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Challenges of ageing in the Baltic Sea region

Project/agreement No.
1.1.1.2/VIAA/3/19/540, Līguma Nr. 9.-14.5/26
Project funding
133 805.88 EUR, , including 113734.99 EUR ERDF funding and 13380.59 EUR State budget co-funding
Project manager
Project realization
01.05.2020. - 30.04.2023.

Aim

The main objective of the project is to investigate how social exclusion is developing in the population and societal diversification circumstances, what it means for old-age well-being, and how policies may buffer adverse outcomes in later life. The project intends to further develop the collaboration internationally across all three Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania) and with Sweden and Norway. This scientific collaboration will enable to develop and test theoretical frameworks on social exclusion and well-being of older people by adding new causal perspectives and preparing policy recommendations to alleviate social exclusion of vulnerable groups in all participating countries.

Description

The project will contribute to the international theoretical work on social exclusion and old-age wellbeing by analysing less-studied dimensions of these topics. The project will prepare scientific evidence about diversification of the ageing process, and how this may impact future ageing generations. Specific focus is on vulnerable groups (persons with disabilities, lower educated, migrants), and how divergent processes for different populations can be buffered by social policies. High level research output, comparing different welfare states and their associations with social exclusion and old-age well-being will develop necessary knowledge-base for elaborating strategies. Regarding social exclusion, the project will give better understanding about three understudied dimensions: exclusion from the social relations, social participation and material conditions. In terms of wellbeing, morbidity and mental health aspects form an important research scope. The project will provide novel perspectives on health by integrating sociological, demographic, economic and psychological knowledge based on individual level data. By adding the Baltoscandian context and using new type of data the project will contribute to the understanding about the role of historical disruptions in people’s lives, experience with long-term immigration and its impact on old age. The project will also enhance the research capacity and foster research cooperation between different Baltoscandian countries.

Activities in the project

Mobility at Stockholm University

Post-doctoral researcher Ieva Reine was in mobility at the Stockholm University Institute of Social Sciences in January and February 2021, where she analysed the latest researches on ageing and age discrimination carried out in Sweden.
Findings from the latest researches on aging and ageism in Sweden is:

  • Equal opportunities within the Sweeden welfare system. For example, everyone should have an equal right to medical assessment and treatment, as well as to screening for cancer and other diseases. 
  • Experiences and knowledge from a long working life are used as an asset in workplaces. Introduce a mentorship for new employees as a bridge between generations. 
  • Good conditions to work after retirement. People with long experience should have the opportunity to be an asset in workplaces through part-time work. 
  • Increased opportunities for support and matching with employers from the employment service for those who need to change jobs, are unemployed or need support for new employment. 
  • Increased power for employees to influence their working hours. Researchers want to see reduced normal working hours, i.e. average working hours for employees, and reforms with better working conditions with the right to part-time as well as full-time work. 
  • The right to equal pensions. Researchers want to introduce a flexible retirement age with individual adjustments, annual increase and that, for example, parental benefit is equated with work when calculating pension. 
  • Support for IT use for those who need it, for example for everyday activities such as banking and government matters, networking and purchasing. Access to personal technology and broadband must be available throughout the country and digital security must be considered in matters such as storage and access to personal data. 

Information used to prepare the report -seniorarbetskraft.se

Updated 26.02.2021.

Annual report on the project progress 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the focus on factors closely linked to social exclusion issues for older people, such as access to health care, digital skills, health literacy, and more. The European SHARE study on health, aging and retirement in Latvia was conducted in 2017, as well as immediately before and after the introduction of the emergency situation in Latvia in 2020. Thus, the availability of longitudinal data makes it possible to study the combined effects of various factors on the public health of the elderly using information on past health status as well as socio-demographic data. Given that SHARE wave 8 fieldwork was interrupted in all Member States by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, an international team of researchers coordinating the SHARE study (Max Planck Institute, Germany) quickly decided to change the survey methodology to obtain data and assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the quality of life and health of seniors in all SHARE study countries. Consequently, two surveys were carried out under wave 8, obtaining data both for the period before the Covid-19 outbreak and after the first wave of the outbreak in the summer of 2020. Thus, for objective reasons, the focus of the project has shifted to Covid-19 on the impact of the pandemic on the quality of life and health of seniors in Latvia, using data from both the 7th wave of the SHARE study and the 8th wave of the survey. In order to obtain more information on how Covid-19 has affected the condition of the elderly, the 8th stage survey conducted after the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak includes, in addition to international comparative measurements, an additional originally developed survey instrumentation Latvian module. The tools of the second survey of the SHARE wave 8 include measurements mainly on the changes in the material situation of seniors, employment, social network, health status, and the availability of health and social care services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The results of the study so far indicate that local governments and communities should strive to ensure the availability of physical facilities and services to promote positive social and physical activity. Older people often have limited and insufficient income to cover living expenses, housing, medicines, social activities and / or medical services. The Covid-19 crisis also showed a lack of skills and limited financial opportunities to use digital technologies. The situation exacerbated the issue of the participation of older people in society remotely. The use of technology varies for the elderly. Many of them under-utilize digital solutions in healthcare access and contacts, creating risks of social isolation and ill-health. Research shows that digital skills need to be promoted in an increasingly digital society. The use of technology can significantly increase the independence of older adults and support their daily lives to make health and other services more accessible. In addition, digital solutions can help combat the loneliness that many older people face.

Updated: 03.04.2021.

The second mobility took place at Stockholm University

The mobility is central for the post-doctoral project to achieve research results, as the comparison of the countries of the Baltic Sea Region includes not only the Baltic States but also the Nordic countries. Sweden has long been a member of the SHARE project, focusing on the analysis of ageing. However, COVID-19 affects all countries in the region, and have faced similar challenges affecting all the whole society. Initially, the oldest groups were affected most, both in health and social terms. The Institute for Sociological Research (SOFI) at Stockholm University boasts a multidimensional approach to aging, so there are a variety of dimensions that include both migrants and people with disabilities. Therefore, the chosen mobility partner, represented by Professor Tomas Korpi https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6480-9154, provides both access to knowledgeable human capital and the opportunity to deepen research interests. Seminars and involvement in working groups are part of the mobility, however, the results of the mobility are planned as the joint scientific publications. Work is continuing on a study comparing factors that may contribute to healthy aging. Particular attention is paid to buffering social isolation, especially, in the context of COVID-19, and is an attempt to understand how this type of crisis affect public health of older people in Latvia and Sweden. The results of the study are intended to be presented for health and social policy makers with the aim to promote healthy life years in both countries.

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Stockholm University’s Frescati and Albano districts, and the nearby Swedish Museum of Natural History, which can be easily reached during some longer breaks.

The huge inscription of the University is best seen from the highway passing by, and this building is at the forefront of the entire huge campus, on one side of which is also the Institute of Sociological Research, which is the site of my mobility.

Updated 23.08.2021.
 

Results of mobilities in 2021

The analysis during the mobility period that took place in the autumn of 2021 showed that those who were already socially, economically and medically vulnerable felt worse during the Covid-19. The digital exclusion was also more pronounced. In 2017, i.e. shortly before the 7th wave of the SHARE study, 18% or almost one in five EU citizens over the age of 65 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Social exclusion was higher in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta (European Union, 2019), which may have increased in these countries as a result of Covid-19. Covid-19 has several civilian names, not all of which are related and which are stigmatized. A major lack of social context was also observed. Anxiety has increased not only among those with a psychiatric diagnosis, but among the elderly in general.

Within the framework of the study, the self-assessed general health condition in Latvia and Sweden was compared, using the data of SHARE stage 8.

A comparison of the dichotomized responses of the general self-assessment of health shows significant differences between Latvia and Sweden:

  1. In Latvia, only a quarter of people over the age of 50 think that their health is good;
  2. In Sweden, the opposite is true, with less than 30% of older people responding that they have poor health.
     

Figure 1. Self-assessment of the general health status of the Latvian population over the age of 50 (good is marked in green, bad is marked in blue).
 
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Figure 2. Self-assessment of the general health status of the Swedish population over the age of 50 (good marked in green, bad in blue).

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Despite the fact that a slightly lower number of older people in Latvia (55.2%) report long-term illness compared to Sweden (60%), higher self-rated general health may be related to the quality and availability of health care in the welfare state of Sweden. In addition, in Sweden a significantly smaller share of older people (52.1%) experience restrictions due to their health status compared to those living in Latvia (37.2%).

It is also important to mention that the frequency of care that characterizes intergenerational relationships does not explain the feeling of social isolation. If in Sweden less than 50% of older people received care from their relatives more than once a month, in Latvia only about 15% received care from their relatives.
 

Conclusions:

  • After the end of the pandemic, the aging process will accelerate in many individuals, regardless of Covid-19 infection. Compared to Sweden, the needs of health and social care in Latvia could increase more significantly, which may create not only economic but also human resource challenges in the near future.
  • In welfare states, such as Sweden, older people experience lower constraints related to health status, which may be associated with better health care and various forms of support.
  • A positive social context and an inclusive environment are likely to significantly reduce anxiety and mental illness, as shown by comparative data from Sweden.
  • Relatives' support is an important factor for the well-being of older people, but it does not affect their overall health.

29.12.2021.