Ireland’s older adults are bankrolling their children, providing care for their grandchildren but leaving their own health challenges untreated or undiagnosed, a new study suggests.
Older Irish adults are 16 times more likely to be providing financial support to their children than to be receiving money from them, researchers at Trinity College Dublin have found.
Treatable conditions that contribute to disability are common and often go untreated or under-reported, according to the study.
Only three out of five adults suffering urinary incontinence reported their symptoms to a doctor, while only 21 per cent of people with poor or fair hearings use a hearing aid.
And while one in 20 older adults have experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year, just 30 per cent are prescribed appropriate medical therapy.
The report authors found discrepancies of up to 40 per cent between their objective identification of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and atrial fibrillation and the level of diagnosis by GPs.
Obesity continues to rise among older adults, particularly in women aged 50-64 (up to 57 per cent from 49 per cent in 2010). Three out of four adults do not eat enough fruit and vegetables, and almost 70 per cent over-consume junk food.
The findings are contained in the third major report by the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (Tilda) at TCD, published on Tuesday. Tilda began tracking over 8,000 adults aged 50 and over in 2010 and was recently awarded an additional €10 million by the Department of Health, and €5 million from Atlantic Philanthropies, to continue its research over the next five years.
One in seven older adults suffer urinary incontinence, rising to one in five in older age groups, the report finds. The condition is three times more common in women.
Back pain affects one-third of adults, with the majority reporting chronic back pain.
The data backs up HSE claims about increasing demand for hospital services among older patients. One in four of the over-80s had attended an emergency department in 2014, compared to one in six in 2010.
One in five older adults had to go to hospital after suffering a fall - the equivalent of 60,000 people a year. Sixty per cent of women and 40 per cent of men aged over 75 reported falling over a four-year period.
Minister of State for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy admitted the findings show "we have a long way to go in optimising the health and wellbeing of older people".
Older adults, far from being reliant on handouts, are net contributors to their extended family and the communities in which they live, the report finds.
Just 3 per cent of adults aged 54 years and over say their receive financial help from their children while 48 per cent provide it.
Half of those in the 54-74 age bracket provide regular childcare for their grandchildren, for an average of 36 hours a month.
More than half volunteered during the previous year and 17 per cent do so at least once a week.
Report author Prof Rose Anne Kenny criticised the "pervasive attitude" in society and the health system that health declines, chronic conditions and falls are "just a part of ageing" and cannot be diagnosed or treated.
“Far from later years being a time characterised by decline and increased dependency, older adults continue to make valuable contributions to society, with many characterised by active citizenship and participation in the lives of their families and their communities.”
The dominance of the VHI in the health insurance market, where it controls 59 per cent of the market for older adults, needs to be fully examined, the report says.