Interview with Marjolein Broese van Groenou“Many older adults do not suffer from health problems, but run a high risk for loneliness due to widowhood or intensive spousal caregiving.”
Could you tell about your academic background and work, and what kind of topics have you been mainly working with?
I have been working at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam for more than 20 years, where we also started the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA, www.lasa-vu.nl) already in 1992, which has been a very important part of my work. This research program (largely financed by the Ministry of Health) follows trajectories of ageing people in an ageing society. We look at the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning, and the focus of my group has been on the social part. For example, the development of social networks, the development of care use and its’ outcomes for well-being and loneliness. My research projects deal with use of care over time and how it relates to societal differences on macro level. I mainly have a sociological perspective on aging, in other words a social-gerontological perspective. I work on projects that focus on the encounter of formal and informal care in the homes of frail older adults. We study how they collaborate and how this could be done more efficiently in order to improve the wellbeing of the care recipient. In addition, we study changes over time; using our LASA-data we compare care use in the 90s and 21st century. Sociologists like to compare societies, it is a nice and natural social experiment, you could say!
What has been your latest project?
Care networks, quality of care and quality of life, have been the most recent. I also look into spousal caregiving and spousal health. Since there are many people who stay married until their 80-90 years, we study how they cope and deal with each other’s health problems, possible issues in marital satisfaction and loneliness. In addition, how people combine work in formal care, and volunteering are also part of the research. Another issue that we try to examine (on cross-national level) is to what degree changes in long-term policies are creating more inequality in care use, care receiving or care giving.
How is the field of population ageing in the Netherlands?
I think actually the Danish society looks a lot like the Dutch society, in terms of attitudes, individualism, open-mindedness, migration, and seeing older people as socially important and productive as well. What we have in common is the expectation of families, where we see it as important that children are involved in your wellbeing in your later life. Not necessarily taking care of your household, but taking care of you and being concerned. In addition, we are facing an increase in the size of the ageing migrant population and this brings new issues regarding their needs for care. For instance, issues like family solidarity, which might be in contrast with non-migrant Dutch families.
What is your take on population ageing? What kind of challenges you think we are facing?
In particular the large increase in the next decade of the 80(+) people living at home without being able to go into more caring environments. Many of these older adults do not suffer from health problems, but run high risk for loneliness due to widowhood or intensive spousal caregiving. This requires more social care and community services that facilitate these older people to stay connected to their neighborhoods. This will be an increasingly large group that needs to be focused on, and one of the major challenges as it involves many aspects such as building social housing, health care and long-term care, and volunteering etc. Ageing is a very multidisciplinary topic.
Is there a topic you would like to still research? A topic that needs more focus.
Inequality issues are important, as some older people are able to stay in control of their lives until very high age, but others are less fortunate. Developing strong psychological and social resources is needed to cope with late life events. I would like to focus on the care networks, care quality of older migrants, which is an issue for the future. Inequality, migrants, care networks and older couples are topics that I would like to continue working on.
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