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Launch of Active Retirement Ireland Evaluation

Nov 2012

Older people form an increasing proportion of the population; they are living longer and are healthier than were previous generations of older people. Given that many people aged 65 or over are retired from work, it is important that they have opportunities for meaningful engagement in society in order to enhance quality of life and mental and physical health.  A report assessing the impact of membership of Active Retirement Ireland on the quality of life and well-being of its members was launched at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin on Monday, the 26th November, 2012.

This independent evaluation was commissioned by Active Retirement Ireland and was conducted by researchers at the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The first Active Retirement Association was established in Dun Laoghaire in 1978. Active Retirement Ireland, the national umbrella body, now has an extensive network of 550 affiliated Active Retirement Associations with an estimated membership of 23,000 in villages, towns and cities throughout Ireland. In Active Retirement associations, people engage in physical, social, cultural and educational activities. This is the first time a formal assessment of the impact of membership has been conducted. The European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between the generations is an appropriate time for an assessment.

A mixed methods study was conducted involving a questionnaire sent to all chairpersons and a sample of members and focus groups and interviews were conducted with members.

Some of the key findings of the report are:

Members reported a variety of motivations for joining an Active Retirement Association. Many people experience a loss of social networks when they retire or are bereaved. They may also move to a new area or return to their native area on retirement.  Many of these people join an ARA in order to meet others and become better  integrated into the local community. Others just enjoy the opportunity to pursue leisure activities with others.

The majority of respondents (77%) are female. They tend to be actively engaged in voluntary work in the community, to vote and frequently make social visits.

ARA members spend an average of 13.7 hours per month in ARA activities. Chairpersons spend approximately 15.5 hours per month, as opposed to members who spend approximately 10 hours per month. This suggests that chairpersons spend an additional 5.5 hours per month volunteering their time to organise activities on behalf of members. If we assign an economic value to this time (using an opportunity cost approach) chairpersons contribute an average of €197,000 worth of voluntary work per annum. Using a replacement cost method, chairpersons’ contribution of time rises to approximately €788,000. In terms of the benefits associated with ARA membership:

  • Active Retirement Association (ARA) members scored higher on quality of life scales than do older people in the general population as found in The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA).
  • They report high levels of satisfaction with life and high levels of optimism and high levels of self-rated health.
  • Membership makes them feel valued and feel better about themselves, both of which are contributors to mental health.
  • They are more aware of policy issues for older people and more inclined to act upon them since joining an ARA
  • ARA members had a lower loneliness score than older people in the general population

Dr Aine Ni Leime, principal investigator of the research at the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI, Galway commented: “While, we cannot state that there is a direct causal relationship between being a member of an ARA and well-being, it appears that being a member is associated with beneficial outcomes in terms of quality of life and mental and physical well-being”.

Professor Eamon O’Shea comments:  “Currently, when we think of health of older people, we automatically think of investing money in medical and curative services. However, if we adopt a more holistic approach to the production of health, we might regard the time ARA members spend in various ARA activities as a contribution to their own health and well-being. If we assign an economic value to their time in an ARA, then that investment is a major factor in improving their own health and the health of others”

The report is available for download at www.icsg.ie