While most adults over the age of 50 in Ireland participate in social leisure activities each week, many are simply not physically active enough, new findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) have found.
TILDA is an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland and is carried out by researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). These latest findings focus on changes in life circumstances for people over the age of 50 between 2009, when they were first interviewed, and 2016.
The study found that quality of life does not decline linearly with age. Instead, it increases, reaching a peak at age 68, before it starts to gradually decline.
It also found that quality of life is more likely to improve if social engagement is strong, including for people who have major disabilities. Overall, those with strong relationships and good connectedness within their neighbourhoods, tend to have a better quality of life and better mental health.
TILDA found that in 2016, 21% of participants reported the highest level of social integration, compared to 24% in 2009. Some 11% were considered ‘most isolated' in 2016 compared to 8% in 2009.
Almost three in four (74%) of those over the age of 50 said that they participate in active and social leisure activities every week, while 52% participate in organised groups, such as sports club, charitable organisations and book clubs.
Meanwhile social cohesion in neighbourhoods was more likely to be found in rural areas, with 54% of participants in rural areas reporting high social cohesion, compared to just 18% of those living in Dublin city or county.
The study also found that the number of women aged between 50 and 64 who are current smokers fell from 24% in 2009 to 17% in 2016. However, when it came to physical activity, a large proportion were considered physically inactive, and this remained the case between 2009 and 2016.
On average, 45% of people over the age of 50 were not undertaking the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
The study also found that when it came to older people with frailty, the proportion of those requiring at least one overnight hospital admission increased from 23% in 2009 to 31% in 2016. Furthermore, the number of nights spent in hospital more than doubled, from 2.7 nights in 2009 to 6.5 nights in 2016.
However, visits to outpatient clinics fell from 3.1% to 2.1% during this time.
The study noted that while the use of community services, such as community nursing, respite and meals on wheels, was low and experienced minimal change during the 2009-2016 period, informal care, i.e. from a family member or friend, increased significantly.
Speaking about TILDA, principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, emphasised its importance.
"Before the establishment of this study, only minimal national information was available on the prevalence and incidence of age-related disease, disability, health service utilisation or economic and social data. TILDA has changed this landscape, enabling new evidence-based research on which to create a better society for Ireland's older persons.
"We would like to acknowledge the great generosity of the TILDA participants who give so much of their time to enable this information in order to improve the ageing experience in Ireland," she said.
For more information on TILDA, click here