Major five year survey to report on positives and negatives of ageing

We have an ageing population. Older people are living longer and form a greater proportion of the population than ever before. By 2025, for the first time in history, 20% of our population will be over 65 and 5.5% over 80. Statistics suggest that dementia rates in the UK will increase by 38% over the next 15 years and 154% over the next 45 years.

 A major survey being conducted in several areas across Wales is to assess how we age and to look at factors that could contribute to healthy ageing.

Each generation of older people differs from those that went before. They have different life experiences, expectations and views of the world. Their approaches to retirement, leisure, health, activity, nutrition and exercise differ from those of their parents' generation, as do their ideas regarding how needs for care and support should be met, influenced perhaps by changes in families and in society.

As the population ages we need to be able to ensure that as many people as possible enjoy their later years, and that those who become ill, receive diagnosis of dementia or other age related mental impairment, their family and carers, are supported in the best, most cost-effective means.

With this in mind, Bangor University is launching the detailed five-year research survey looking at health and well-being and changes in memory  in later life and factors which could promote ‘healthy ageing’.

Five thousand people aged over 65 in Anglesey and South Gwynedd, Neath and Port Talbot are to be recruited to take part in the survey. The £3.3 million research project is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

Gwenda Thomas, the Welsh Assembly Government’s Deputy Minister for Social Services said:

“This is a significant and important project at local, national and international levels. 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, and indeed the localities involved, whilst contributing to the overall UK and international picture.”

”How we age is not just governed by our health or our genes.” explains Prof Bob Woods, who will lead the research at Bangor University’s Dementia Services Development Centre.

“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. There is also evidence of the importance of Vitamin B12.”

“An important aspect of the project is the ability to compare the results with those of the survey conducted in the mid 90’s to see how older people's networks of social relationships have changed in the face of the major changes in families and society over this time period. We will also be able to see whether the extent of changes in memory and thinking ability at a given age have reduced with general improvements in health, exercise and activity. There is some evidence that having a higher level of education, remaining active, physically and mentally, having a more active social life and being bilingual can be protective in later life.

“We are also interested in what makes some older people better able to negotiate difficult life circumstances than others, to be resilient. 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.

“We’re not just focussing on the negative aspects of ageing, such as changes in health status, memory and thinking. Many people cope well with what life throws at them.”

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.”

The research is also linked in with the cognitive function and ageing studies, led by Professor Carol Brayne of Cambridge University in England. The data produced from this research by will also be available for other researchers across the UK.

Partners at Swansea University will be looking at the importance of social networks and relationships for older people, while partners at Liverpool will be looking at nutrition and the role of vitamin b12, which is linked to cognitive functioning.

Those wishing find out more information are asked to contact

Dr. Gill Windle, project manager.

(01248) 383968

Publication date: 29 March 2011