Saturday 10 December 2016

Health warning for Ireland's big-hearted older generation

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Middle-aged and older people who are not active enough are twice as likely to have depressive symptoms when compared to those who more energetic. Stock Image
Middle-aged and older people who are not active enough are twice as likely to have depressive symptoms when compared to those who more energetic. Stock Image

Ireland's generation of over-50s are providing vital and invisible support to family and neighbours - but many are neglecting their own health as a result.

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Nearly two-thirds of people in this age group have high blood pressure, but almost half of them are unaware they have the condition.

And around 12,000 people have undiagnosed diabetes.

The findings have emerged in the latest report of TILDA, the Trinity College-based research tracking the health and lifestyles of 8,500 over-50s.

It reveals the extent of the previously undocumented contribution they are making behind the scenes with one in five people aged 65-74 doing voluntary work daily or weekly.

Grandchildren

One in five of those with surviving parents help with household tasks, with one in four providing personal care.

One in two look after grandchildren.

The good news is that they generally enjoy high levels of quality of life into late old age, particularly those with strong social networks.

However, there are also worrying trends emerging with two-thirds admitting they are only taking low or moderate levels of physical exercise.

Only one-third say they are clocking up high levels of activity.

Middle-aged and older people who are not active enough are twice as likely to have depressive symptoms when compared to those who more energetic.Older people who also have negative attitudes to ageing are more inclined to walk more slowly and suffer worse brain health.

This also has particularly detrimental effects on more frail elderly.

When asked about their walking speeds, one-third of those aged 65 to 74 and 61pc of the over-75s said they did not have time to cross the road in the time given by pedestrian light signals.

Nearly one-fifth of men and a quarter of women over 50 have also fallen in the past year.

One in 10 of the over-50s who fell needed medical treatment as a result, but this rose to 16pc for those over 75.

Commonly prescribed drugs for conditions such as blood pressure, angina, depression and eye health were linked to falls.

The clear view is that forced retirement has a negative effect on their mental health.

This was also the case where people had to give up work due to ill-health.

The research showed older people have limited knowledge about their pension entitlements.

Around 66pc who were enrolled in pension schemes did not know what their income would be when they retire.

Men were better informed about their pensions than women, as well as those who were better educated and had higher occupational grades.

It also confirmed that people with private health insurance were more likely to find out if they were suffering an illness.

Commenting on the results, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, the principal investigator, said they "unmask the important and often silent contribution older adults make".

She said everyone over 50 should get checked for blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and exercise levels annually.

Keeping them under control significantly cuts the risk of developing dementia, she added.

Irish Independent

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