20 May 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far cost the lives of many thousands of people across the globe and altered our society in profound ways. It’s led to a massive global research effort to find out more about this new disease and its effects on our community and health system. The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study is very much part of this concerted effort. We sat down with Dr Kerrin Bleicher, Director of the Sax Institute’s Research Assets Division, to talk about what the Study can offer the research community.

Q. What makes the 45 and Up Study such a valuable resource for studying aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact?

A. The 45 and Up Study is one of the largest ongoing studies of healthy ageing. We’re collecting data from around a quarter of a million people from New South Wales, which is quite a significant portion of the middle-aged and elderly population of that state.

We capture not just the age group that has been most severely affected by COVID-19, but we also have large numbers of participants from populations that the NSW government has prioritised for research. That includes people with chronic medical conditions; people from non-English speaking backgrounds; socioeconomically disadvantaged groups; people living in regional and remote areas; and people with compromised immune systems.

Q. What is the Study doing to facilitate its use by researchers?

A. One very exciting development is that we’ll be asking 86,000 of our Study participants COVID-19 related questions in our next survey, going out later this year. The questions will cover areas such as exposure and diagnosis of COVID-19; the impact of the outbreak on health, wellbeing, loneliness, income, and access of healthcare services; as well as behavioural changes and trust in sources of COVID-19 information. This survey information will be linkable to over 10 years of data from previous surveys and other routinely collected data.

To support research, we are developing a 45 and Up COVID-19 data asset, which will be linked with the Notifiable Conditions Information Management Systems (to identify 45 and Up participants who tested positive with COVID-19); the latest hospital and emergency department data (to enable understanding of the severity of their illness and whether hospitalisation, ICU or ventilator care was required), MBS and PBS data, and the 45 and Up survey data. This will be a rich, robust and accessible resource for research into COVID-19. 

Australia has so far managed to mitigate the size and spread of COVID-19. However, social isolation and other COVID-19 prevention measures may have had unintended consequences. These secondary impacts, including changes in healthy behaviours, such as physical activity, smoking, sleeping and socialising, can be explored using the 45 and Up Study to identify both short and longer term impacts on health and wellbeing. The longitudinal nature of the Study, and our very large and diverse cohorts, enable robust analyses of a wide range of impacts across diverse population groups and across areas.

Q. What ways do you think the Study could be used to study COVID?

A. There’s a huge range of potential applications – from genomic research to understand who’s most susceptible to severe disease, to peoples’ perspectives  of the impact of the policies during the COVID19 outbreak; analyses of how the outbreak has affected mental health and well-being; as well costs to people and the health system.

The Study offers an amazing opportunity for research that will inform and improve future responses to health crises and predict long-term impacts on health and well-being.

Q. Are you in discussions for any specific COVID-related projects?

A. We are in a broad range of discussions with potential collaborators and data users to support data development. The aim is to ensure the 45 and Up COVID-19 data asset can  meet the needs of researchers, provide policy insights, support evidence-based decision-making and help drive best practice that benefits all Australians.

If you’re interested in using the 45 and Up COVID-19 data asset, which we hope will be ready by the end of 2020, please contact the 45 and Up Study team at 45andUp.research@saxinstitute.org.au.

For more information about the 45 and Up Study, click here.