Review of Wellbeing Indicators

Healthy Ageing: Focus on at-risk groups

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Healthy Ageing: Focus on at-risk groups

Socioeconomic disadvantage, social exclusion and enduring health inequalities experienced by indigenous populations and ethnic groups are commonly cited as motivation for a specific focus on these sub-groups and as they age (King et al., 2009; Stephens et al., 2011) This is consistent with the life course approach to healthy ageing discussed previously which emphasises the role of institutional contexts, social norms and expectations in shaping psychological, behavioural and health related trajectories of individuals and groups as they age. In Ireland, Irish Travellers are a small indigenous minority group that has been part of Irish society for centuries. Their distinctive lifestyle and culture, based on a nomadic tradition, sets them apart from the general population which enables them to retain their identity as an ethnic group but often in the face of opposition and pressure to conform to societal norms (Ni Shuinear, 1994). Their experience of low social status and exclusion can prevent them from participating as equals in society (Helleiner, 2000) which has implications for positive and healthy ageing. Considerable health disparities are experienced by the Traveller population including lower life expectancy and higher chronic disease prevalence compared with the general population (AITHS, 2010). However the All Ireland Traveller Health Study Team (2010) note that there are many positive aspects of the Traveller population which are consistent with the concept of social capital; social supports, family ties, kinship, community participation and intergenerational respect and solidarity are hallmarks of the Traveller communities and importantly, these characteristics are regarded as indicators of health and wellbeing more broadly (Gmelch and Gmelch, 1976).

Another group that is particularly at risk of poor health and wellbeing is those providing informal care for relatives or friends. Caregivers are at risk of poorer health on a range of physical and mental outcomes, but particularly stress and depression (Schulz & Sherwood, 2008; Vitaliano, Zhang, & Scanlan, 2003). Caregiver health appears to be particularly dependent on the characteristics of the care recipient, in terms of their level of physical and cognitive function, and the duration and intensity of care required. However, it is also important to acknowledge the potential benefits of the caring role, as helping others can result in improved sense of purpose, self-esteem and wellbeing. There is some evidence that caring for others may be beneficial up to a certain level of time and commitment, with the risk of harm increasing once the number of hours and level of burden passes a specific threshold (Heisler et al., 2012; Winter, Bouldin, & Andresen, 2010). This highlights the need for state support, such as home care packages and respite care, to ensure that family caregivers are not overwhelmed.

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