Throughout life, it is important to have one’s needs met – it fosters a sense of safety, security and trust.
Your needs may change over time, but there is never a stage in life when we can be an ‘island;’ needing nobody or nothing. A recent study by the University of Auckland has shown that older New Zealanders with unmet needs have a lower quality of life.
When socioeconomic and cultural factors of the study group were taken into account, it found that more older women than men report having someone they can count on to help with daily tasks (83% vs 77% in men).
Another interesting factor for older women is having a daughter, who is seen as the most common provider of support. English research has also found it was not so much the size of the family, but the presence of a daughter, that was associated with higher social contact and better outcome for older adults.
The study is from the Life and Living in Advanced Age: a Cohort Study in New Zealand (LiLACS NZ), led by Professor Ngaire Kerse from the University of Auckland. and focused on health-related quality of life was assessed by researchers.
Older people with more social support (both practical and emotional), who have strong family ties and are active in the community, and those with financial security had the highest health-related quality of life.
“Women and men traditionally have different roles in household tasks and as more men than women lived with a spouse, their participation in the practical tasks probably differed, thus partially explaining their different perceived unmet need for practical support,” says Professor Kerse, who is a gerontology specialist with the University’s School of Population Health. Women in the study had higher unmet needs for practical support (14%t vs 8% in men).
“Women are more likely to outlive men and thus will need more support for the tasks formerly done by their husbands,” she says. “The unmet need for practical support may also be related to house maintenance which might not be fulfilled by the daughter (the main support for women).
“Living alone was particularly common for women aged 85 years. Coupled with the lower economic resources available to women at this age, this may put them at risk,” says Professor Kerse. “It would seem that older women in particular are resilient as they are often living alone and have access to fewer economic resources.”
Dr Kearse found that social support is gender dependent – the main supporter for men is their spouse.
The study also showed that older adults in residential care had a better quality of life. “It is also intriguing that living in residential aged care was associated with higher physical-health-related quality of life,” says Professor Kerse.
For those in advanced age with low function, those in residential care have the highest physical health related quality of life. Demand for physical support may be reduced when taken care of by paid care providers, and this relief may improve quality of life.