Unhealthy ageing a cause for concern

Tue, Oct 23, 2012, 01:00

THE NUMBER of “healthy life years” a person had was becoming a major issue of concern to policymakers as people lived longer, a professor of geriatric medicine has said.

In Ireland a women aged 65 would live on average for 20 more years but 10 of these would be “healthy lives” without cognitive or physical disability and disease, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda), said.

Prof Kenny was speaking at a public meeting on reversing ageing organised by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland last week. She also spoke of a major lack of awareness of high blood pressure found by the study of people over 50 years old. Tilda researchers found that 57 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women with hypertension were unaware of the problem, she said.

She also identified a lack of awareness among older people of irregular heart fibrillation, something that could be treated.

Three-quarters of older people who were not aware that they had irregular heart fibrillation were at risk of stroke, she said.

Addressing the meeting on living longer and healthier was New York Times best-selling author Chris Crowley. Mr Crowley said 70 per cent of ageing was voluntary and heavily in people’s control.

Half of serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer could be avoided with behavioural changes, said Mr Crowley who co-authored the Younger Next Year series. If there was a “silver bullet” it would be serious aerobic exercise four days a week, which makes a “huge difference to quality of life”, he said.

Aerobic exercise changes blood, impacts on mood and “makes you smarter”, he said. He also spoke of the impact on ageing that strength training can have. As people got older, accidents become a major feature of health, so being able to stop yourself falling was important, he said.

Serious strength training was “almost the only way to overcome osteoporosis”, he said.

Nutrition also makes an enormous difference as there is a tendency towards eating “dead food” with no nutrients that had a “huge impact on making the body work right”, he said.

He also spoke of the tendency for some older people to get isolated and the negative impact this can have on ageing. “It makes a world of sense to make a conscious effort in life after you retire,” he said.