Health of older people to be monitored in five-year study
THE health and wellbeing of older people in Wales is to be charted in a multi-million-pound survey.
The survey, which will be conducted over five years by researchers at Bangor University, aims to chart older people’s changing approaches to retirement, leisure, health, activity, nutrition and exercise.
It will cost £3.3m and involve more than 5,000 people living in Anglesey, South Gwynedd and Neath and Port Talbot, paying particular attention to rural and bilingual communities.
Professor Bob Woods, who will lead the research at Bangor University’s Dementia Services Development Centre, said: “How we age is not just governed by our health or our genes. There is a growing recognition within governments, those who provide care and the research community of the importance of factors such as people’s social situation, the place they live, their resilience in the face of illness, even whether or not they are bilingual.
“We are also interested in what makes some older people better able to negotiate difficult life circumstances than others. We will examine whether being resilient helps the person have greater well-being if changes in memory and thinking are experienced, and test the extent to which resilience reduces the impact of cognitive impairment.
“For the first time, we’re bringing all these factors together as part of a large survey and are evaluating their function at individual, community and societal levels, which should tell us the extent to which they reduce the risk of changes in memory and thinking, and perhaps dementia, in later life.”
According to Age Cymru, one in four adults in Wales is aged 65 or over and experts believe that in 20 years’ time that figure could increase to one in three.
Dementia rates are also increasing as we live longer, with a report released this month by the Alzheimer’s Society predicting cases of dementia will rise from their current level of 42,722 to 55,941 in a decade. A further 35,000 people in Wales are expected to be living with undiagnosed dementia by 2021.
Ruth Marks, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, welcomed the survey, saying: “It is excellent to see co-operation across universities in Wales and I hope this research will provide a balanced, thorough basis to inform government policy in future. As commissioner, I will certainly find it useful.
“An ageing population is a positive thing; in most cases the challenges people face as a result of their health are more down to society’s inability to deal with them, and low expectations of older people’s quality of life, than ageing itself.
“A greater understanding of health conditions can only improve the care older people receive in future. Their care should not be ‘one size fits all’ and they should not be discriminated against indirectly by the low expectations of health providers.”
A spokesman for Age Cymru said: “Age and ageing is something to be celebrated and we are all living longer and healthier than at any time before. With an ageing population the country needs to adapt services and policies to this changing demographic, which is why this is a very relevant piece of work.”
Gwenda Thomas, the Assembly Government’s Deputy Minister for Social Services, said: “The likely impact on health and social care services, and on society in general, of the changes relating to an ageing population are much discussed and debated.
“The study will add greatly to our understanding of ageing in rural and bilingual communities, and will have additional significance for Wales.”