Why governments need to catch up on the research on ageing

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As former sex discrimination commissioner and NSW MP Pru Goward pointed out in a recent newspaper article, the problem isn’t ageing, it’s the way the way we deal with it. Or more to the point, fail to deal with it.

Between COVID and the Royal Commission into Aged Care, our approach to ageing in Australia is under the spotlight.

It’s been shown to be woefully inadequate, and while there’s clearly a huge personal and social cost to this, the economic cost is enormous too.

In Australia, more than 100,000 people aged over 65 are hospitalised for a fall each year. Almost 1 in 5 will break a hip. (Women are 1.7 times more likely than men to do that.)

I can’t find an estimate of the economic cost of this but think of the ripple effect of falls and broken hips. At the very least it includes surgery, hospital care and rehab. Falling is also a key reason for older people going into care.

Yet an ocean of research has already told us how to reduce falls: practice balance and maintain muscle.

Pru Goward argues that along with the poo test we get in the mail for our 50th birthday we ought to also demand free exercise class vouchers.

While the poo test is a great, cost effective initiative, it produces only a 7% positive rate for people aged 50-74.

Compare that with the fact that 100% of us will lose muscle, balance and function unless we’re proactive about retaining it.

The stats tell us that most older Australians are overweight or obese, not sufficiently active and don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit.

Supporting people to address the basics would not only improve their quality of life, it’d reduce hospital and aged care admissions and do wonders for our economic bottom line.

Ideally, we’d also help them to not smoke, stick to the alcohol guidelines, stay socially connected, and keep an active mind and a sense of purpose.

What if we scoured the world for evidence of what’s working rather than limiting our thinking about falls prevention to giving people a walker or installing grab rails or higher toilet seats?

Of course, nothing works for everyone, but a lot of people just need a bit of direction and encouragement.

Our governments are stuck in a mindset that equates ageing with decline and not much else. If only their policies caught up with the science.

As Pru Goward notes, there’s a lot to be said for ageing disgracefully, but you need to be fit to do it.


Photo Source: Bigstock

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