While challenges such as health issues, the loss of a relationship, death of spouse, friends, or family moving away might be greater for older people, these people still perceive that if they are in control, they can maintain their wellbeing, according to researcher in the School of Health Sciences, Dr Mandy Stanley.
In analysing wellbeing, Dr Stanley discovered that occupational therapy (OT) literature did not clearly define wellbeing, even though it was listed as being core to the profession.
"Not only weren't we clear about wellbeing, we hadn't asked older people what they thought wellbeing was," Dr Stanley said.
"Wellbeing is often measured using scales of life satisfaction or a depression scale - if you are not depressed, you must have wellbeing."
Dr Stanley interviewed older people from a range of backgrounds and status including single and married men and women to learn about their perspective on and understanding of wellbeing.
"Through this research I discovered that the core to wellbeing in older people was perceived control. In addition, personal resources such as keeping physically active and being busy, and doing things for others, either formally or informally, were listed as being important for wellbeing.
"One area of perceived control involved using routine, not necessarily rigid, for memory and to look after health problems. For example, one woman placed her nebuliser in the same place every morning after use, but if it wasn't there, she knew that she still had to use it, and at night she'd put it in a different place. The routines that she had set up helped her to feel in control of her health and wellbeing," Dr Stanley said.
Another area of perceived control was independence, but with the focus on autonomous decision making, not independence as separateness.
"People felt that it was very important to be able to stay in their own homes and be independent but, if they couldn't do that, they wanted to have autonomy in how they managed their lives.
They might trade off a little bit of independence by having someone do their housework but that still enabled them to stay in their own home," Dr Stanley said.
"One couple lived in what was described as 'an aura of wellbeing', despite requiring help from carers. While they loved having dinner parties, advancing disabilities made this activity too tiring, so they found a solution that met their social needs and involved much less work. They held afternoon tea parties instead," Dr Stanley said.
Other important areas of perceived control were having choice, feeling safe and secure, and having financial security.
"There wasn't much difference between people who had more money and those who were on a pension. As long as they perceived that they had enough for what they needed, then they were happy," she said.
"OTs are good sources of knowledge about community resources and different ways of doing things. They can work with older people in an enabling way that will help them to make their own decisions about managing their lives to achieve wellbeing," Dr Stanley said.
"We look at the person, their environment and the activities that they are involved in, as well as what they would like to do, how to make it easier and if that doesn't work, what other activities could help them to maintain their sense of wellbeing."