Where a neighbourhood’s medical services are located, how much green space it offers and how willing its volunteers are can affect the ability of older Australians to successfully age at home, researchers say.
Dr Danielle Taylor believes a new health, ageing and environment index developed at the University of Adelaide will help evaluate not only factors that support senior citizens but those which render them more vulnerable.
As a starting point, her staff have mapped out 142 postcode areas within the South Australian capital to determine those where people over 65 are most ‘at-risk or protected’.
The first to be assessed is a suburb associated with higher exposure to mortality and early transition to residential aged care, Dr Taylor says.
Some 40 variables are being examined across six indicator groups: income and employment, education, housing and health, social connectedness, geographical access and physical environment.
“While environments are by nature complex, using the HAVEN index we have shown neighbourhood environments are significantly associated with the health and wellbeing of older people and the ability of older Australians seeking care to age in place,” Dr Taylor said.
Outcomes from the federal aged care royal commission, which handed down its findings in March last year, show most Australians would prefer to stay at home as long as possible.
“Keeping older Australians independent, active, healthy and happy for longer is a worthy goal, not only because of the benefit to them but also … the economic benefit it can deliver,” Dr Taylor said.
“We are not simply talking about savings to the public purse through their reduced need for health services but also the productivity gains brought about by the contributions older Australians make to the economy and society when they are able to age well.”
So far the HAVEN index has clearly shown optimising environmental factors is key to best supporting healthy ageing, Dr Taylor said.
University of Adelaide Professor Renuka Visvanathan, a member of the World Health Organisation’s Clinical Consortium of Healthy Ageing, said the index is especially relevant in light of the UN’s Healthy Ageing Decade.
“This is a period where internationally we are focusing our efforts on developing a more comprehensive understanding of the many factors that contribute to successful ageing,” she said.