More than a quarter of a million ‘national treasures’ are being called on to assist their country once again by volunteering their health information in the national interest.
Australia’s largest ever long-term study of ageing – the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study – is about to take the pulse of its 250,000 participants five years since they first took part, in a bid to determine who is ageing well, who is not and how they are using health services. Around one in 10 NSW men and women aged 45 and over are currently taking part in the Study and they have already given us an important snapshot of ageing in Australia.
“The title ‘national treasure’ is usually reserved for the famous but these people, from all walks of life, deserve this description because they are sharing precious information about their lives and long-term health to help all of us,” said 45 and Up Study Scientific Director Professor Emily Banks.
“We need ongoing information about the health of Study participants. The more we know, the more we can manage and prevent illness. We are asking them to tell us how they’re faring four to five years on, so we can unlock the secrets of healthy ageing by better understanding the causes and outcomes of conditions such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, depression and obesity.”
Participants provide the Sax Institute with details about their health, lifestyles and health services used, and allow us to link this to their hospital, general practice and pharmaceutical records. More than 40,000 people have just received surveys in the first wave of the follow-up Study, with the remaining 210,000 people to be resurveyed as part of a three-year roll-out.
“We are in this for the long haul and committed to recording this moving picture of the nation’s health,” Professor Banks says. “Apart from asking what has changed or stayed the same for people in the past five years, we will ask new questions about things like pain, how active or inactive they are and use of transport. This will give us new insights into how lifestyle affects physical and mental health.”
More than 440 researchers are currently using the 45 and Up Study in their work. This large-scale research asset gives researchers a “running start”, saving resources and providing quicker answers that can be used to help plan and improve health services. Pooling resources in this way is already yielding significant results – 50 research papers have been published so far. Recent important findings include:
- Over 65s are more likely to be hospitalised for whooping cough than 45-64-year-olds, particularly if they are obese and have asthma, suggesting they are a high-priority target group for vaccination
- People who stand up more live longer and are less prone to obesity. By avoiding too much sitting you could increase your life expectancy – even if you already exercise regularly
- Heart disease and depression are common causes of early retirement and targeting these conditions might reduce the number of people leaving the workforce early.