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Quality of life factors for older Australians

Discussion around quality of life for older Australians has been around for years, as experts, Governments, and advocates try to unravel what that is and how to action it for our oldest generation. But they long forgot to ask the people that mattered most - you.

Key points:

  • Quality of life is defined as your standards of health, comfort and happiness that you experience as an older person

  • Your opinion of what brings you quality of life can differ from others

  • Autonomy, purpose, health, socialisation, and financial security can have a big impact on your quality of life

Older couple enjoying themselves on the beach
​Quality of life is defined as the experiences of people around their standard of health, comfort, and happiness. [Source: iStock]

Quality of life is important for every generation, but particularly relevant for older people as they can have a decrease in choice and control over their lives due to increased care needs.

You should be actively working towards a positive quality of life in your later years, and reach out and grab opportunities that will benefit your happiness.

What is quality of life when we are older?

Quality of life is defined as the experiences of people around their standard of health, comfort, and happiness.

Many factors of quality of life can differ from person to person. Your opinion of quality of life can be quite different from others. For example, you may require friends and family around you to provide you ongoing happiness, while someone else may want to be independent and active in their community for as long as possible.

A 2019 study from the Netherlands investigated what quality of life means to older people, finding that there are nine areas that are vital to quality of life:

  • Autonomy

  • Role and activity

  • Health perception

  • Relationships

  • Attitude and adaptation

  • Emotional comfort

  • Spirituality

  • Home and neighbourhood

  • Financial security

The report also found that while these are different areas that contribute towards quality of life, they are strongly connected and to have quality of life as an older person, you need to have a "dynamic web of intertwined domains".

Another research study from Finland in 2009 found that enjoying life is the important factor for good quality of life for persons aged 60-64; access to good health care is a quality of life indicator for people aged 65-79; and appropriate care and help, and psycho-social support is necessary for quality of life as someone over 80.

The factors of quality of life

Exercising control, autonomy and choice

When you are older, it is easy for you to feel like you have lost control of your ability to do basic tasks. Having your choice and control taken away can be really stressful, especially in cases of home care or residential aged care. 

It is important that you remain at the centre of all decisions about your care and the services you receive.

Researchers from Monash University, Victoria, highlighted in 2013 that aged care services need to 'deliver what older people want rather than what we think they want'.

Choice and control is vital for everyone, as we grow up able to make decisions about what we do from a very young age and into adulthood. To have that choice taken away can be very confronting.

Aged care services have long been developed to provide more person centric care so that an older person's sense of self and choice remains intake.

You need to be the main decision maker in regards to the care you receive and the lifestyle you lead, and your family, friends, and provider should be doing all that they can to accommodate your wishes.

A sense of usefulness

Your job or previous occupation may have strong ties to your sense of self and belonging. It can be common for older people to become isolated and lonely when they feel like they have lost their sense of purpose and usefulness following their retirement. 

Many older people provide their time and expertise in a voluntary capacity, which is key for the ongoing success of the voluntary sector.

Keeping active in your community and doing things that matter to you can make all the difference in feeling useful and driven.

You should strive to have a sense of purpose that makes you enjoy life, and if you don't know what to do, use that time to reinvent or find yourself.

Alternatively, if you are receiving help at home, ask your provider to allow you to continue participating in all the daily chores you normally would. Rather than having difficulties taken away, you can have assistance from your carers instead.

Health and illness prevention

A chronic illness can have a huge effect on an older person's quality of life both physically and mentally. 

A lot of research points to older people preventing or managing chronic illness as a way to improve quality of life.

Some fixes you can implement to help with your health include a well balanced diet and active lifestyle to keep yourself healthy, mobile, and independent, resulting in an improved quality of life.

Dementia can have a huge impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of an individual. In many cases, quality of life can be more difficult to attain if you have developed cognitive decline.

Having your wishes and opinions around your personal care listened to and followed can be just as important for people with or without dementia.

Social engagement and worthwhile interactions

The Federal Government has long recognised that isolation and loneliness is a big problem among older people, and have a number of initiatives that combat these problems among seniors.

For instance, the Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) is a social support program that connects like minded volunteers with older Australians, which has been successful in helping reduce loneliness.

Many aged care services and facilities also provide programs and initiatives in a bid to stave off isolation and bring happiness to their residents and clients.

You should make the effort to contact your family and friends regularly to keep connected. Even a phone call can make all the difference and brighten up your day. 

Setting a regular call time between you and someone you love can make the process easier so you know you always have someone to talk to. 

Financial control, security and safety

Being financially secure is important throughout your entire life, but can become an increasing concern or stress during your care years.

When there is no income coming in and you start chipping away at your savings or superannuation, there is a possibility it can put a strain on your sense of security.

You need to feel like you are secure in your financial situation to have a positive quality of life. This could mean assistance from family, a financial advisor that provides peace of mind, or the knowledge that the Age Pension is always an option in the future.

Whatever financial security is to you, it is important that you reach that goal so you feel safe and secure during your retirement and care years.

It is also vital that you don't feel pressured in making financial decisions that you don't agree with. 

Financial abuse is common among older Australians, sometimes family members or friends take advantage of vulnerability. All older Australians should have full decision making over their own finances unless they have elected someone to do it on their behalf.

What factor is integral to you having a good quality of life in your retirement? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

Mental health services for older people in aged care
Finding purpose in your retirement
Keep mobile and stay independent

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