Amy Murray is a PhD researcher at Swansea University. She was invited to present on her research at an event at Cardiff University on loneliness in later life, organised by the Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research, WISERD, Ageing Well in Wales, the Campaign to End Loneliness and the British Society of Gerontology.

Here, she discusses her research and her experience of attending the conference and presenting her findings.

The research

My research explores giving up driving in later life and examines the impact this has upon older adults and their social network. As part of my presentation, I included a few case studies of retired older drivers interviewed as part of my research. The examples show the impact giving up driving had upon each participant. These ranged from a decrease in confidence, a threat to self-identity, role-reversal, social isolation, depression and increased dependence on others; resulting in feelings of guilt and being a burden.

Loneliness is a significant outcome of giving up driving in later life. However, loneliness is not a singular or static outcome; it is a dynamic concept related to transitions, and is the product of many individual factors which often inter-relate or run parallel with one another. These factors generally result in an older adult experiencing a decrease in the number of ‘out-of-home activities,’ often leading to feelings of loneliness.

However giving up driving in later life is not necessarily an entirely negative experience for all older adults. One female participant in my study voluntarily gave up driving and has experienced positive outcomes from no longer being behind the wheel. This can be the case when an older adult decides to give up the car keys themselves – and when the decision to give up driving is not made by family or other outside bodies.

Successful driving cessation can also occur when an older adult lives in an environment suited to their everyday mobility needs. This particular participant lives in close proximity to shops and services, which she engages with on a daily basis. They provide continuity, social contact and therefore a good quality of life. This is regardless of her ability to drive.

The event

From a personal point of view, speaking at this event provided me with:

  • Positive encouragement and a genuine confidence boost
  • The opportunity to relate my research project on driving cessation in later life to loneliness, as one common outcome of ageing.
  • New pathways and key skills as an early career researcher

I would urge and encourage other researchers, whether they be at an early stage in their career, or more advanced, to attend similar events. I never thought being a very nervous, first-time presenter at a conference would have resulted in such positive outcomes for me on a personal, and a wider level.

Key messages to arise from the event..

There are a number of important key messages which arose from the day:

  • This event brought together those from academia, policy, practice and older people themselves. I would like to see more such events organised.
  • Academia needs to be closely linked with policy and practice – research which is on-going needs to be made easily accessible and understandable – in order for research findings to have a positive, meaningful impact
  • Loneliness is a multi-level concept which can be the outcome of various transitions which occur during the life course
  • Loneliness is experienced by many older adults, and is an emotion which often has a real sense of stigma attached to it; older adults may feel like this is an isolated, individual feeling, whereas in reality it is a common problem
  • Loneliness is not a normal outcome of ageing, and it can be combatted and/or prevented
  • There can be a problem linking older adults who are experiencing loneliness with services to combat or prevent the problem; breaking down this barrier and mapping out the pathway between the older adult and services is key