‘Good friendships make for a healthy life as much as regular exercise and healthy diet’
Health Hero: Prof Rose Anne Kenny
Prof Rose Anne Kenny, director of Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing at St James’s Hospital, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
It was while she was a research fellow in cardiology at Westminster Hospital that Prof Rose Anne Kenny developed the Head Up Tilt (HUT) test.
Used to diagnose the cardiovascular causes of faints and falls, the HUT is now commonly used throughout the world.
After studying medicine at NUI Galway, Kenny did her clinical training at the Hammersmith Hospital in London before moving to Westminster Hospital. She later spent 16 years as professor of cardiovascular medicine in Newcastle upon Tyne, before returning to Ireland in 2006 and taking the post of professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital.
She founded and continues to lead Ireland’s largest study on ageing, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda). This study maps the health, wealth and quality of life of the over-50s and influences Government policy and medical innovation. Kenny has recently become the director of the Mercers Institute for Successful Ageing, a new purpose-built clinical research centre at St James’s Hospital.
With awards including UK national doctor of the year and the NHS modernisation award, Kenny has published more than 400 research papers, over 40 book chapters and four text books.
And is our Health Hero of the week.
Do you know a ‘Health Hero’?
What is your proudest achievement?
I have two proud achievements, the development of the HUT test which has helped countless people with blackouts and falls globally and the establishment of Tilda, which improves our understanding of adult health and life in Ireland and informs policy decisions.
What motivates you in your work and life?
In work, I am motivated by patients. In fact, I enjoy engaging with patients and relatives more and more with the passing years. I find experience brings me better understanding but also more curiosity and confidence to explore and research unresolved clinical questions. In my personal life, I am motivated by my two sons – Pearse (21) and Redmond (24). They are great fun and I am aware of their potential contributions to make life more equitable for all.
What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?
Ironically, I am mediocre at doing the things that I know make for healthy ageing – exercise, social engagement and a good diet. However, I do cycle to work. I enjoy time with my family. I also love a good night out with friends, but I don’t do enough of that.
What are the most important factors to maintain a healthy society?
Believe it or not, good friendships and social engagement make for a healthy life as much as regular exercise and healthy diet. Loneliness and social isolation are particularly harmful to health – cardiac health, brain health and even cancers are significantly influenced by loneliness.
What needs to be done in Ireland to achieve this?
Ireland needs to re-create “community life”. This is a pleasant and cost-neutral way to prevent diseases and has huge knock-on benefits for everyone. Local shops, post offices and community activities such as allotments and book clubs are all really important for the fabric of a healthy society. I’d love to see a government committed to communities in Ireland – including inner cities where mixed housing rather than blocks of office space, should be enforced – to bring a heart back into our cities and towns. In terms of healthcare, I believe we will continue to bounce from crisis to crisis unless we really think outside of the box. Many clinicians, in the community and in hospitals, have innovative solutions for service delivery which would benefit the system and help to reduce admission pressures. I would like to see the Government encouraging new ideas from those working at the coal face. I don’t think the Government taps into this knowledge base enough.
What do you think is the most pressing health issue in Ireland today?
The proportion of people aged 65 and older is the fastest growing demographic worldwide. People are living longer and thus accumulating more chronic diseases. In Ireland, the proportion of people over 80 years will increase five-fold over the next 35 years.
How do you think the Minister for Health needs to tackle this?
He needs to plan for the ageing population and organise health services to provide easy and early access to accommodate the inevitable demands on healthcare. For example, I would like to see rapid access to a day unit for people who fall or faint rolled out nationally.
What do you do to relax and unwind?
I like to read. I enjoy reading history books and I particularly love the West of Ireland where I can truly unwind.
What makes you laugh?
I laugh a lot. I never miss BBC 4 Friday night news comedy. I highly recommend a podcast of it. Donald Trump still makes me laugh; he is so utterly ludicrous.
Where would you like to live other than Ireland and why?
We really enjoyed the 16 years we spent in Newcastle. But I was pleased to return to Ireland to use my knowledge to change things. Gary, my husband, and I love holidaying in the south of France.
- Do you know a Health Hero? Every week, we will honour one of the people deserving of the hero tag. If you would like to nominate someone, go to irishtimes.com/healthheroes