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The United Nations has declared October 1 the International Day of Older Persons with 2020-2030 the Decade of Health Ageing an opportunity to make collaborative action towards improving the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live.
Dr Emily Ahern who works in Mater’s Older Person Care Team spoke about the importance of healthy ageing and said it’s never too late for people to start making positive healthy changes to their lifestyles.
“Any positive lifestyle changes a person makes can potentially decrease their risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease for example a stroke or heart attack,” Emily said.
“Healthy lifestyle factors are very important for our overall health and wellbeing. A recent long-term analysis suggests that adopting a healthy lifestyle at midlife could potentially add up to 10 years of disease-free survival.
“The study identified five low risk lifestyle factors people should have at age 50 which included not smoking, normal body-mass index (BMI), moderate-to-vigorous regular physical activity, moderate alcohol intake, and a higher-quality diet.
“If people don’t adopt healthy lifestyle habits the impact to their life expectancy can be significant. Studies have shown that smoking, inactivity, poor diet quality, and heavy alcohol consumption contribute up to 60 per cent of premature deaths and loss in life expectancy.”
Emily also noted social isolation and loneliness in older people increases their risk of poorer mental health and overall health and wellbeing.
“Social isolation negatively impacts on a person’s physical health and use of health services. As clinicians we have seen social isolation in older people exacerbated in the current COVID-19 climate,” Emily said.
“We know exercise has many benefits for overall health and wellbeing plus a person’s mental health. Most guidelines recommend moderate to vigorous physical activity more than 30 minutes each day, but any activity is great.
“People who have experienced a fall or feel they are “slowing down” can often benefit the most from being more active. It’s never too late to get moving and feel the benefits.”
Recent evidence suggests it’s not the speed of the steps but the number you do. In an observational study, number of steps per day (but not steps per minute) was associated with lower 10-year mortality. Daily walking is associated with lower mortality in older adults and those with heart failure.
“The greatest evidence to prevent falls is for exercise that involves a strength and balance component. You can ask your physio or your GP. You may be eligible for a free physio assessment to help with a home exercise plan,” Emily said.
“Having a positive attitude can help people through any difficult situation. Ageing is inevitable, our bodies will start to slow down and moving around will become harder and we will tire more easily. People who have a good attitude toward their ageing will often cope better with the changes they are experiencing.
“Prior neuroimaging studies have found that late-life participation in cognitive for example frequent reading and social activities for example visiting friends and family and leisure activities are associated with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) markers of the aging brain.”
She also says recent study explored the neural and cognitive correlates of changes in leisure activities during the life span. This study found associations between cognitive activities and executive function.
“Finally, It is also important to take care of your health by attending your medical or allied health appointments even in these changing times. We are seeing people becoming unwell due to lack or care or presenting to hospital very unwell who have delayed seeking medical attention,” Emily said.
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