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More than a quarter of people over 50 struggle with major life changes

The Centre for Ageing Better has found that more than a quarter (27%) of people aged over 50 say they have a hard time making it through stressful events that happen in later life.

Our new partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Transitions in Later Life programme will develop and test new approaches that will help people better manage changes in later life.

Today, Ageing Better announces new partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Transitions in Later Life programme to develop and test ways to help people improve the way they manage major life changes, to help them experience longer and happier lives. The programme also aims to influence employers to understand the importance of providing pre-retirement support to their employees, which includes helping them to prepare emotionally for changes in later life.

The partnership will explore strategies that can help people deal successfully with major life changes. It will test the effectiveness of well-known therapeutic approaches, such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, with people preparing for retirement, as well as developing and trialing new methods of support. It will also work with employers and business groups to share and scale the ideas that work, to try and reach more people.

The Centre for Ageing Better has found that more than a quarter (27%) of people aged over 50 say they have a hard time making it through stressful events that happen in later life.

Many changes occur in later life, including retirement, moving home, bereavement, poor health, becoming a carer and entering care. In its major Later Life study, Ageing Better found that while some people manage these well, many feel lonely or socially isolated or experience a loss of meaning and purpose. It found that people’s attitudes and outlook were a major factor in whether they were able to manage these changes [1].

Research has shown that those with a more positive attitude to retirement live, on average, 4.9 years longer than those with negative attitudes [2]. A large number of the 650,000 people in the UK that turn 65 each year choose to retire around this time, yet many receive no guidance or support [3].

Financial preparation for retirement is important – Ageing Better found that 47% of those who find it difficult to manage financially said they were able to bounce back quickly after hard times, compared to 80% among those who are financially comfortable.

Ageing Better’s study has revealed the extent of inequalities in whether people are able to manage major life changes. Almost a quarter of people over 50 say they ‘tend to take a long time to get over set backs in my life’. Analysis reveals that those who are likely to find it particularly difficult include people who are financially struggling, black and minority ethnic groups, those out of work but not retired, those with a long standing physical or mental disability, illness or impairment, and semi and unskilled manual workers, casual workers and those dependent on welfare [4].

Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said:

“We want more people to successfully manage the major changes that can happen to us in later life. We are often encouraged to plan for our material needs in retirement but not for our psychological and emotional wellbeing. By enabling people to be better prepared, we can ensure they live happier and longer lives.

“In this current project we are focusing on retirement as a specific transition and using employers as the best route to reach people. However, we recognise that there are other important changes for which people need help and support to manage successfully. We hope to learn from this partnership to identify what works and spread this to benefit more people.”

Andrew Barnett, Director of UK Branch of Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, said:

“Our approach to managing transitions builds on the success of the Campaign to End Loneliness, which we helped establish. Through this work we could see that transitions such as retirement, loss of mobility or bereavement can often cause or intensify issues such as loneliness, ill-health and depression in later life. But they also present an opportunity to reflect and to build a positive vision for the future. A key objective of this partnership with the Centre for Ageing Better is to test whether by better supporting people through transitions we can help prevent poor outcomes, ensuring people are happier and healthier.   

We are currently supporting a cohort of projects testing different approaches to supporting people at the point of retirement. This new partnership not only enables us to draw on Ageing Better’s expertise in bringing together and sharing evidence for what works, but will also help us to work with a range of different organisations, including private sector employers. We are confident that these collaborative relationships will ensure that this work achieves real impact.”

Notes to editors

Focus areas for the partnership:

  • Testing established approaches: it will coordinate a group of eight projects, each testing different models of support for people around the point of retirement. They will include testing therapeutic methods, such as mindfulness and CBT, as well as delivery mechanisms, such as course and peer learning, to build evidence for what can improve wellbeing and ability to manage change.
  • Knowledge sharing: it will establish a network, which will initially be made up of the eight projects, but later expanded, to allow organisations to share what they learn about successful interventions and to explore common challenges.
  • Prototyping new methods: it will work with Innovation Unit to prototype a range of new methods to help people prepare for change and enhance their wellbeing, and test different delivery routes for these, considering their potential for scale. A service model will be further tested this summer, it is expected the most promising approach will then be piloted from the autumn.
  • Influencing change: with the aim of changing behaviours amongst employers and encouraging them to act on and share the partnership’s findings widely, it will engage with business networks and establish partnerships to seed successful methods.
About the Later Life in 2015 study:

Unless otherwise stated, data is taken from Later Life in 2015: An analysis of the views and experiences of people aged 50 and over. Read the full findings.

It was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better.

A survey was designed by Ipsos MORI in collaboration with Ageing Better including defining older age, social, financial and health expectations and experiences of ageing, wellbeing and happiness, and community aspects of ageing. The survey questionnaire was 36 questions in length and ran at an average of 16 minutes per respondent. Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,389 adults aged 50 and over across England between 25th September and 18th October 2015. The data are weighted to indicators matching the profile of the population aged 50 and over living in England including age group, region, gender, social grade, employment status, housing tenure and ethnicity.

The data from this study that specifically relates to how people manage changes in later life can be found in a data briefing.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests, based in Lisbon with offices in London and Paris. The purpose of the UK Branch in London is to bring about long-term improvements in wellbeing, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries (national borders, communities, disciplines and sectors) which deliver social, cultural and environmental value.


[1] Later Life in 2015, Centre for Ageing Better

[2] Lakra, D. C., Ng, R., & Levy, B. R. (2012). Increased longevity from viewing retirement positively. Ageing and Society, 32(08), 1418-1427

[3] National population projections for UK, 2010-based (principle projection), Office for National Statistics, 2011

[4] Later Life in 2015, Centre for Ageing Better