Unhealthy choices increase risk of entering aged care

People aged between 60 and 64 with an unhealthy lifestyle are at double the risk of aged care admission, according to new Australian research.

People aged between 60 and 64 with an unhealthy lifestyle are at double the risk of residential aged care admission, according to new Australian research.

Conducted by the University of Sydney – and involving almost 130,000 Australians – the study found those aged 60-plus who adopted poor eating, sleeping, activity and smoking habits were significantly more likely to require residential aged care than their peers with healthier lifestyles.

Dr Alice Gibson – who led the research – told Australian Ageing Agenda she was unsurprised by the findings. “I’m not surprised at all given what we know about [the impact] all these lifestyle behaviours have on a multitude of physical and mental health outcomes. If anything, the findings are somewhat underwhelming.”

Dr Gibson said her team’s research – which has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health – is one-of-a-kind. “It’s probably the first study in Australia or internationally to look at the individual as well as the combined association of how lifestyle behaviours impact on your risk of nursing home admissions.”

For their study, the researchers collected data from 127,108 men and women aged 60 and above who had been recruited to the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study – Australia’s largest ongoing study of ageing – between 2006 and 2009.

Upon entry, the study’s participants filled in a questionnaire on five key risk factors:

  • physical inactivity levels 
  • sleeping times
  • sleep patterns
  • smoking
  • diet.

Based on the responses, participants were classed as having a low-, medium- or high-risk lifestyle – low-risk was defined as adhering to national preventative health guidelines.

Those in the low-risk group needed to score in the lower risk for all but one of the five lifestyle factors. Meanwhile, those in the high-risk group could not score low risk for more than two of the lifestyle factors.

Crunching the data, the researchers found around one in four (24 per cent) were considered to have a low-risk lifestyle, nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) were allocated to the medium-risk group, and 14 per cent to the high-risk group.

Dr Alice Gibson

Among the Sax study’s 127,108 participants, 23,094 (18 per cent) were found to have been admitted to an aged care home.

“What’s quite unique about this study is we actually used people’s Medicare records and their hospital records data to identify if they had been admitted to a nursing home,” Dr Gibson told AAA.

Compared with over-60s in the low-risk lifestyle group, the researchers found 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 classed as medium risk.

The link between the lifestyle score and the risk of aged care admission was linear. Meaning, that as the lifestyle score increased, the risk of aged care admission decreased. However, as the researchers’ findings show, this inclination differed by age and physical impairment.

Lifestyle factors were especially important among 60-64-year-olds, with those in this age bracket with the unhealthiest lifestyles more than twice as likely to enter aged care than those with the healthiest lifestyles.

Risk of aged care admission was found to be highest (55 per cent) for current smokers, compared with those who had never smoked.

“It’s a personally meaningful outcome for a lot of people.”

The findings are an added motivator to stay healthy, said Dr Gibson. “It’s a personally meaningful outcome for a lot of people, I think. There’s a lot of talk about people wanting to age in their home and most people would prefer to not end up in a nursing home.”

It’s also a timely outcome as the research paper came out the week the Intergenerational Report was released.

Looking ahead to 2063, the report’s authors said: “Australian Government spending on aged care is projected to grow.” The main contributor to the growth in spending will be residential aged care.

“People in their twenties now are going to be in the cohort of people aged over 60 in 40 years’ time. We need to invest in preventive health now,” said Dr Gibson.

That investment will have many consequences, she added. “It’s not just the impact it’s going to have on nursing homes and aged care, it’s going to be the whole health system that’s going to benefit from investing in preventive health.”

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Tags: Dr Alice Gibson, featured, lifestyle, residential aged care, university of sydney,

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