Steve Iliffe, Professor of Primary Care for Older People offers the following summary: ‘Participation in meaningful activity is one of the five determinants of health and well-being in later life, according to the Age Concern & Mental Health Foundation Report, “Promoting mental health and well-being in later life”, published in 2006. The other four are: discrimination, relationships, physical health and poverty. Participation in meaningful activity has three components: staying active, having a sense of purpose and avoiding social isolation. The evidence that the first two components have a positive effect on health and well-being in later life can be found in two literature reviews at www.mhill.org.uk.
Having a social role and social activities was the second most common attribute of a good quality of life reported in the National Statistics Office Omnibus Survey (2001) of people aged 65 and over, higher than having good health (4th ) and having no financial worries (7th ). (Adding quality to quantity: older people’s views on quality of life and its enhancement Age Concern 2003). However, the same survey showed that 93% of respondents had plenty to do.
Social isolation is particularly important because it is associated with present and future physical ill health, increased mortality and worse mental health. Social isolation means objectively measurable lack of social contacts, and is different from loneliness, the subjective experience of social isolation. This is an under-researched topic. There are few well-designed studies of interventions to reduce social isolation, but those that have been carried out suggest that group activity is more effective than individual alternatives, like ‘befriending’. The evidence for this is summarised in the report Promoting Health & Wellbeing in Later Life, by the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research & Policy in 2010 (www.SCPHRP.ac.uk)’
Steve Iliffe,FRCGP FRCP Professor of Primary Care for Older People, UCL Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill St., London NW3 2PF (October 2011)
Detailed sources include Age Concern England’s ‘Working with Older Men’ 2006 – Sandy Ruxton.The ‘Grouchy Old Men’ report (Mental Health Foundation 2010). The Men’s Health Forum www.menshealthforum.org.uk has data on the health inequalites faced by older men. Local health statistics will also be helpful. Age UK will be releasing a report on the Men-in–Sheds Programme by Lancaster University on July 26th2012. More detail on available information is needed.