Journal of Professional Nursing

Independence and Well-Being in Later Life: Three New Zealand Studies

Stephen Neville, RN, MA(Hons), FCNA(NZ), Lecturer, School of Health Sciences - Albany, Massey University, Auckland
Sally Keeling, PhD, DipTchg, DipEd., Lecturer, Department of Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Kaye Milligan, RN, MA(Hons), DipTchg (Tertiary), MCNA(NZ), Lecturer, School of Nursing, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

Reference:  Neville, S., Keeling, S., & Milligan, K. (2005). Independence and well-being in later life: Three New Zealand studies. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 21(1), 14-23.


This paper argues that social gerontology is an appropriate methodological lens to investigate independence and well-being in later life and goes on to overview three diverse and independent pieces of research which cross disciplinary boundaries, geographic locations and philosophical terrains. A comparative analysis of the results from these studies identifies that health, economic status and social support influence the concepts of independence and well-being in older people. Nurses, particularly those working in primary health care, are likely to be the first point of contact for many older adults and need to operationalise a holistic assessment framework in order to address all components of ageing that influence independence and well-being in this group of people.

Social gerontology, independence, well-being, older person’s health

Fostering independence and wellbeing in later life is an integral component of primary health care, and the concepts are highly relevant to advanced nursing practice, interdisciplinary practice and associated areas of scholarly inquiry. Nevertheless there are those, both within and outside New Zealand, who argue that the concepts have been both overused and under-researched, (see for example: Arber & Evandrou, 1993; Fisk, 1986; Fisk & Abbott, 1998). Within the New Zealand context they have had wide currency in the last 10 years as a key slogan of public policy and health promotion (Davey & Gee, 2002; Dwyer, Gray & Renwick, 2000; Ministry of Social Policy, 2001a; National Health Committee, 2000). In the last five years three New Zealand postgraduate theses have addressed the concepts of independence, well-being and later life from different theoretical perspectives and research methodologies (Keeling, 1998a; Milligan, 2000; Neville, 1998). In the course of their ongoing research work these three authors have had the opportunity to bring together results from their individual studies. Their work covers extensive geographic scope (Christchurch, Mosgiel and Wanganui), specific gendered foci (Milligan’s study offers a feminist view of older women’s well-being, while Neville’s is based on a survey of older men), and includes policy analysis, anthropological approaches, nursing and community care. A summary of each study will be presented before drawing out some common conclusions about the experience of and significance of independence and the constitution of well-being for older men and women in New Zealand. In their discussion the present authors emphasise the usefulness of comparative analysis and in particular the value and relevance of social gerontological research.

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