Friday, 9 December 2011

Meet the authors

CABS members Julia Johnson and Bill Bytheway at a recent 'meet the authors' event. 
Both 'Residential Care Transformed' and 'Unmasking Age' were published in 2011 to great reviews.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

New report on quality of life

Yesterday saw the launch of a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the quality of life of older people with high support needs. CABS members Jeanne Katz, Caroline Holland and Sheila Peace were the researchers and lead authors of this study. They undertook a literature review and also interviewed a diverse group of 26 people with high support needs aged between 40 and 93.

Key points from the report include:

  • The views of older people with high support needs have rarely been sought. Reasons for this include their invisibility, communication issues and the lack of a collective voice.

  • Participants in the study wanted and valued different things in their lives, but all expressed common human needs for social, psychological and physical well-being.

  • People valued their close emotional relationships, though some expressed concerns about 'imposing' on family and friends. Many had made new friends as a result of their increasing support needs.

  • Having control over their lives was important but meant different things to different people. Adjusting well to change was also central to psychological well-being, and this might require support.

  • Participants valued getting out and about, keeping mentally and physically active and having contact with nature.

  • Care, support and other people's time were key factors that enabled or prevented people doing things that mattered to them.

  • Participants faced various challenges and difficulties, some a result of illness, disability and ageing but many because of lack of access to information, money, technology, equipment and transport.
The summary is available here and the full report here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

CABS member on You & Yours

This morning, long-standing CABS member, Professor Sheila Peace was a guest on BBC Radio 4's You & Yours programme. She was talking about home care for older people.

For the next 7 days, you can listen to the clip here. The programme discusses home care at various points but Sheila appears from around 46 minutes in until the end.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Theorising Age in Maastricht

Several CABS members are in Maastricht this week, taking part in the 7th International Symposium on Cultural Gerontology which is also the inaugural conference of the European Network in Ageing Studies. The title of the conference is Theorizing Age: Challenging the Disciplines and you can see the conferenc programme and all the abstracts here.

It's a conference that many CABS members have a soft spot for. We even went so far as to host it ourselves back in 2005. CABS has a symposium later this afternoon 'Critical reflections on biography and biographical methods' as well as CABS members having presented in other streams (because so many of us wanted to come that we couldn't all fit in one panel).

I've been periodically taking notes throughout, but there have been far too many interesting things to write them all up here (although there is more over on my personal blog, rememberingmyhat, if you are interested). What follows is some notes from just a few of the sessions that I thought might be of general interest.

I went to an extremely interesting panel called 'Critique of Ageing Well' which was mainly about critiquing what is variously known as active ageing, successful ageing, positive ageing, productive ageing and so on. There are, of course, nuances between these phrases, but the critique can be general as well as specific to particular approaches. This is something I've written about myself for K319, (in Learning Guide 2 - out this coming February!) but I wish I'd been able to attend this symposium first.

Just picking out bits from two of the abstracts gives you a nice, if very dense, summary:

[Debbie Laliberte Rudman, The University of Western Ontario, Canada]
... ‘positive aging’ discourses [can be] conceptualized as technologies of government. Such discourses enlist aging citizens in a duty to age well through shaping and idealizing possibilities for identity and activity. This [...] raises concerns regarding ways ‘positive aging’ discourses create demands for ‘aging well’ which are differentially achievable and narrowly defined.

[Thibauld Moulaert, K.U. Leuven, Belgium]
...International discourses of AA have slowly moved from a general framework supporting many dimensions of ageing toward a concentration of the active side, thanks to the confusing notion of "activity". Would it be possible that this trend consequently neglects some major aspects of ageing like its diversity and inequality? [yes!]

The final speaker, Silke van Dyk, University of Jena, Germany was the most challenging. It was difficult stuff and I was tired at the end of a long day (I'm going to ask her if she has a written copy of her paper) but what I took from it was a challenge not only to active ageing but also to where the critics of active-ageing often (probably inadvertently) end up.

Her argument was that active ageing is a paradigm of sameness - older people should be as much like middle-aged people as possible. But, in resisting this, critics of active ageing end up positioning older people as too different from younger people. They end up renaturalising old age as a homogenous category with its own characteristics distinct from those of younger people. Her answer was deconstructing chronological age and theorising midlife, via postcolonial and queer perspectives, which I think are good projects (although not as novel as she positioned them to be) but I'm struggling with quite how that would play out and how you could use that to challenge mandatory active ageing in practice contexts. I'd like to think more about this, though, as I do think she is on to something.

Phew! That was long and difficult, sorry. For some light relief (although also making serious points), and especially for Caroline Holland:

(cc Capital M)

I also went to a paper about cultural representations of the ageing of Lemmy from Motorhead. It was by Magnus Nilsson from Karlstad University, Sweden. I won't try to cover everything he said, just pick out some bits I was particularly interested in. Lemmy (or rather, Lemmy in his fans' imaginations) is the antithesis of healthy ageing. He's still drinking and taking drugs and having as wild a life as ever. In the famous song Ace of Spades he has apparently changed a clause so he now sings 'I don't wanna live forever ... but apparently I am'. His fans view him as indestructible, telling a joke that only two things will survive a nuclear holocaust, cockroaches and Lemmy.

I was interested that some audience members were quite uncomfortable with this. One commented that it was very ageist of his fans not to let him age and another pointed out how dangerous a role model he provided to other people who wouldn't be able to continue to abuse their health in these ways without major health problems or death. I can, of course, see their points of view entirely, but my own response was to enjoy the transgressive figure as a ripost to the pressures on people to age healthily. I mean, I wouldn't want to do it myself, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone I knew (or even to Lemmy himself, if it is indeed true - this presentation made no claims to be about the real Lemmy, just about his cultural representation) but I think we benefit from a wider range of models of ways of being older, including Lemmy.

Friday, 30 September 2011

At United Generations

Staff from The Open University from Health and Social Care, Centre for Widening Participation and Maths and Computing Sciences have been at United Generations today celebrating International Older People's Day. We have had younger and older learners playing with the Kinnect, I pods. I pads and Face-timing. We also met Angela Rippon who was really interested in the OPT-in project.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Hair and Care Project

CABS associate Dr Richard Ward (previously researcher on the 'RoAD' research on age discrimination project) is undertaking an exciting new project exploring the role of hairdressing and bodywork in the lives of people with dementia. Sarah Campbell is working with him on this project, based at Manchester University.  They told us:   
 "We would like to build links with interested individuals and groups as well as encourage  debate around the issues of ageing, dementia, self-image and appearance".
A link to the project website can be found on this page  -  go to Other Bloggers We Like

Friday, 22 July 2011

Residential Care Transformed: an accolade

The recent book by Julia Johnson, Sheena Rolph and Randal Smith has been awarded the newly established British Academy Peter Townsend Policy Press Prize. The prize will be awarded biennially to the author of what the Academy judges to be a piece of outstanding work with policy relevance and academic merit, on a topic falling within one or more of the fields to which Townsend made a major contribution - poverty and inequality, ageing and the lives of older people, disability, or inequalities in health.

In this book Julia, Sheena and Randal revisit Peter Townsend's classic study of residential care in England and Wales, The Last Refuge, published in 1962. With the help of a hundred older volunteer researchers, they traced what happened to the 173 homes that Townsend visited. They also revisited 20 of the surviving local authority, voluntary and private homes so as to compare them then and now. The book includes some previously unpublished photographs from the Peter Townsend Collection which when set beside those taken in the early 21st century illustrate not only continuity and change in residential care but also in visual representations of older people.

And the Peter Townsend inaugural award goes to....Johnson, Rolph and Smith

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

New Book

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Bill Bytheway, CABS member and Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University.

What is age?   A simple question...but not that easy to answer. 

'Unmasking Age' addresses it using data from a series of research projects, supplemented by material from a range of other sources including diaries and fiction. Drawing on a long career in social research, Bill critically examines various methods and discusses ways of uncovering the realities of age.

"Fine reading, indeed!" Jay Gubrium, University of Missouri, USA

'Unmasking Age' is published by Policy Press [ISBN 9781847426178].

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Working with older people’s organisations

On the 12th of May CABS and the Centre for Policy on Ageing ran a study day that explored methodological and practical issues when user involvement had been achieved through links with existing older people’s organisations and groups.

The day was constructed to critically explore a range of ways in which older people had engaged with research. Julia Johnson started the day by reflecting on her experiences of working with volunteer researchers as part of her work with Sheena Rolph and Randall Smith in which they revisited Peter Townsend's study of residential care for older people.

Bill Bytheway then drew on his experiences of working with older people's groups as part of the RoAD project which investigated how age discrimination is experienced by older people.

In the afternoon I (Josie Tetley) gave a presentation along Stephanie Warren and Joan Walker from from Age UK Milton Keynes. In our presentation we described how members of Age UK had participated in a European technology project OPT-in. Our presentation can be accessed via the OPT-in project wiki website

The day concluded with a presentation from Jackie and Tony Watts who described the work of Enfield Borough Older People's forum and their European Over 50s project that is campaigning for a higher level of service for older people across Europe.

Throughout the day there was lively questioning and discussion amongst participants. It was our first event at The Open University Camden office and whilst there were a few technical issues, the central London location was seen as a positive location for future seminars.

Monday, 11 April 2011

It is a month today since the massive Tohoko earthquake and the shocking tsunami that followed it. Since then there have been almost 400 aftershocks, some of them very large (including one today at 7.1 magnitude) Japan Meterological Agency.  The focus of media attention in the west quickly shifted to concerns about the conditions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the struggle there to contain leaks. Meanwhile, in north-east Japan, snow and freezing weather hampered relief and recovery efforts. It will come as no surprise that many of the people affected both by the catastrophes and by the difficult conditions of the following days and weeks have been older people: and in spite of a traditional Japanese respect for older people there have inevitably been heartbreaking stories of abandonment and trauma.  
Age Scotland - article
The Independent - article

A few years ago, CABS member Bill Bytheway wrote an article about the impact on New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina, the subsequent flooding caused by breaching of the levees, and events during and after evacuation Bill Bytheway on Katrina evacuations. He pointed out that while the victims had often been portrayed as mainly poor and black, in fact age and physical ability were the key issues in survival, and the highest rates of death were among older people in hospital and nursing homes.

Japan has the highest percentage of older people in the world, reflecting a population that has been ageing faster than other developed countries. Over 23% of the population were already over 65 in 2009 (compared with 16% in the UK) - and this is projected to increase to almost 40% by 2050. While most older Japanese people live with someone else (child, spouse, etc) 23% now live alone - and women, especially very old women, are much more likely to live alone than men (ILC Japan data).

Hence Japan takes ageing very seriously as a social reality, just as it takes seriously the seismic reality of its location. While Tohoko 2011 was quite exceptional, I hope that the famous Japanese preparedness for earthquakes and tsunamis will increasingly lead the way on evacuation protocols that work better for older people. It seems to me that the discussion about interdependence posted below by Jill Reynolds is highly relevant here. When taken-for-granted support structures fail, the limitations of 'independence' are all too obvious.

Friday, 11 March 2011

If we're used to being independent can we do interdependence?

Being independent has a very high value in most western civilisations. Many people hope to remain in their own home in later life - but can promoting independence among adults aged 75+ also create pressures for individuals? Elena Portacolone has some interesting ideas on how older people may find themselves regulated by policies that effectively make independence a moral imperative. For instance requirements in some supportive housing may mean that those residents considered more at risk are debarred. In an article to be published in Ageing & Society Portacolone suggests that more attention to interdependence could be fruitful.

The idea of interdependence certainly has some resonance for me following some interviews I've held with women in a transitional phase of entering retirement. My focus in on the experience of ageing for people without children, and many of the participants in my study are also without current partners. Women who had moved to a new area talked about how they went about making new contacts through pursuing interests such as singing or country walks. One remarked on how during her recent period of illness neighbours had helped out and how she tended to do the same for them 'I realise however independent I am ... we all depend on one another and any of us could be in need of some help at any time'.

I’m wondering what the boundaries are between independence and interdependence. Are they opposites or can one thing shade into the other? Women on their own are often thought of as quite independent. In research on older people, never-married women have been found to have the highest levels of organisational membership (Arber 2004). While being prepared to join could show independence there’s also a strong sign of interdependence there surely? The same category of women also have the highest proportions in residential care (Wenger et al.2000). And while that suggests some dependence – the decision to seek care and support can also signal independence – like Diana Athill opting in a rational way for a life ‘free of worries’.

Perhaps it would be good to independently arrive at a degree of interdependence?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hair today, gone tomorrow?

(cc) imakecontent

We were delighted to hear recently that one of CABS' associate members, Dr Richard Ward, now at the University of Manchester, was successful in getting funding from the ESRC for his research about the role of hairdressing in the lives of older people with high support needs. He says:

"The purpose of this research is to explore the role that hairdressing plays in the lives of older people who are high-level users of health and social care. This will include investigating the formal/paid services provided by hairdressers, as well as the styling and management of hair undertaken by care workers. The research will take account of how image and appearance is managed and maintained by older service users, the importance attached to hairstyles in care settings and explore the links between how we look and how we feel.

Existing research has shown that hair is important to our self-image and that hairdressing is associated with improvements to self-esteem, especially for women and that this increases with age. As hairdressing has not been viewed as a crucial feature of health and social care provision it has tended to be overlooked by research. This means little is known about good practice or what potential it has to support positive outcomes for older service users in respect to promoting a positive self-image in the context of deteriorating health and limiting long-term and mental health conditions such as dementia.

The importance of the research is that it will provide evidence and insights to support an on-going debate over how to balance the needs of service users with pressures of time and funding in the organisation of care. It will also help to better understand the importance of the 'body-work' undertaken by care workers and how this work can support positive relationships in care and help to avoid decline, depression and neglect. The research will also have direct benefits to the hairdressing industry as little is currently known about the experiences of care-based hairdressers and how best to support them"

He and one of CABS' core members, Caroline Holland, have an article out in the current issue of the journal Ageing and Society

Ward, Richard and Holland, Caroline (2011). 'If I look old, I will be treated old': hair and later-life image dilemmas. Ageing and Society, 31(02), pp. 288–307.

I'm looking forward to learning more about this neglected topic.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Lenses on a life

An elderly relative of mine died recently and it’s made me think about the different lenses with which you can review someone’s life, and how that enables you to focus on different things.

(cc) freephoto

Looking through my family member spectacles, I focus on my feelings toward her, my memories of her, my sense of the sort of person she was and her place in the complex web of emotions that makes up any family.

Wearing my historian’s glasses, I think about the times she lived in and how that illuminates my sense of the past. When I think about non-conformist working class life in the early 20th century, I picture her birth family. When I think about changing attitudes to disability, I remember her exclusion from elementary school, and hence formal education, for a relatively minor disability. When I think about the impact of the NHS, I think about her recurring hospital treatments, both pre and post-NHS, and how those treatments shaped and improved her life.

If I put on my social gerontologist’s spectacles, I feel angry and despairing about her low quality of life in her later years, even in a relatively ‘good’ care home and in a much less socially isolated context than many care home residents. I also remember what a lot I learned about being an informal carer from just a fortnight of living with her after she came out of hospital one time.

With my feminist spectacles on, I think about how her female gender intertwined with her disability and her status as ‘youngest child of large family’ to position her within the family as the one who needed looking after. I speculate about how differently this might have played out had she been born a disabled boy.

As a sociologist with a particular interest in sexuality and relationships, I think about how a working class woman came to marry a much older widower from a wealthy family. And think about how complex her class position ended up being, with not much money but some fabulous Victorian furniture.

(cc) Tom

I don’t know whether my relative is going to have an obituary published anywhere, but if she does, it will probably talk about her love of music, her decades of service as a churchwarden and organist, her employment as a physiotherapy assistant, her short but happy marriage, her love of dogs and her sense of humour.

I’m struck by how partial all these pairs of spectacles are. Each of them brings only one aspect of her life into focus. While you can combine some of the lenses without giving yourself too much of a (theoretical) headache, they still do not even approach the rich complexity of a single, unremarkable woman’s life.

I guess that’s something of the enduring fascination to me of biographical approaches to the study of social life.

Cross-posted from

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ageing in perspective

We social gerontologists talk about ageing and reckon a centenarian or supercentenarian to be pretty old, but when biologists talk about ageing they mean REALLY old.

I loved this sequence of oldest living things, starting with a self-cloning plant reckoned now to be 43,000 years old and ending with Galapagos tortoises, mere striplings at 150-odd years old.

I also enjoyed this Radio 4 programme about yew trees, the oldest of which they reckoned to be 5,000 years old.


I was amused that the website makes no reference to yew trees, and the Radio 4 programme made a claim for the 5,000 year old yew tree to possibly be the world's oldest living thing. I guess biologists don't always do their lit reviewing properly, just like social gerontologists.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The case against the BBC

Did anyone see Jon Snow interviewing Mariella Frostrop on Channel Four News two nights ago. It was following the O'Reilly case and the issue of gender was raised in a peculiarly self-regarding sexist way. Was this just another example of ageism hitting the media headlines to be immediately upstaged by sexism?