Over-50s face range of health issues

Yet many still financially supporting families
  • Deborah Condon

People over the age of 50 often face a range of health issues, such as depression, pain and obesity, however despite this, they continue to make significant contributions to their families and communities, a new report has shown.

According to the latest findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), depression has a major detrimental effect on the health and independence of adults over the age of 50 in Ireland, with 5% having experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.

However, just 30% are prescribed appropriate medical therapy for the illness.

The researchers noted that the prevalence of depression and of treated depression has not changed over the past four years and this highlights the necessity for new approaches to raise awareness among older people, as well as their families and healthcare professionals.

This marks the third major report by TILDA, which has been following the lives of over 8,000 people over the age of 50 since 2006. It shows that while those over the age of 50 continue to make significant contributions to their families and communities, when it comes to health, there are some serious concerns.

Aside from depression, pain is a common complaint, affecting around 33% of older adults. The majority of these report chronic back pain.

Meanwhile, around 14% experience urinary incontinence, with this figure rising the older people get. Yet despite the availability of treatments and the fact that this condition can have a major impact on quality of life, around 40% of those affected do not report the problem to a healthcare professional.

And half of people over the age of 75 experience some hearing loss, yet despite the availability of financial support for hearing aids in Ireland, just 21% of people who report fair or poor hearing use such aids.

When it comes to diet and obesity, there are some serious concerns. Most adults do not meet ‘Food Pyramid' recommendations - this gives people an idea of what they should be eating each day.

Some 76% do not consume the daily recommended allowance for fruit and vegetables, while 68% consume too many foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar.

Not surprisingly perhaps, there has been an increase in central obesity (substantially increased waist circumference), particularly in women aged between 50 and 64. In 2010, 49% of these were centrally obese. These latest findings show that this figure has risen to 57%.

The report also found that there has been a big increase in Emergency Department attendances and hospital admissions among those over the age of 80 since 2010. The length of stay in hospital tends to be much longer for these older patients as well.

Yet, despite these health problems, the report emphasised that older Irish adults are major contributors to their extended families and communities. Those aged 54 and older who have children are more likely to provide financial assistance to these children (48%) than to receive such assistance from them (3%).

Furthermore, half of those aged between 54 and 74 provide regular childcare for their grandchildren for an average of 36 hours per month.

The report showed that over half of older people volunteered during the previous year and 17% volunteer at least every week. It also noted that volunteering, regular social participation, minding grandchildren and supporting children is significantly linked with better mood and a better quality of life overall.

"What these latest results from TILDA have shown is that 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," commented principal TILDA investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny.

However, she added that the findings show that there are still many adults who remain undiagnosed and untreated for various conditions.

"TILDA provides a valuable source of research on the current and future trends of an ageing population and will greatly assist clinicians and policy makers by identifying groups most at risk. Consequently, limited resources can be distributed to secure maximum impact so that our later years can be independent, active and healthy."

 

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