2 November 2021.
The 45 and Up Study has over 2,400 participants aged 95 and older, and 267 of these are centenarians. Anne Burton recently turned 100, and thanks to her generous involvement in the Study, researchers can gain rich new insights into what it means to age well.
When Anne Burton picks up the phone, the first thing she mentions are the snails that are about to attack her vegie patch. It’s raining, and all of Sydney is still in lockdown, but Anne is quick on her feet to save her garden. After a rustle of snail pellets, she gets back on the phone and says with what sounds like a smile: ‘now, what can I help you with?’
The truth is, Anne Burton has been helping the 45 and Up Study for the past 15 years. She joined the Study in 2006 because “it seemed like a good idea” and she was interested in seeing how other Australians’ health was faring.
Fifteen years on, Anne has recently celebrated her 100th birthday – a remarkable feat of health, and also a lesson in ageing that is helping researchers better understand the factors that promote good health and wellbeing.
Still, when asked what her secret to long life is, Anne is matter-of-fact: “I’ve never drunk much alcohol, and I eat a lot of fruit,” she explains. “I’m also a big walker. But honestly, I think it mostly comes down to genetics. I haven’t done anything special.”
In an age where ‘wellness’ is marketed to the masses as something to strive (and pay) for, this sounds almost too easy. But Anne says her health choices have mostly been about staying fit and connected to community. “I used to have a sherry with my husband every night after work,” she laughs. “But eventually I swapped to something non-alcoholic – mostly to watch my weight. Golfing has also been a big part of my life.”
Anne plays golf most Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, and she says that even at 100, the game still surprises her. “I think golf teaches you humility. Sometimes you go out on the golf course and you have a bad day, and you think: oh well, better luck next time. It also provides community and great exercise.”
Tracking the health of ageing Australians
What may seem like small health and lifestyle choices on Anne’s part, are in fact hugely valuable data points for researchers tracking the health trajectory of ageing Australians.
It’s estimated that by 2056, 22% of Australians will be over the age of 65 – that’s double today’s figures. And understanding how our exercise habits, work patterns, aged care needs and overall life satisfaction changes as we get older, is essential for informing future policy and services.
The 45 and Up Study is in a unique position to assist researchers – not only because it offers 15 years of linked health data, but it also has a large cohort of older Australians like Anne who regularly fill out surveys and provide ongoing updates about their health and wellbeing.
Of the Study’s 267,000 participants, 2,421 are now aged 95 years and over, and 267 of these are centenarians. So, what is life really like when you’re almost 100? According to the 45 and Up Study’s 2018-2020 Follow-up Surveys, for those aged 95 and over:
- Quality of life was good to excellent for 61%, while 65% rated their health as good to excellent.
- Many (72%) were still living in a home or flat, and 66% lived in major cities.
- The need for aged-care significantly increased from the age of 85, with 25% of those 95 and older living in aged care or a retirement home – compared to 13% of 85-89 year-olds.
- Many were staying physically active, with those 95 and over managing an average of five hours of physical activity a week.
- From age 95, respondents were twice as likely to need help than those 85-89 year-olds. Nevertheless, only half needed help with daily tasks.
- A small group were still working: 1.2% doing one hour of paid work a week, and 8.4% spending time volunteering each week.
These are just some of the insights emerging from the 45 and Up Study’s wealth of linked data. And as participants like Anne continue to generously share their changing health, researchers can draw on this ever-growing picture to inform research that tackles major health issues such as cancer, dementia, diabetes and mental health.
In the meantime, Anne signs off her phone call with a word of encouragement to those using the data: “I do think we older people have a lot to reveal about our health. I hope that researchers are finding out some interesting things about us.”
Explore some of the key research from the 45 and Up Study.
Find out how to use the Study for your research.
The 45 and Up Study is the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere. We thank the 267,000 dedicated participants across NSW, who are kindly sharing their health information with us to help create a healthier Australia. We are honoured to have been a part of their lives for the past 15 years.