Global ageing is moving apace. According to the World Health Organisation (2015):
In 2002 the World Health Organisation declared global ageing to be both the ‘greatest triumph and challenge of the twenty first century’. Increasing numbers of people have the opportunity to use this extended time beyond retirement to pursue new goals, gain new skills and contribute to their families and communities. However, the extent to which individuals are able to do this will be very much dependent on their health.
Whilst disability is not inevitable a number of common health conditions are associated with growing older including: loss of visual and hearing acuity, osteoarthritis chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia. More complex health states commonly referred to as geriatric syndromes may also emerge. These are often the result of a number of underlying factors including frailty, falls, urinary incontinence and delirium (WHO, 2015). Increasing frailty may occur at the same time as social networks are diminishing as a consequence of bereavement.
As a result of these challenges individuals may experience a loss of occupational connectedness, and older people can easily become stuck in a negative cycle whereby reduced confidence leads to inactivity which in turn leads to further loss of confidence and withdrawal which results in further inactivity and so on. The cycle can leads to a reduction of skills, deterioration in physical abilities, the diminishing of social relationships and general difficulties in coping resulting in depression and anxiety.
However we know that there is evidence to show that this is not inevitable and that timely interventions to support individuals’ engagement in meaningful activity can break this negative cycle. New conceptualisations of ageing very much support this approach.