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Healthy and happy ageing

Never in history did so many people get old as nowadays. About 3 million people of age 65 and older live in the Netherlands in 2015, and their number will increase to 5 million in 2060. The ageing of the population is often being considered as a problem and as a cost for society. But it may actually be more important to examine how people can age in a healthy and happy way, and under which circumstances health and well-being can be maintained for as long as possible during the lifespan. Professor Nardi Steverink aims at contributing to this challenge with her research program on health and well-being over the lifespan.

Black hole

“There is much attention to the physical and biomedical aspects of ageing”, puts Steverink. “But it is equally important that social scientists add to the understanding of healthy ageing processes”. Social circumstances and social relationships are very important for physical and overall well-being at any age but particularly at older ages. Many older people who visit their general practitioner have psychosocial problems, like loneliness, or feeling down. But, as many studies have shown, (older) people who are well-embedded in social networks and have satisfying social relationships, live longer, up to 7 years on average.

The research program of Steverink, therefore, focusses on the social and behavioral determinants of health and well-being at older ages. “Some people are happy when they can stop working, but others feel they enter a “black hole” when they have to retire. Losing the social structure and social embeddedness of work, many older people start missing social contacts, a sense of meaning and social status”.

Self-management ability

One of the core research questions of Steverink’s research program is the question why social relationships and social circumstances have such a strong effect on health and well-being. Next to this question, Steverink also investigates the processes by which older people can self-manage or regulate their own lives optimally. The ability to adapt and self-manage is again dependent upon social factors. When older people become less socially active, or when they are excluded from valued social roles, this may undermine their ability to self-manage. “Yet, the ability to self-manage is even more important when the social structure and the social meaning is deteriorating. If people do not have adequate self-management ability, and also lack the social context that supports people’s self-management ability, a downward spiral may develop.”

The research program of Steverink is not just oriented towards fundamental research. The results of her program are also being translated into concrete interventions by which older people can improve their health and well-being. The GRIP&GLEAM interventions (in Dutch: GRIP&GLANS®) are evidence-based interventions that lead to improvement of self-management ability, well-being and loneliness. The G&G interventions are being implemented nation-wide in health- and social care organizations. The experiences from the field (including professionals and older people themselves), are a great inspiration for new research projects.

About the research program

Steverink’s research program “Healthy and happy ageing: social relations, self-management ability, health and well-being” is being executed at the department of Sociology, the ICS, and the department of Health Psychology (of the University Medical Center Groningen - UMCG). The research program is also part of the interdisciplinary research group Healthy Ageing, Population and Society (HAPS), which is a collaboration between the departments of Sociology, Demography, and Epidemiology.

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Last modified:01 July 2019 4.45 p.m.
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