Positive ageing: technology and positive attitudes improving older people's lives

5 March 2010

The population of the UK is ageing. Sixteen per cent of the UK population is 65 or older, and for the first time, there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 18. This raises a lot of questions on issues such as pension provision, health care and wellbeing. Ensuring that elderly people have access to medical and social support; the use of new technologies to make it easier for them to live independent lives; and helping the elderly to stay active within society.  These are issues discussed during the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science (12-21 March).

Loneliness and the lack of independence are major issues for many old people. New technologies have enormous potential to help elderly people live independently. However, many are not aware of the benefits, do not know how to use and engage with digital technologies or simply don't feel confident enough to use it. As one person put it, "My computer is in cobwebs." At 'Improving everyday life: getting connected to public services' older people will talk about their personal experiences with digital technologies and their applications, and how these helped them be less isolated and more independent. IT taster sessions will be offered to the elderly to encourage them to explore new technologies, and local service providers will demonstrate how their services can be accessed and requested online.

For many old people, their quality of life is also affected by poor health. Currently there are 800,000 people with dementia in the UK: the most common being Alzheimer's disease. Behind these facts and figures are individuals and families learning to live with the condition and get on with their lives. Stereotypes about people are however often negative and disabling. In the spirit of one person with dementia who says

"Positivity is my greatest weapon", the event promotes a more balanced and positive perspective on dementia. At 'Dementia: don't fear it' two people with dementia who are active campaigners will speak about their experiences and views. Images and interviews from an ongoing research project on how and why some people with dementia become campaigners or change agents will stimulate a debate with a Q and A session.

The media play a major role in shaping people's attitudes. The way old people are portrayed in the media influence the way we think about them. But what do we actually think about ageism? The European Social Survey (ESS) database collects and stores information on the social attitudes of thousands of residents across Europe. The 'What do the British think about… Ageism, Welfare and Political Institutions' is an event aimed at journalists. The event will demonstrate the range of data freely accessible through the ESS database and explain how to access and use it. Data on individual states as well as comparative data can be quickly and easily gathered. By better understanding social science data, it is hoped that stereotypes will be challenged.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

Events on ageing include:

  1. What do the British think about…Ageism, Welfare and Political Institutions?
    • Organiser: European Social Survey, Centre for Comparative Social Surveys and ESS UK National Coordinator, NatCen
    • Monday 15 March 9.00- 11.00
    • Venue: Social Science Building, St John Street, Centre for Comparative Social Surveys, School of Science Sciences, Northampton Square, London. EC1V 0BH
    • Audience: For professionals as part of their work
  2. Improving everyday life: getting connected to public services
    • Organiser: Graduate School, BLSS, Nottingham Trent University
    • Friday 19 March 14.00 - 17.00
    • Venue: Cotmanhay Enterprise Centre, Cotmanhay, Ilkeston. DE7 8PF
    • Audience: Suitable for all
  3. Dementia: Don't fear it
    • Organiser: Bradford Dementia Group, University of Bradford
    • Friday 19 March 18.00 - 20.30
    • Venue: Otley Courthouse, Courthouse Street, Otley, West Yorkshire. LS21 3AN
    • Audience: Suitable for all
  4. Figures on the number of people with dementia in the UK, for more information: Alzheimer's Society
  5. The ESRC Festival of Social Science provides a fascinating insight into how research influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. It runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. In its eighth year the 2010 Festival is proving the most popular and exciting yet, consisting of over 130 events across the UK, in over 40 cities. Events are aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages. Events come in a variety of formats from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates.
  6. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. You can now follow updates from the (ESRC on Twitter), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.