aspects: whether belonging to a unique organisation, in this instance a Returned Services Club, influenced perceptions of wellness; and whether there are significant gender differences for the perception of wellness. A mixed method project with two consecutive studies was designed to answer these questions: a quantitative survey of members of a Returned Services Club and of the surrounding community in Queensland, Australia, and a qualitative study conducting focus groups to explore findings of the survey. The results of the survey were used to determine the composition of the focus groups.

The participants for the first study, (N=257), community living adults 65 years and older, were chosen from the membership role of a Returned Services Club or recruited by personal approach from the community surrounding the Services Club. Participants completed a survey that consisted of a perception of wellness instrument, a health-related quality of life instrument, and questions on morbidities, modifiable life style factors and demographics.

Data analysis found that a number of individual factors influenced perception of wellness and health-related quality of life. Positive influences were independent mobility, exercise and gambling at non-hazardous levels, and negative influences were hearing loss, memory problems, chronic disease and being single. Membership of the Services Club did not contribute to perception of wellness beyond being a member of a social group. While there may have been an expectation that members of an organisation that is traditionally associated with high alcohol use and problematic gambling may have lower perceptions of wellness, this study suggested that the negative influences may have been counteracted by the positive effects of social interaction, thus having neither negative nor positive influences on perception of wellness. There were significant differences in perception of wellness and in health-related quality of life for women and men. The most significant difference was for women aged 85-90 who had significantly lower scores for perception of wellness than men or than any other age group. This result was the impetus for conducting focus groups with adults aged 85-90 years of age.

Focus groups were conducted with 24 women and four men aged 85-90 to explore the survey findings for this age group. Results from the focus groups indicated that for older adults perception of wellness was a multidimensional construct of more complexity than indicated by the survey instrument. Elite older women (women over 85 years of age) related their perception of wellness to their ability to do what they wanted to do, and what they wanted to do significantly more than anything else, was to stay connected to family, friends and the community to which they belonged.

From the focus group results it appeared that elite older women identified with the three elements of successful ageing – low incidence of disability and disease, high physical and cognitive functioning, and active engagement with life – but not in a flat structure. It appears that for elite older women good physical and mental health function to enable social connectedness. It is the elements of health that impact on the ability to do what they wanted to do that were identified as key factors: independent mobility, hearing and memory - factors that impact on the ability to interact socially. These elements were only identified when they impacted on the person’s ability to do what they wanted to do, for example mobility problems that were managed were not considered a problem. The study also revealed that older women use selection, optimisation and compensation to meet their goal of staying socially connected. The shopping centre was a key factor in this goal and older women used shopping centres to stay connected to the community and for exercise as well as shopping. Personal and public safety and other environmental concerns were viewed in the same context of enabling or disabling social connectedness. This suggested that for elite older women the model of successful ageing was hierarchical rather than flat, with social connectedness at the top, supported by cognitive functioning and good physical and mental health.

In conclusion, this research revealed that perception of wellness in older adults is a complex, multidimensional construct. For older adults good health is related to social connectedness and is not a goal in itself. Health professionals and the community at large have a responsibility to take into account the ability of the older adult to stay socially connected to their community and to enable this, if the goal is to keep older adults healthy for as long as possible. Maintaining or improving perception of wellness in older adults will require a broad biopsychosocial approach that utilises findings such as older adults’ use of shopping centres for non-shopping purposes, concerns about personal and environmental safety and supporting older adults to maintain or improve their social connectedness to their communities.

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ID Code: 35655
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Anderson, Debra & Abbey, Jennifer
Keywords: perception of wellness, perceived wellness survey, health-related quality of life, SF-36vs2, older adults, elite old adults, older women, gender differences, healthy ageing, social connectedness
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 17 Sep 2010 02:50
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:43

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