Gerontology is the study of ageing across the life course, and is a large and varied area of research, spanning many disciplines. In 2014, the median age of the UK population exceeded 40 for the first time1. The UK population is ageing, that is, the proportion of older people is increasing relative to younger people, driven by both falling fertility rates and falling mortality rates, particularly in the over 65s2.
Policy makers are looking at areas that are likely to be significantly affected by population ageing and increasing life expectancy into the oldest ages. These include older workers, lifelong learning, housing needs, the role and shape of families, health and social care and the role of technologies and transport2. Gerontology as a research area has a huge amount to contribute to these policy areas and much more.
The diversity of gerontology can be seen by taking a look at the most recent issues of the journal of Ageing & Society3 and the journal of the British Society of Gerontology4, where there are topics ranging from care giver burden, to widowhood; workers with dementia; healthcare access for older Ugandans; the relationship between stroke survivors and their spouses; and social trust and wellbeing among older adults.
In terms of research methodologies then, these are also diverse, reflecting the range of topics and the disciplinary background of scholarship. Many aspects of research with, or about, older adults are the same as with any other part of the adult population, with the same practical and ethical considerations. The majority of this age group participate, influence and co-produce research in the same way as adults of all ages. However there are also opportunities and challenges that are more likely to arise when researching with, or including, older age groups.
There are some groups of older adults who are often excluded from research, for example those with dementia, those who have multiple health conditions, those who live in a care home and those simply considered ‘frail’. These groups are often not eligible, or not able, to take part in projects aimed at the general population (e.g. many household surveys). There exists a gap in methods training for undertaking research with, and for, these groups of older adults, where additional methodological consideration is required, be that in how groups are sampled and accessed, how data is collected or how it is analysed.
To address this gap in standard methods training, NCRM is running a training event entitled Researching ageing: key issues for research methods in gerontology, to consider a selection of methodological issues that most commonly arise when undertaking research with older adults.
I will be leading the course at the University of Southampton on the 8th November. I shall start by outlining the key practical and ethical issues involved in undertaking data collection and analysis in care homes for older adult. This is based on my experience working on a number of care homes research projects and a report I led whereby my co-authors and I asked care homes researchers to give us more details as to what worked and did not work in their research5.
Elisabeth Schröder-Butterfill from the Centre for Research in Ageing at the University of Southampton will introduce the important things to consider when undertaking overseas research with older populations, including ethical, cultural and practical issues. Her recent projects include working with older Transylvanian Saxons in Romania6, as well as working with older populations in Indonesia.
In the afternoon Kritika Samsi, Research Fellow at King’s College London, will introduce the important aspects of this work. Kritika has over 10 years’ experience of undertaking qualitative research with older adults with dementia, and her current project looks at what might be the optimal time for a person with dementia to move into a care home7.
I will then discuss the final topic, which is the consideration researchers should have when using secondary data analysis for researching older adults. This includes the varied places that quantitative and qualitative data can be found and questions to ask, particularly regarding sampling, before starting your analysis.
For information on future gerontology courses, check the NCRM training database at www.ncrm.ac.uk/training
You can read a discussion paper on innovative approaches to methods challenges facing
ageing cohort studies at http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/3075/
Submitted by Rebekah Luff, NCRM on Thursday, 15th November 2018