Men and women are different especially when it comes to ageing well. Data to support factors that may influence wellbeing were presented at a conference last week in Barcelona by Hal Kendig, Professor of Ageing and Public Policy at the Australian National University.
Professor Kendig said what emerged from the conference was the optimism among leading researchers and clinicians about what can be done to improve quality of life, independence and functioning for the older generation in the community. “New evidence into wellbeing indicate that we can do more if we get our attitudes right.” There are indications that reducing inequalities between gender, social classes and countries contribute to better health outcomes in later life, he said.
New Australian research showed that there are different risk factors for men and women who are not ageing well. For men these include perceived strain, lower levels of social activity, perceived inadequacy of social activity, low perceived social support and being a current smoker. For women, it was incontinence, low Body Mass Index and lower physical activity.
Designing health promotions and interventions that cater to the needs of men and women separately was important, according to Professor Kendig. “This was to ensure that older people can age well according to their individual needs.” And the overall message is clear: “It’s never too late to age well.”
In the Melbourne Longitudinal Studies on Healthy Ageing program (MELSHA) on which the research is based, ageing well was defined as living independently in the community and being in good physical and psychological health. What this study identified was there are very different risk factors for men and women not ageing well.
When the study started the average age of participants was 73. Twelve years later, half the participants had died and one-third had entered residential care prior to their death. “Of the surviving participants, the majority were considered to be still ageing well, which is quite remarkable,” Professor Kendig said.
“Ageing can be a positive experience and much can be done to enable improvements throughout life including the later years. We know rehabilitation works, you just need to be patient and invest in programs but it does pay off in the long term. There are experiments and exploratory studies underway in Europe examining ways to invest in older peoples physical and mental capacities.
“We know physical activity is important for mobility and evidence is also mounting that this can also have a positive impact on mental capacity.” He said Australia is doing well by recognising the value of rehabilitation, social determinants and professional competencies in this area. “It might not be big or dramatic but just confirmation that we are on the right track here when it comes to rehabilitation.”
Technology aids are starting to play a pivotal role in the community too. An example of this is where carers can monitor the progress of people living at home who are dealing with health, mobility or rehab issues. Patient health status can also be monitored remotely. “A lot of work in this area is being developed in Australia.”
Making the incorrect diagnoses between delirium and dementia is causing problems for people presenting to hospital in many countries. According to Professor Horacio Firmino, a geriatrician who spoke at the conference, this is because delirium can be treated relatively quickly and easily if it is carried out at the time but if it is miss-diagnosed as dementia, opportunities for quick improvement are lost and there can be ongoing damage. Professor Kendig commented that, “A lot of this has to do with the attitude of hospital clinician and their clinical expertise, and it can lead to inappropriate medication and premature entry to residential care.”