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Ieva Reine, a visiting researcher to Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU), took part in the RSU Researchers’ Breakfast on 6 May. At the online event, Ieva reported on a study of ageing in the Baltic Sea region. On 1 May, Ieva commenced her post-doctoral research about issues concerning ageing in the Baltic Sea region.


The study will be conducted for three years in close cooperation with a network of researchers from Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden and Norway. The post-doctoral research will be based on data from the international Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) that reveals information about the impact of an ageing population on economics, employment, healthcare, social policy and other aspects of national development.

Due to the fact that Ieva resides both in Sweden and Latvia, her desire to engage with Latvia is self-evident. She was therefore happy to accept the proposal from RSU to become a visiting lecturer and conduct various courses for both students and lecturers. She also enthusiastically cooperates with researchers in Latvia and develops joint research projects. Although Ieva has always been interested in matters related to ageing, she has so far focused more on matters related to public health and social insurance in Sweden. Ieva has additionally conducted research projects about people with special needs. This post-doctoral research will, therefore, pose a new challenge. 

Which aspects of ageing are you going to study?

I will focus on more problematic issues like social exclusion and welfare that are especially topical during the COVID-19 pandemic. This difficult period explicitly highlights various forms of social exclusion for the elderly. At the same time, we will also take into account examples from various studies that have already been conducted in Europe and draw inspiration from them so that we can adapt these ideas to the needs of Sweden, Latvia and other research partner countries. The project that I am about to begin will compare the countries of the Baltic Sea region with regard to ageing. The fields I will compare are among others social exclusion, psychological welfare and demographic aspects.

Does the COVID-19 pandemic increase social exclusion and will this impact the results of the study?

Definitely! We have to take into account demographic data, family status, economic opportunities and several other factors that are indisputably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it is currently crucially important for people to be capable of using various technologies in order to access necessary services online. If an elderly person is unable to contact a doctor or a service provider using a smartphone, a computer or various apps, they have reduced possibilities to receive medical assistance, for example. This is an explicit example of social inequality that has to be prevented and is one of the aspects that my study will examine.

Is it right to say that the study is based on SHARE data that is already available?

Yes. We initially used available survey data from Wave 7 – seven surveys have been conducted since 2004, when the survey was launched for the first time. Currently, we are looking forward to receiving data from Wave 8. Latvia joined the project in 2017, for Wave 7. Since SHARE surveys are conducted by meeting people and conducting face-to-face interviews, Latvia has now taken a break from the study, because many things have been put on hold not only in economics, but also social life and research. As soon as it becomes possible, a comparative study will be made in Latvia based on the latest information. 

How important is it for policymakers to take SHARE data into account?

This is one of the most valuable studies, in my opinion. We learn from the countries that successfully deal with various ageing-related matters, and these countries have used SHARE data and researchers’ findings based on this data. There is no need for Latvia to reinvent things as we can make use of the current theoretical basis and take our historical and social background into account. All in all, this data allows for various strategies to be modelled for the development the country, health protection and other programs. I hope that the conclusions of the SHARE study will facilitate searching for solutions to integrate the elderly into society in a meaningful way, prepare to successfully overcome changes in society, reduce and tackle physical and mental health problems later in life, and reduce deficiencies among vulnerable groups at an old age. The goal is to provide policymakers with relevant knowledge. 

Current SHARE data shows that seniors face not only physical, but also mental disorders, such as depression. The way this is aspect is distributed across Europe differs and is often associated with employment opportunities at an older age. The inability to find a suitable job followed by early involuntary retirement is a cause of various diseases. The lowest number of mental health disorders in seniors is reported in Northern Europe, where there is a high level of education and welfare, whereas the highest number of such cases can be found in the former Soviet countries.