Supporting transitions in later life: three lessons

In this guest blog, Katie Rose and Magdalena Kuenkel from CPI talk us through the lessons from new research into international policies that ease later life transitions

Around the world, we see a growing recognition that there’s little resource or knowledge on how to plan emotionally and psychologically for transitions in later life. Changes such as retirement, moving out of the family home or a deterioration in health are often difficult to manage, and can, for example, lead to loneliness and isolation which impacts on mental and physical health.

We have worked with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) to understand what can be done to support people at this stage of life by examining 15 case studies from around the world. Three central lessons became clear.

Supporting transitions in later life

Lesson #1:

In order to reach and support people in later life, different providers – government, third and private sector – need to work together.

In the cases of Slovenia’s 2004 National Action Plan for Employment and Japan’s Lifelong Learning Promotion Law, for instance, the ability to implement management mechanisms and achieve an alignment of interests between different providers has been a key driver of impact.

Lesson #2:

The capacity to start small is key to achieving impact at scale.

This is particularly obvious with some of the housing and community centres we have analysed. A4Lin the Netherlands, for example, set up its first home in Rotterdam in 1992. This allowed the programme designers to be responsive to local needs and enabled them to draw out important lessons for expansion in subsequent years. Today, there are more than 30 sites of this type in the Netherlands, with 1,700 apartments, supporting ~2,500 residents (with another 10,000-12,000 on the waiting lists). As a result, other countries are now exploring this model of care provision.

Lesson #3:

There is a lack of interventions specifically targeted at promoting the emotional wellbeing of people transitioning into later life.

We found that few initiatives were motivated by the explicit aim of supporting the emotional wellbeing of the older generation, with the exception of Singapore’s C3A. This means that very few interventions, out of the 15 analysed, measured their impact against emotional wellbeing indicators.

Different interventions, common objectives

Our research also helped to develop a better understanding of motivations and drivers. Across the 15 initiatives analysed, we identified four common objectives:

  1. Increase labour market participation
  2. Develop new skills and knowledge
  3. Build social support networks and stronger communities
  4. Promote physical and emotional wellbeing

Our analysis includes examples from different providers – government, third and private sector organisations. Motives differ across providers. Government-led initiatives have been driven primarily by the desire to increase labour market participation, often in response to financial pressures. Examples include Australia’s Transition to Retirement schemeFinland’s National Programme on Ageing Workers (FINPAW) and the US’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). Those interventions created to develop new skills and knowledge have been implemented by a range of providers: Japan’s Lifelong Learning Promotion Law, for instance, is a government-led initiative, while the US’s Central Baptist Hospital Career Coaching is delivered by the private sector. Initiatives led by third sector organisations have more commonly been motivated by the aim to build social support networks and stronger communities for the older generation – The Transition Network in the US and the Council for Third Age (C3A) in Singapore, for example. Only a few initiatives analysed as part of this research, however, have been driven by the explicit desire to promote emotional wellbeing. Interventions to support the wellbeing of older people have tended to focus primarily on physical wellbeing – with the provision of houses or community centres. Examples include: Mehrgenerationenhäuser II in GermanyLevensloopbestendige (Apartments for Life or A4L) in the Netherlands and Seoul’s 50+ initiative.

We hope this study helps similar initiatives around the world have more impact

Our aims for this research were to: increase the sector’s understanding of the work that exists internationally regarding transitions in later life; develop an understanding of the enablers, challenges and conditions required for impact; and extract lessons from other countries that can be fed back into policies and programmes.

By applying our Public Impact Fundamentals framework to different interventions, we were able to deconstruct why some initiatives were successful or not in achieving their intended objectives. This research enabled us to draw out lessons for future policy and programme design. We hope that our findings will contribute to the work happening around the world so that, together, we can better support those making a transition in later life.

All the case studies we analysed as part of this research can be found here, and a full report – including all the detailed analysis – is available for download here.

If you know of a policy that aims to support transitions in later life, or have comments or questions about CPI’s work, please do get in touch.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) has partnered with the Centre for Public Impact (CPI) to conduct this research. Our Transitions in Later Life programme aims to help people in mid to later life feel better supported to manage changes as they age.

Read the report View the case studies