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30th January 2020

Fighting to improve healthy ageing in Australia

Elderly couple

Researchers at the Basil Hetzel Institute are working to ensure everyone has the opportunity to age well.

Dr Danielle Taylor is fighting to improve healthy ageing in Australia.

As a health geographer, Dr Taylor doesn’t spend her days looking through a microscope; instead, she maps populations to help understand the services and patient needs required now and in the future.

The THRF Mid Career Fellow and her research team at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research have created an interactive web map of Australia’s frailty rates to provide local-level information that can guide policy makers, decision makers and health service providers to help match people with the services they need.

“The first part of understanding frailty and doing something about it is identifying where it is,” Dr Taylor said.

“We need to know who is frail, we need to know where they live, and we need to know how that picture of frailty might change in the future, where services are going to be required and where treatment facilities are best targeted.”

Frailty is defined as an increased vulnerability to adverse health outcomes such as falls, loss of independence, hospitalisation and death. It is associated with ageing but is not an inevitable consequence of ageing and can be treated or prevented. Dr Taylor’s research estimates that frailty prevalence for Australians aged over 65 will increase 46% by 2027.

She found that frailty is most prevalent in our capital cities, however the next 10 years will see an expansion of our frail population into the outer suburbs and regional and remote areas where populations are ageing much more rapidly and there are challenges of health service provision.

“We live in a very vast country with a very distributed population and sometimes some areas can be overlooked in terms of their health needs.

“By mapping the whole country in a consistent way, we can ensure that all people have access to health care and the needs of all Australians are considered.”

Identifying areas that are projected to have an increased number of frail people can assist authorities to plan for more medical services and aged care beds or provide early intervention to prevent frailty and reduce the need for additional aged care beds.

“Through mapping a problem like frailty, you have the best chance of matching very scarce health resources with the people that need them.

“If the people that need them are getting those resources, that means we’re getting the best health outcomes.”

Dr Taylor’s current research and maps have been presented to the South Australian Health Minister and submitted to the Australian Department of Health. The results of the study have also been published in the prestigious journal Experimental Gerontology.

However, Dr Taylor’s main message is that frailty is not an inevitable consequence of ageing – people do not have to become frail!

“There is a perception that frailty is just an inevitable part of ageing, but it isn’t – we can prevent it and we can treat it. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to age well.”

Moving forward, Dr Taylor aims to refine the measures of frailty and increase understanding around the issue.

“We know that socio-economic factors and other social and access factors can influence the way you age and your vulnerabilities, so we’re trying to access other data that will allow us to investigate those things to be able to make the frailty estimates more robust.”

Your support allows researchers like Dr Taylor to continue their fight to improve healthcare across Australia – thank you!

The maps available to view here.