Over the next 30 years, a quarter of Australia’s population is expected to be older than 65. The effects of this profound societal change will be borne by older people, their families and communities, and the agencies that support them. There is therefore an urgent need to understand how we can best help people stay healthy and independent as they age.

To address this need, the Sax Institute established the 45 and Up Study, the largest cohort study ever conducted in Australia, to help determine the community’s future requirements and give governments reliable evidence to underpin sustainable policy.

Untapped potential

Until the Study was launched in 2006, multiple small studies addressed issues linked to population ageing but, due to their small size, had limited power. There were also a number of population databases with the potential to be linked together, but a lack of integration meant their potential was not being tapped.

There was a demonstrable need for large-scale, open-source research infrastructure that would not only address priority research questions in healthy ageing but become a long-term, Australian-specific resource for public health research.

More than 36,000 participants joined the Study when recruitment began in 2006 and by the end of 2009 more than 250,000 people had agreed to take part. The Study’s design and protocol involved the contribution of more than 100 of NSW’s leading health and medical researchers, many of whom remain actively engaged today.

A bright future

2012 saw the Study hit an important milestone — the first wave of follow-up surveys being mailed to participants. About 40,000 questionnaires were mailed out in 2012 and the remaining 210,000 participants will be resurveyed over the next three years.