SYDNEY, Australia — Older adults who lead a carefree, unhealthy lifestyle are twice as likely to end up needing a nursing home in comparison to their more active peers, a new study reveals.
Researchers at the University of Sydney found smoking, physical activity, sitting, and sleep quality to have a strong link to nursing home admission rates. Surprisingly, diet quality alone did not display the same connection.
Smokers were 55 percent more likely than non-smokers to end up needing nursing care. For the study, which is the first of its kind, researchers looked at data on more than 127,000 Australians who took part in a large study on healthy aging between 2006 and 2009. Study authors followed up with these patients for 11 years on average.
The team divided them into the three risk groups based on five lifestyle factors: smoking, physical activity, sitting, sleep quality, and diet quality.
One quarter of participants (24%) ended up in the lowest risk group with a score of nine or 10 points. Almost two-thirds (62%) were in the medium risk group with a score of six to eight points and 14 percent were in the unhealthiest group with a score below five points.
The Australian research team found people over 60 who eat badly and spend too much time on the sofa were 43 percent more likely to end up in a nursing home compared with the fittest retirees. Older people with a moderately healthy lifestyle were 12 percent more likely to need nursing home care than the healthiest seniors.
Younger seniors see the double the risk
Participants’ lifestyles were then ranked from one to 10, with one representing the unhealthiest lifestyles and 10 the healthiest. The risk of needing nursing home care increased by 19 percent with every unit decrease in healthy lifestyle scores. People with the lowest scores saw their risk double compared with people scoring the highest.
This risk was higher for the least healthy 60 to 64-year-olds (2.15 times) compared with the unhealthiest 65 to 74-year-olds (61% risk) and 75 to 84-year-olds (36%).
“Effective strategies to prevent or delay older adults entering nursing home care will help ensure society can adequately care for its increasing number of older people,” says lead study author Dr. Alice Gibson from the University of Sydney, according to a statement. “Our study highlights the potential of preventing or delaying nursing home admission among at-risk individuals during ageing with interventions that promote a healthy lifestyle. This could be a powerful motivator for many individuals to adopt or maintain a healthier lifestyle.”
“Further, our findings may also incentivize government investment in preventative healthcare and health promotion given the greater cost associated with caring for people in institutions,” the researchers say. “This will require a shift in health policy towards preventative health. It is important to consider lifestyle risk factors not only in the prevention of chronic diseases but also in reducing or delaying long-term nursing home admission.”
The team presented their findings at the International Conference on Obesity in Melbourne, Australia.
South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.