Exploring experiences of active ageing among older residents in a retirement village
The population of older persons has increased dramatically over the years in South Africa as well as internationally. As populations continue to age, the concept of active ageing has received increasing attention from researchers. Active ageing can be defined as the process of optimising older persons’ opportunities for health promotion, participation, and security in order to enhance their quality of life. In this definition, “health” refers to physical, mental, and social well-being. “Participation” refers to the optimisation of participation in activities such as employment, education, the arts, and religion, and “security” refers to ways in which the protection, dignity, and care of older persons can be maintained and improved. The distribution of older persons in South Africa by ethnic group is disproportionate with older white persons representing 21% of the total older population. Many of these white older persons reside in retirement villages resulting in their being populated by older white persons more so than by members of other ethnic groups. Retirement village policies and programmes generally incorporate an active ageing philosophy. However, most research on active ageing in retirement villages is conducted internationally, and, furthermore, it does not include the subjective experiences of older persons in these active environments. The aim of this research was therefore to explore the experiences of older residents in a retirement village with an active ageing approach. Barker’s behaviour setting theory and the continuity theory were applied in this study. The behaviour setting theory holds that the environment (retirement village) in which people function is important when explaining human behaviour and exploring the subjective experiences of older persons. The continuity theory rests on the premise that ageing is not a static process but rather an ongoing process and that continuity is a primary strategy used by people to deal with changes associated with ageing. According to this theory, people endeavour to continue with the psychological and social patterns they developed and adopted during their lifetimes. The study was conducted at a retirement village in Boksburg, Johannesburg (Gauteng, South Africa), that follows an active ageing approach, making it an ideal context for exploring the subjective experiences of older persons in an active ageing environment. The retirement village has a dedicated life style consultant who has developed specific programmes for every day of the week with time slots allocated for different activities in which older persons can participate. The programmes exclude frail people in the facility who cannot participate owing to their physical limitations. The director of the organisation that is responsible for many retirement villages, and this one in particular, contacted the researchers and asked them to explore the residents’ quality of life experiences so that the services provided to them could be adjusted if necessary. Ethical approval for the research was obtained from the Health Research Ethics Committee of the North-West University. The manager of the retirement village was also asked to distribute posters indicating the nature of the research. On the day of the data gathering, the participants were told about the research and that they would be required, if they wished to participate, to engage in individual interviews with the researchers and take part in the Mmogo-method®, a projective visual research method (Roos, 2008, 2012). The residents who agreed to participate gave their informed consent and confirmed that their participation was voluntary and they had been made aware that they could withdraw from the study at any time. Twenty participants were recruited for the study of whom 16 were women and four were men. The ages ranged between 65 and 80 years with an average age of 73. Two of the participants were English speaking, and the remainder were Afrikaans speaking. They were given the Mmogo-method® materials, which consisted of clay, straws, and colourful beads, and were invited to make visual representations of their lives and activities at the retirement village. The research request was, “Build something that describes your life here at the retirement village”. When all the participants had completed their visual representations, the representations were photographed and served as visual data. The researcher then asked each participant what he or she each had made and why he or she had made it. An informal group discussion was subsequently held with the 18 participants who had taken part in the Mmogo-method®. Individual in-depth interviews with two participants were conducted after the Mmogo-method® had been carried out. All the discussions were audiotaped and served as textual data. The visual data were analysed by getting the literal meanings of the visual representations from the participants in relation to the specific research request. The textual data were analysed thematically, which involved identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns or themes in the data. Different techniques, including crystallisation and member checking, were applied to ensure the trustworthiness of the research process and findings. The findings revealed that the participants were actively involved in a variety of activities on a daily basis. The activities included physical activities organised by the life style consultant or self-initiated activities such as playing tennis, doing line-dancing, going for brisk walks, working out in the gymnasium, and engaging in recreational activities such as fishing, reading, and scrapbooking. The objectives of these activities were to maintain joint flexibility, general health, and mental fitness. Some of the older residents had formalised roles in the retirement village, which they had previous experience of. The participants also took part in different social activities such as paying social visits and making friends. The spiritual activities of the participants were solitary as well as communal. The participants thus experienced the retirement village as a very busy environment with full schedules. In such an environment, people often engage in activities to distract themselves from dealing with difficult circumstances in their lives. Barker’s settings theory holds that older residents’ physical presence in an active environment influences their levels of activity and their subjective experiences. For some residents, an active environment fits into the continuation of the active life styles they developed during the course of their lives, but for others it may have implications for their psychological well-being if they do not have self-regulatory skills to navigate themselves and act merely on feeling obligated to do something. Using an active environment to deal with difficult circumstances can be either a constructive or a destructive coping strategy for older persons. The individual needs of residents should always be taken into account, and retirement villages with an active ageing approach should be aware that one size does not fit all. This study aimed to draw the attention of retirement village managers to the need to take cognisance of the experiences of older persons when implementing ageing policies in their facilities. It also shed new light on the experiences of active ageing among older residents.
- Health Sciences