Aged Care

Unhealthy lifestyles in the 60s tied to increased aged care risk

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Engaging in unhealthy lifestyles such as physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet, and sleep disorders during the ages of 60 to 64 is associated with more than double the risk of admission to aged care, according to recent research from the University of Sydney.

The study, which involved over 125,000 Australians, found that individuals over 60 with the least healthy lifestyles were notably more prone to requiring aged care admission compared to their peers adopting healthier habits.

Dr Alice Gibson from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Economics said, “We know that factors like poor sleep and inactivity increase people’s risk of developing diseases like dementia and diabetes, but this is the first study to look at the independent and combined impact these established and emerging lifestyle behaviours have on a person’s risk of admission into aged care”

The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, were drawn from data collected between 2006 and 2009 as part of Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study. Participants were categorised into low, medium or high-risk lifestyle groups based on factors like smoking, physical activity, sitting time, sleep patterns and diet.

Over the 10-year follow-up period:

  • 23,094 participants (18 per cent) were admitted to nursing homes.
  • The risk of aged care admission was 43 per cent higher for those in the high-risk group and 12 per cent higher for those in the medium-risk group compared to those in the low-risk group.
  • The association between lifestyle scores and aged care risk was linear, with the risk decreasing as the lifestyle score improved.

The study revealed that lifestyle factors played a significant role for individuals aged 60 to 64. Those with the unhealthiest lifestyles in this age group were more than twice as likely to be admitted to aged care than their healthier lifestyle counterparts.

The researchers stress that this study is observational and can’t establish a direct cause. Despite its limitations, the evidence suggests that lifestyle factors significantly influence the long-term risk of nursing home admission.

Dr Gibson underscored the implications of the study, “On a public health level this study suggests we should be looking at strategies to encourage older people to improve their lifestyle.” Such strategies could include smoking cessation, reduced sitting time, increased physical activity, and improved sleep to alleviate the burden on the aged care system.

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