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Fear of crime and poor health can make older people feel unsafe

Nadezhda Golovchanova

Nadezhda Golovchanova.

Fear of being a victim of crime is just one of the reasons why older people feel unsafe.
The social climate in the neighbourhood and fear of, for instance, having a fall in the home are also common, according to a new study by Nadezhda Golovchanova, doctoral student at Örebro University.

Read the article in Nordic Journal of Criminology: Perceived reasons of unsafety among independently living older adults in Sweden

Read the article in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Affective Fear of Crime and Its Association with Depressive Feelings and Life Satisfaction in Advanced Age: Cognitive Emotion Regulation as a Moderator?

Watch Nadezhda Golovchanova sharing her research on perceived unsafety among older people and how this can be preventeda lecture on successful ageing in cooperation with the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company, UR.

Over 600 older people (aged 64–106) in Örebro Municipality participated in the 65+ and Safe Study, answering questions about safety. Among other things, they had to rate their fear of various types of crime, their physical and emotional health, as well as infrastructure – both in their communities and at home. The results show that a majority of the respondents, more than 80 per cent, feel safe.

At the same time, the study highlights the fear of being a victim of crime as a common reason for  feeling unsafe among older people.

“Another interesting aspect in our findings is that their everyday environment is also one of the reasons older people feel unsafe. There may be staircases or thresholds at home that they find difficult to navigate,” says Nadezhda Golovchanova, doctoral student within the strategic initiative Successful ageing and the EU-funded research programme Newbreed, at Örebro University.

The respondents – who all live in senior housing accommodation in different parts of Örebro Municipality – also rated social climate in the neighbourhood as a reason for feelings of unsafety.

“There are consequently several explanations for perceived unsafety among older people, both of a criminal and non-criminal nature. That is something we need to remember, in research as well as when planning safety-promoting measures,” she says.

Fear of crime and quality of life

In another study, Nadezhda Golovchanova used the responses from the same group of respondents to investigate whether fear of crime can be linked to depressive feelings in older people and to lower quality of life.

“We could see that there was a statistical connection. As fear of crime goes up, older people are less satisfied with life and experience depressive feelings to a higher degree.“

To a greater extent, they also use maladaptive strategies for emotion regulation such as rumination, which means going over the same negative situation again and again. Another strategy for emotion regulation more frequently reported by those more fearful of crime was catastrophising – when you envision terrible and negative consequences of a threatening situation. Also, those who rated themselves as more worried about crime tended to blame others for negative or unpleasant events more often.  

“With our data, however, we can’t establish the casual link between fear of crime and indicators of lower well-being,” explains Nadezhda Golovchanova.

Still, it is very possible that fear of crime may lead to an increase in depressive feelings. But it is also possible that those already experiencing depressive feelings can perceive a certain situation as more dangerous and threatening.

“Since both are a possibility, it is important not to aim our attention solely on fear of crime in preventive strategies. We can also focus on improving mental health in older people,” says Nadezhda Golovchanova.

Text and photo: Jasenka Dobric
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight

Nadezhda Golovchanova is a doctoral student within the doctoral programme Newbreed, which is part of Örebro University’s strategic initiative Successful ageing. She is also affiliated to the Swedish National Graduate School of Ageing and Health, SWEAH.