Agenda item

Dr Hannah Swift (Eastern ARC Lead and Research Fellow, University of Kent)


The Chair welcomed Dr Swift to the Committee.


Dr Swift began by informing the committee that she was a Social Psychologist and had completed her PHD which was collaboratively funded with Age UK.  Her main research focus is on ageism, attitudes towards older and younger people and learning from their experiences.


In 2012 she completed a research fellowship and is shortly to be confirmed as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kent.  She has developed an understanding of experiences of ageism in different domains including in the workplace, an example of which is looking at employment trends such as employment of younger cohorts over old.  She continued that one interesting focus point was how people use language to describe themselves.  An example of this was that young people tend to present themselves in a younger sounding context; whereas older people will refer more negatively using such language as – ‘I am too old for this’.  This was also a factor in health environments such as dieting – ‘I am too old to change’.


Continuing the health focus, Dr Swift said that a Longitudinal Study completed by a Psychologist in America on health and wellbeing and the negative and positive attitudes to ageing demonstrated that those with a more negative outlook were found to live seven and half years less than those with a positive attitude to ageing.


Q - Do you think a mechanism for feeling this way has been discovered yet?

Dr Swift commented that it depends on the person and the situation that they are in.  There is a fear of being judged by their age in this group, more so than other age groups.  She stated that people acquire stereotypes of aging particularly when they are younger, which creates a social identity perspective, for example when they are young it can give a sense of making them feel better to say that the young are better than the older generations.  Dr Swift said that one solution was to create a more positive social identity. 


Q – Do you think that in Eastern cultures the opposite is true?

Dr Swift agreed that age is respected but they can also fear being a burden in later life, highlighting that there were high suicide rates in China and Japan, potentially because of that.


Q – What were the key findings in the Hidden Citizens report?

Dr Swift informed the committee that she was interested in loneliness and in how lonely people may self-exclude themselves. She said that research in day centres and care homes had shown that attendees don’t want to socialise with other attendees as they did not realise that they are part of that age group.


The Hidden Citizens report jointly undertaken by the University of Kent asked for a review on the consequences of loneliness and associated impacts within health and social care.  Dr Swift said that one of the key questions was ‘How do you tackle loneliness and on a subject matter that is subjective?’.  The results showed that social isolation is not loneliness and loneliness is not social isolation; there is a have and want for social contact. 


Dr Swift continued that the report provided a review of reviews as a lot of research had been conducted on this subject.  She said that they also conducted some interviews with older people and service providers to look at how they identify older lonely people whilst still acknowledging the younger elements of the research. 


Dr Swift said that research also shows that younger people experience similar feelings when transitioning from different parts of their life, examples were parenthood, periods of unemployment and retirement.


Q – Have you found in any research that technological pace and the changing aspect to clubs and societies, including volunteering has led to people becoming out of the loop?

Dr Swift said that the technological divide is a real one and that it is perpetuated by social class divisions and the ability to be hands on with technology.  This was seen in the retirees grouping where the uptake of new technologies was seen to be not for them as there was not a need for it.


However, Dr Swift said that some of the age group were engaging with it and were in fact more aware of data protection.  She felt that there was a place for technology but what was seen was that technology is used as an excuse for being a solution, exemplified by ‘we must make an app for that’.  There is a place for connecting more online but face to face is being missed.


Q - Focussing on identity appears to be what it is all about – how we see what we want to do and where we want to go – does classification of socioeconomic groupings fit?

Dr Swift informed the committee that Age UK had researched this and the cross cutting with socioeconomic status – those that can, do things and see for example, retirement as an opportunity.  News outlets see the power of the grey pound and market products in such a way. 


Dr Swift continued that this can create intergenerational conflict but highlighted that this grouping can also be at risk of loneliness, for example in bereavement which affects everyone in the same way.


Dr Swift said that in 2013/14 a survey conducted with Canterbury City Council on Active Aging identified that loneliness had been raised when talking about transport issues, for example opportunities to be involved with leisure activities were hampered by cost and transport being a major issue. 



Q – During your research have you identified any potential solutions?

Dr Swift said that people tend to focus on the objective of what people can do, overlooking the psychological aspect.  The Hidden Citizen report identified 4 interventions – enhancing social support, increasing opportunities for social interactions, improving social skills and addressing maladaptive social cognitions.  The interventions looked at how to build confidence to get people through the front door.


Q - Who is putting it all together?

Dr Swift said that interviews with service providers had led to a lot of people being identified because of other service needs required.  Assistance with financial support was one example of such services and highlighted that it was not necessarily because someone was feeling lonely that social isolation happened.  She also noted that people do not want to admit that they are lonely.


Q - How do we reach those not coming through the door?  How do we find them?

Dr Swift said that the research conducted during the writing of the Hidden Citizens report identified that they could not find a real answer.  There was a toolkit suggestion but what tends to happen is that it is a feeling but there is a need to get someone through the door in the first place. 


Q – How was the longitudinal research defined?

Dr Swift informed the committee that they looked at self-perceptions of aging, the common perceptions of being older and the beliefs of the aging process.  Considering to what extent when cognitive abilities will be lost. 


Q – Relating to perception, how do you change that conversation?

Dr Swift said that people can experience different forms of loneliness – temporary or transitional with some more chronic.  The evolutionary background can trigger people to do something about it but for some it becomes debilitating. Research has been conducted on emotional regulation and the ability to deal with life events.  This demonstrated that one of the reasons were that younger people have not been equipped with strategies that are needed to deal with it at that stage in their life. Dr Swift expressed to the committee that she believes that we do not educate on how to deal with loneliness. 


Q - In your opinion what more can be done in terms of prevention?

Dr Swift said that in an ideal world she would refer to the research from Canterbury City Council.  First contact schemes to identify those at risk of feeling lonely are important, that there are many different things going on but getting people past the threshold to attend and/or volunteer is key.  Addressing psychology, depression and anxiety are all important. 


Referring to ageism Dr Swift that the way the image is projected in society and the stigma associated with that requires to be addressed and informed the committee that the World Health Organisation is now looking to launch a campaign to end ageism. 


Dr Swift concluded by informing the committee that she could provide more information from the Canterbury City Council research if required.


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