Supporting older people to live healthier for longer

November 6, 2019

A new report has been published by the British Geriatrics Society, which looks at how we can support older people to be healthier for longer.

The report examines how messages of prevention and healthy ageing apply to an older population group that may already be ill and frail, and to the professionals who care for them.

The prevention agenda, which has been highlighted as a priority for Government and for health services, is explored in Healthier for Longer, and is shown to be as relevant to the older population as it is to younger age groups. While the gains of prevention in relation to older people’s health may be modest in terms of years of life gained, the impact in terms of quality of life is likely to be significant, says the British Geriatrics Society.

Key themes of the report include lifestyle factors (such as physical activity, smoking and alcohol), the basics of daily living (such as sleep and eye health) and medical interventions (such as polypharmacy and pre-operative care).

The report also highlights five steps that all healthcare professionals can take to help promote healthy ageing and prevention in later life:

  1. ‘Care at every contact’ – every touch-point of care is a potential opportunity to help people to engage in their own health and work with others to improve it.
  2. ‘Cover the basics’ – older people need to be able to see, hear, eat, drink and sleep well even if other more complex health issues are being addressed.
  3. ‘Consider the whole person’ – healthcare issues may not be the only, or even the most pressing, concern for a patient. Ask what matters to them and how they can be supported.
  4. ‘Communicate clearly’ – tell older people what is going on and how they can help with improving their health.
  5. ‘Collaborate with others’ – work with colleagues, nursing and therapy teams, families and the older person themselves to give the best chance of recovery and independence.

Professor Tahir Masud, President of the British Geriatrics Society, commented, 'It is never too late to start adopting preventative health measures and this report provides practical, highly relevant guidance to help healthcare professionals promote healthy ageing to all the older people they care for, including those who are ill and/or living with frailty. Prevention has been a government priority in recent years and it is essential that this includes older people who could potentially see significant, immediate benefits in terms of quality of life. We are urging all healthcare professionals to review the report, and implement the five simple steps recommended, to help their patients remain healthier for longer.'

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said, 'We strongly welcome the Healthier for Longer report and its emphasis on investing in future health at every age. Prevention is just as important for someone in their 70s as it is in their earlier years.

'While it is a sign of real progress that people are generally living longer than in the past, we must not forget that many people spend too many of these ‘extra years’ in poor health, and this needs to be addressed to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive and enjoy their later life.

'It is also important that healthcare workers and public health professionals don’t overlook older people, by assuming they are ‘too old’ for health interventions or public health initiatives to be of benefit. For instance, this report shows that older people are far less likely to be offered surgery than younger people. This decision should be made not on chronological age, but on fitness for treatment.

'We at Independent Age believe that it’s essential to include consideration of people of all ages in health and public health planning, to ensure that everyone in our society can live a healthy, independent and fulfilling life.'

The full report is available on the British Geriatrics Society website.

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