Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Kwadwo Adusei-Asante

Second Advisor

Dr Vicki Banham

Field of Research Code

160512, 160511

Abstract

Population ageing has become a central feature of the 21st century, as most countries search for economically viable strategies to support and manage their ageing populations to live in a dignified way. In 2002, the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposed the active ageing policy framework to guide countries to develop policies that promote the quality of life for their older people. However, the interpretation and application of the active ageing model in the literature and policy discussions are inconclusive on the most important elements that promote the quality of life of older people. The discussions have largely focused on health promotion and economic aspects of the model without much attention to other aspects. In addition, there are questions about the extent to which the active ageing model is adaptable to different contexts. The lack of consensus among researchers and policy actors on the meaning of active ageing, and its application to different contexts has resulted in calls for the need for studies that explore active ageing from the perspectives of older people themselves.

This thesis presents findings from a study that examined the meaning of active ageing from the lived experiences of older Ghanaians living in Ghana and Australia, and compared the findings theoretically and conceptually with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) active ageing model. The study also investigated the extent to which research participants’ socio-cultural and political contexts influenced their respective experiences and the meaning they ascribed to active ageing, and the factors that contributed to their perceived quality of life at old age. The study was designed as an interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) in combination with a comparative case study situated within the life course theoretical framework. The study drew on an in-depth qualitative data collected from 30 older Ghanaians, comprising 15 who were living in Ghana and 15 who were living in Australia.

Two key findings emerged from this research. First, experientially, active ageing is multidimensional and comprises social interaction, activity, health, independence, work and employment, spirituality, happiness, and public safety. However, social interaction—which included strong family support systems, friendship networks and community activities—emerged as the single most significant experiential meaning of active ageing, and was considered critical for quality of life at old age. Despite the importance of social interaction for research participants’ quality of life, comparatively, the study found that social interaction is subsumed under the participation pillar of the WHO’s active ageing model, which is not particularly well understood or developed by policy makers compared with the pillar of health. In addition, there were notable variations in participants’ experiential meaning of active ageing between respondents in Ghana and Australia, reinforcing how different policy contexts shape people’s experiences.

Second, the study found four types of quality of life from the typologies of quality of life at old age created in the data using a matrix of high and low levels of social interaction and access to essential social policy services. The types of quality of life in the matrix were optimum agers, happy poor agers, disconnected agers and destitute agers. The data showed that acquiring, creating and maintaining a high level of social interaction together with the development of knowledge, useful skills and personal initiatives in a favourable social, economic and health policy environment are likely to lead to optimum ageing.

The overall contribution of this thesis relates to the need for active ageing stakeholders to contextualise the WHO’s active ageing model based on the perspectives and experiences of older people within their respective socio-cultural and political contexts. In addition, population ageing policy makers may need to consider taking steps to strengthen older people’s family systems, while creating opportunities for them to deepen their social networking and communal living. The study shows the usefulness of creating avenues for older people’s continuous engagement in activities that allow social interaction. Finally, the study also illustrates how optimum ageing occurs as a culmination of life course events, making it imperative for social policies to facilitate sound human capital development, as they have implications for income and the creation of assets needed to fuel social interaction.

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