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Growing old in Ireland: Quality of life peaks at 68 - and is rated the same at age 50 as at age 80

It comes as part of the latest tranche of the TILDA study.

Image: Shutterstock/evrymmnt

A PERSON’S QUALITY of life peaks at 68 and then gradually starts to decline, reaching the value observed among 50-year-olds at age 80.

That’s according to the latest study from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin, which gives an insight into the well-being and health of older adults in the country.

Lead academic Professor Rose-Anne Kenny said that prior to the work by TILDA, data on the prevalence and incidence of age-related disease, disability or economic and social data was minimal in Ireland. 

She told TheJournal.ie: “This study is very important as we’ve developed a major source of reliable information on aging in Ireland, using a representative sample of the population. And government do listen to the findings, and with the people we come into contact with we can track the effect these things have.”

The latest tranche of data from the long-term study covering 2009-2016 also found that one in five of those surveyed rated their memory as “fair” or “poor”. 

Furthermore, there was a large disparity for those who had problems heating their homes, affecting over half in Dublin city or county (50.4%) but just under a quarter of those in rural areas (24.4%).

Quality of life

The measurement used by TILDA to provide a rating for someone’s quality of life covers 12 topics under the headings control, autonomy, self-realisation and pleasure. 

It asks participants if they agree with statements such as “I can do the things I want to do” and “I look forward to every day”. 

On this score – called the CASP-12 score – those aged 68 scored the highest on average in the study.

quality of life Source: TILDA

The same values were observed at age 50 as at age 80. The patterns were also the same for men and women where quality of life for both was in the 65-74 age group.

Higher educational attainment was related to higher quality of life scores,  as was being married.

However, for men, quality of life was similar to those who were married and those who were widowed.

Professor Kenny said these stats show that “it does get better as you get older”. 

“There could be many reasons for that,” she said. “Less issues of things like mortgages, family work, work in general. Maybe the stress is less, but I think companionship is important.

If you’re coming towards retirement, it could be when you often start to engage more socially, change some of your patterns and do more things with people.

Other factors

Another important finding from the latest study is the degree to social relationships and engagement people’s health – both mentally and physically – according to Professor Kenny.

While 21% of those responding reported the highest level of social integration, a further 39% said they felt moderately integrated. 

Almost three quarters (74%) of older adults participate in active and social leisure activities each week, while 52% participate in organised groups such as sports groups, book clubs or charitable organisations. 

“The benefits of being active within a community are very strong,” she said. “The way it does that is by keeping inflammation suppressed so that you respond normally if you get an infection. 

I think that’s a really important message. We looked at things like neighbourhood, the more comfortable you feel in your neighbourhood, the happier you are. This is all about public health, physical and mental.

The findings of TILDA, since it began in 2009, have helped to inform government policy in areas such as hypertension diagnosis and atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, that patients may not have been aware of. 

Dr Kenny added: “National policies targeted towards enhanced social engagement and a reduction in loneliness and unwanted isolation should enhance health and quality of life.”

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Sean Murray

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