People with disabilities and from minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ communities are the focus of a novel £1.1m government-funded study into the social side of ageing.
About 5 million, or 15 % of the UK’s 33 million over-40s, identifies as ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ or living with a disability.
People with a social life who feel part of a community live longer, healthier lives. But experts know little about ageing among people in often stigmatised minority groups.
Researchers will follow the footsteps of these people as they age from 40 onwards, tracking life events such as getting married, divorced, having children and losing a loved one.
“These groups are very under-represented in research about ageing so we don't know much about them,” said study leader, Professor Christina Victor at Brunel University London.
One reason scientists know so little about these ageing minority groups, she says, may be because the UK’s minority ethnic people and people ageing with lifelong disability are only now entering old age. And only in the last 20 years have LGBTQ+ people been able to age with their identity recognised.
“This means experience of old age is becoming more diverse,” said Prof Victor. “This is the first study looking at combinations of characteristics, for example age, gender and lifelong disability, rather than just lifelong disability, as we all live with multiple identities. We genuinely don't know what will be different about how these groups age socially because no one has tried to do this before. Nor do we know how experiences across earlier parts of their life influences loneliness and isolation in later life.”
Brunel University London and the University of Surrey’s three-year ‘socially inclusive ageing lifecourse’ study will start later this month. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, they will ask people from each group about their experience and draw on public records including the 20-year English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
The first group they’ll look at, ‘people growing old in a foreign land', centres on people who came from the Caribbean and Indian subcontinent between 1950 and 1975. These people often came to work and never intended to grow old in the UK. A second group is people born with physical and mental health disabilities who now live longer. People with cerebral palsy or Down's syndrome can now expect to live, on average, to their 60s. LGBTQ+ people make up the third group.
The results will help design better, timelier, more tailored services that promote healthier active ageing for people from all walks of life.
“This is a unique opportunity for us to improve our understanding of our increasingly diverse ageing population,” said Dr Kimberley Smith at University of Surrey. “It will allow us to identify ways that we could make communities more inclusive spaces and give all older adults the opportunity to live socially healthy later lives.”