In common with other high income countries, the UK is experiencing a marked change in the age structure of its population, characterized by increasing life expectancy and continuing growth in the older fraction of the population.
In May 2006 a multidisciplinary team in the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University began a major study of health and ageing in the oldest old population (those aged 85 years and older). Funded for seven years principally by the UK Medical Research Council (with a contribution from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and Dunhill Medical Trust, and led by Professor Tom Kirkwood, the Newcastle 85+ Study has recruited a birth cohort of more than one thousand 85 year olds from Newcastle and North Tyneside.
The study aims to:
Participants are visited in their own home by a research nurse to complete a multi-dimensional health assessment comprising questionnaires, measurements, function tests and a fasting blood test; assessments are conducted at baseline, 18 months and 36 and 60 months. General practice medical records are reviewed at baseline and 36 and 60 months for data on disease, medication and use of general practice services. Participants can decline elements of the protocol. In addition, participants are ‘flagged’ with the NHS Central Register which provides details of the date and cause of death; it is planned to track the cohort until the last survivor has died.
This is a groundbreaking study as little is known about the health and needs of this age group, even though demographically it is the fastest growing in the UK and other high income countries. Teasing out the complex factors contributing to health in old age is a key challenge in planning for the health and care needs of today's and tomorrow's populations, in order to maximise health and quality of life in old age and minimise dependency.
The study is also expected to provide extensive data on the value of multiple molecular and cellular biomarkers in predicting and explaining individual differences in the health of very old people. This increased understanding of the underlying biology of ageing will potentially contribute to new insights into how the ageing process acts as the single largest risk factor for a great number of diseases and for age-related frailty and disability.
Dr Joanna Collerton,
Principal Clinical Research Fellow,
Biogerontology Research Building,
Institute for Ageing and Health,
Campus for Ageing and Vitality,
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 5PL.
Tel: 0191 248 1209
Fax: 0191 248 1101