Agency and ageing in place in rural Ireland

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O'Sullivan, Siobhán
Buckley, Margaret
Desmond, Elaine
Bantry-White, Eleanor
Cassarino, Marica
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University College Cork and Age Action
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This report explores the experiences and preferences of older adults on ageing in place in rural Ireland. This exploration is undertaken through a participatory mixed-methods approach that seeks to foreground the voices of older adults themselves. The research study involved two phases. Phase one entailed a nationwide online and postal survey co-constructed with Age Action’s Glór advocacy group and University of the Third Age (U3A) membership and distributed to Age Action members living in rural areas across Ireland. 218 people aged 55 and older who live in rural areas took part in the survey and every county was represented, with 45% of respondents from Munster, 36% from Leinster, 12% from Connaught, and 7% from Ulster. Phase two involved a series of four focus groups in which 19 people took part. The focus groups explored the survey themes in more depth. The research highlights the diversity of experience of home and community among the older adults in rural Ireland who took part. Most participants expressed a strong desire to remain in their homes and communities as they age. The sense of attachment to home and place had, for many, strengthened since the pandemic. Some participants, however, highlighted the tenuous nature of their living arrangements and their sense of alienation from place. This was particularly the case for the participants who were renting, who had recently moved locations to be closer to children, or who found the limited facilities and social opportunities in their rural environments restrictive. Whether they were settled in their homes and communities or not, all participants highlighted the uncertainty of their positions and their fears for being able to have their preference for remaining in place realised as they aged. This was related to unpredictable factors such as their future health needs and availability of home care, their ongoing ability to drive, or their capacity to afford to live independently given the ambiguity surrounding future pension provision and the escalating costs associated with utilities, healthcare, home maintenance and expenses related to rural living, such as security, water, and sewerage costs. The general decline of towns and villages was highlighted by participants, as was the poor coverage of public transport in rural areas. These aspects not only heightened the sense of isolation of participants in terms of access to services and social activities; they also served to heighten their sense of marginalisation and perceived loss of agency in terms of policy formation and political representation. Participants also noted the limited options available to them should they consider moving from their rural locations, something that would be particularly challenging for most given their emotional connection to their homes and communities. The lack of affordable and suitable housing for older adults was a particular concern. Most participants were strongly opposed to nursing homes, a view which the experience of the pandemic had often reinforced. While a small number saw their benefit in cases of critical care, most were dissatisfied with the current ‘Fair Deal’ Scheme for funding nursing home care. They argued that, instead of focussing resources on a nursing home option not favoured by older adults, the government should develop an alternative statutory home care scheme that would support older adults to remain in their homes as they age. The supports which were noted as important in relation to allowing adults to age in their homes included a more accessible and fit-for-purpose grant system to fund modifications to the home – the most popular of these being an emergency response system, bathroom modifications, and improved heating. The need for a properly paid and resourced home help service, as well as a home and garden maintenance service, was emphasised. This was especially the case given the changing reality of ageing in Irish society and the fact that many older adults cannot rely on the availability or ability of family members to care for them in their homes. Access to broadband in rural areas was also noted as crucial, not only given the fact that more aspects of daily services are being conducted online but also given the importance of a reliable broadband connection in facilitating isolated rural older adults to connect to others. Participants highlighted their enjoyment of meeting each other and realising their difficulties were shared despite their diverse locations as benefits of the research process in the current study. They argued for the need for training in technology which could be a significant enabler to their remaining in place, as opposed to presenting a barrier to their doing so. They also argued that there was a need to tackle the covert ageism which was seen as endemic in institutions and everyday interactions, and which served to marginalise older adults further. Participants noted their preferences were they to need additional supports which could not be provided in their homes in the future. In this case, their favoured options would be co-operative or sheltered housing and retirement villages. These options were available for very few participants locally, however, meaning that they would be required to move from their communities, as well as their homes. The research, while small in scale resonates with global research on the theme, and highlights that the ability of older adults to age in place requires coordination among several different policy areas, not least housing, transport, technology, and healthcare. There is a need to adjust the funding focus from moving people who need help out of their homes to ensuring that the help they need is available to them in their homes for as long as possible. There is also a need to develop housing options, other than nursing homes, to address people’s preferences should staying at home be no longer a feasible option. Finally, and most importantly, there is a requirement to listen to older people in rural areas about where and how they wish to age in ways that support their sense of agency and challenge flawed assumptions about ageing. This research seeks to contribute to that aim both through its focus and its process.
Ageing , Rural Ireland , Preferences of older adults
O'Sullivan, S., Buckley, M., Desmond, E., Bantry-White, E. and Cassarino, M. (2022) Agency and Ageing in Place in Rural Ireland. University College Cork and Age Action.
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