The effect of lifestyle choices on the physical and mental health of older Australians : successful ageing

  • Audrey Guy

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study examines the effect of lifestyle choices on the physical and mental health of Australians in the 55+ age group and the contribution of these lifestyles to successful ageing. It uniquely uses interviews with successful older Australians to identify the ingredients that contribute to their success. It also uses data from a recognised source to provide a qualitative summary of the attributes of all older Australians on the assumption that if successful lifestyles are to be recommended then older people must be physically and mentally capable of achieving them. Australia, in common with other countries in the developed world, is facing a changing demographic. Low fertility and increases in life expectancy both contribute to an ageing population. Concern is expressed at the increase in the dependency ratio, i.e. the number of dependent people (under the age of 15 and over the age of 65) compared with the number of productive people in the workforce aged 15 – 65. In practical terms, there will be fewer taxpayers to fund increasing pension and health costs. The counter-argument that there are more people adding to the country’s social and economic capital is rarely heard. Research in ageing tends to concentrate around financial issues, using quantitative research which rarely involves older people. Research into the other aspect of ageing, the well-being of older people from the viewpoint of older people, is the subject of this research. Almost all research into ageing in Australia is done by younger researchers, whose knowledge of ageing often comes from issues raised in the literature, which in turn is written largely by younger researchers. In contrast, this research has been conducted by an older person, with the support of a group of older people. The philosophy of the research is that the last stage of life, ageing, is often artificially separated from the rest of the life span by retirement, instead of life being treated as a continuum. This largely contributes to the phenomenon of ‘negative ageing’ and creates many of the ‘problems’ associated with ageing. Life expectancy has increased exponentially in the last few decades, creating an increased number of years in the period of life referred to as ‘ageing’. Australia is not recognising this as a new phenomenon which must be addressed, both from the point of view of the individuals involved and the well-being of the country. In addition, many of the old concepts of ageing, including frailty, dependency and senility, continue to be inaccurately applied to the new ageing population. This research suggests that, as in other stages of life, most people have options in the later stage. The result of selecting correctly from these options can affect the quality of life, both physically and mentally, and hence the enjoyment of this final stage. It suggests that the Australian dream of a life of idleness and leisure beyond retirement age (55 for public servants) has downsides that are not usually acknowledged. Loneliness, high male suicide rates and dementia may well be among the unintended outcomes of inappropriate choices. More positive life paths, tried and tested, are suggested in this thesis. Continuation with employment, either full-time or part-time, or the adoption of an alternative life plan are proved to be promoters of good physical and mental health in the later stages of life. In all stages of life there is a need for a sense of purpose, and a need to feel part of the community and to have a role in that community, and these needs apply also to the later, ageing stage. The qualitative part of the research, interviews with outstanding older Australians, provides testimony to this. Modern research into brain plasticity can make a contribution to successful and healthy ageing. It largely supports the outcomes of this research. Ways of tapping into the untouched talents and capabilities that older people possess, to enable them to find a purpose in life, can be assisted by use of modern technology to access ‘tribes’ – that is, people with similar interests. Ageing in the 21st century must be regarded as a valuable stage in life when older persons continue with established careers or embrace new careers and achievements; this can lead to the recognition of ageing as a contributing and rewarding part of the continuum of life.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnne Daly (Supervisor), Anni Dugdale (Supervisor), Diane Gibson (Supervisor) & Barbara Pamphilon (Supervisor)

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