Being self in later life: Maintaining continuity in the face of change

Gareth O'Rourke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to build upon existing knowledge of personalisation through an improved understanding of how the use of personalised social care services can support older people's sense of self. It contains perspectives that are helpful to the development of personalisation policy and practice and to the future commissioning of social care services. Design/methodology/approach-The research involved a qualitative study with eight participants in two local authority areas in England. A series of three in-depth interviews conducted with each participant over a four to six week period explored their experience of using (in one case refusing) a direct payment to meet their social care needs. Ethical approval was obtained prior to the start of fieldwork via the research ethics committee of the author's home university. Findings-Two inter-related themes emerge as findings of the research. First, that the locus of personalisation resides within the interpersonal dynamics of helping relationships; participants experienced personalisation when carers helped to meet needs in ways that validated their narrative of self. Second, whilst the experience of personalisation is not strongly related to consumer choice, it is important that older people are able to exercise control over and within helping relationships. Research limitations/implications-This is a small scale qualitative study conducted with only eight participants. Whilst it offers valid insights into what constitutes personalisation and the processes by which it was achieved for the participants, caution is required in applying the findings more generally. With the exception of one case, the study is focused exclusively on first person accounts of older people. Future studies might usefully be designed to incorporate the accounts of other involved parties such as family members and paid carers. Originality/value-The paper provides an alternative way of approaching personalisation of social care services for older people by exploring it in terms of its impact on self. It identifies the development of accommodations of "special requirements of Self" in helping relationships as a key mechanism of personalisation. This offers a balance to the current focus on consumer choice and control through the development of market like mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-150
Number of pages10
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2016


  • Consumerism
  • Direct payments
  • Helping relationships
  • Older people
  • Personalization
  • Self
  • Social care

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