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Funding for research on what helps us live longer lives

Hon Tariana Turia
Associate Minister of Health

Wednesday 3 April 2013 Media Statement

Funding for research on what helps us live longer lives

Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia announced allocation of research funding today of $1.8million for a study of over three years that follows more than 900 elderly New Zealanders to find out what helps them live longer lives.

'The study called ‘Life and Living in Advanced Age: a cohort study (LiLACS NZ)’ which enrolled more than 900 people in their 80s and 90s, half of them Maori, has already been running for two years. The study is led by Professor Ngaire Kerse and Dr Lorna Dyall.

“As the New Zealand population ages, it is vital that we understand the elderly and their needs. People over 85 is the fastest growing population group in New Zealand. Knowing more about what keeps people healthy and independent as they age is important now and will be even more important in future,” says Minister Turia.

“The aim of the research is to help people to plan better for their own health and well-being later in life. It is equally as important to know more about what is not working for people as they age.”

The latest Ministry of Health funding, which is being largely matched by Auckland University, will allow the study to continue for another three years. As time progresses the number of people in the survey will fall due to some individuals becoming too frail to continue, or sadly in some cases from people dying.

“I think one of the most important aspects of the study is that it allows our elderly New Zealanders to share their wisdom with future generations, and to inform the development of local and national policies to benefit older people. Our elderly have contributed much to our communities. It is appropriate that we acknowledge their contribution and ensure that their later years are lived with dignity,” says Minister Turia.

“I am also delighted that increased longevity of life for Maori elders, whilst a recent phenomenon, is being accorded the research prominence that this study represents. Any information which helps us understand how we live long and healthy lives is worthy of our support.”

Key Facts
• Life and Living in Advanced Age: a cohort study (LiLACS NZ) which has been following a large sample of people of advanced age (80 plus) for 3 years.
• The Ministry of Health and University of Auckland will jointly fund the next 3 years with an annual survey of the sample.
• The greatest strength of this research project, LiLACS NZ, is that it is the first and only study to address the health of Maori elders aged 80 years and over.
• The research will provide the first information ever on the health of much older Maori, which is essential to health planning.
• LiLACS NZ will also contribute significantly by providing relevant and specific information about New Zealanders aged 85 years or older (the non-Maori sample).
• It is an established study with proven feasibility.
• It has equal explanatory power with the Maori and non-Maori sample in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes DHBs.
• The inception cohort data collection and two years of follow up for LiLACS NZ have engaged 421 Maori aged 80-90 years (55%) and 516 (59%) non-Maori aged 85 years (total 937) initially, 690 in Wave 2 and 536 in Wave 3. Each wave involves comprehensive interviews and assessments measuring health, social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors.

Questions and Answers

1. What is Life and Living in Advanced Age:a cohort study (LiLACS NZ)?
The Ministry has invested with Auckland University in their LiLACs study to establish predictors of successful advanced ageing (in terms of overall wellbeing) and to understand the relative importance of health, frailty, cultural, social and economic factors to successful ageing for Maori and non-Maori in New Zealand

The population of people of advanced age is increasing. People aged 85 years or older form the fastest growing population age group in New Zealand and Maori aged 85 years or over are increasing in number at a faster rate than other population age groups.

This has led to a demand for increased knowledge about the circumstances of this age group. The increasing population raises new policy and service delivery issues that require increased knowledge about this age group. However, “healthy” ageing may have a different meaning for the very old compared to younger people and we know little about the views, life style, health behaviours, attitudes and activities of our most elderly, particularly Maori.

The treatment and care of older people is a high and growing cost to DHBs and other funders and providers, and a major focus of the project is to identify the most cost effective and quality services for this population.

2. Who leads the research?
The research is led by Professor Ngaire Kerse, an established international leader of research of the elderly and Dr Lorna Dyall who heads the Maori component. It began with funding for a programme grant from the Health Research Council (HRC) in 2010.

3. Why do a longitudinal cohort study?
LiLACS NZ is a longitudinal cohort study aiming to establish the predictors of successful advanced ageing. LiLACS NZ specifically oversampled Maori to ensure equal explanatory power, with a cohort of Maori aged 80-90 years and non-Maori aged 85 years, and thus has collected a very unique dataset on New Zealanders in advanced age.

Longitudinal studies provide insight into epidemiological factors contributing to successful ageing. LiLACS NZ aims to describe the health of those in advanced age and establish for Maori and non-Maori, predictors of successful advanced ageing and the relative contribution of a range of health, social, environmental and cultural factors and to understand trajectories and transitions in health and independence.

There is limited international or local knowledge about people aged 80+ and this population group is the fastest growing, most comorbidity, most expensive and least noticed compared with other population groups. The focus of this study on this oldest age group is required as a direct extrapolation of findings about people aged 65+ to New Zealanders aged 85 +is likely to be inaccurate. The Maori population is ageing faster than non-Maori and health disparities may increase with age. Social support and the balance between formal and informal care impact on wellbeing but little is known of the New Zealand context.

Even in very late life, the majority of New Zealanders live at home and want to remain there for as long as possible. Remaining ‘at home’ in a private dwelling is widely seen as a key component of independence, strongly linked to wellness and participation. To remain living in the community at a very old age may be equated with successful ageing.

It is expected that the research has the potential to increase our knowledge of the importance of a wide of range of issues which could potentially be addressed to increase the on-going quality of life and health status of older people.

4. What is the Funding?
In 2006 the Health Research Council (HRC) funded a feasibility study for a cohort study for LiLACS. The HRC extended the programme grant for 3 projects in 2010. The same year they funded LiLACS NZ for Waves 2 and 3 (data collection and academic oversight). The third round of data collection is now nearing completion.

The University is contributing the academic input: Salary and overhead costs which amounts to $1.6 million over three years and the Ministry funding is $1.8 million over four financial years to fund three annual surveys.


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