Aging study explores impacts of isolation, poverty and frailty as we age
February 7, 2019
An interview with Dr. Parminder Raina
A large-scale research study, called the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) has been underway for a few years now, and is expected to provide insight on why some of us fare better in our old age than others.
Save with SPP contacted Dr. Parminder Raina, a professor at McMaster University and director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging, who is leading the research along with Christina Wolfson of McGill University and Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University. We wanted to find out what the study – which follows 50,000 Canadians who were aged between 45 and 85 at recruitment for 20 years – has found out thus far.
The CLSA’s Report on Health and Aging, says Dr. Raina, shows that “when you look at the overall picture, people are aging in a healthy fashion.” However, he says, subpopulation data shows “that poverty rates are higher in women, and depression rates are higher, probably because of the social isolation issues.
“So while the overall picture looks good, you see some patterns that are not as positive when you start to segment populations differently. So from that point of view, this is an important finding because many of the data that are out in Canada are not specifically able to look at health issues in women,” he states.
Dr. Raina says the study has also helped develop what he calls “a normative cognitive score tied to age. It’s similar to a growth chart for children, but instead tied to memory and cognitive function,” he explains. Having the score means that a cognitive test with your doctor could “be compared to a normal value developed using the CLSA data,” he states. “We know that aging is a developmental process. At the early ages, there are lot of gains and few losses. But in old age, there can be more losses than gains. By developing cognitive norms, we are able to determine what is normal and what is not when it comes to cognitive changes as we age.”
Another area being explored is frailty. “The traditional sense is that frailty is limited to older people that as they come into their 70s and 80s, they become weak, they lose resilience and become frail. The belief is that is part of growing old. And some older people are frail, and others aren’t,” Dr. Raina says. “Part of our goal is to understand frailty and how does it manifest itself. Some of our initial analyses and results are indicating that frailty is as prominent, in a different way, in a 45-year-old as it is in a 75-year-old.”
Is that frailty seen in younger people “the same as the frailty we see in older people?” he asks. “The other question, which we will answer over the years, is the people who are already frail in some ways, are they more prone to be much more frail in later life? That actually changes the way we look at the whole area of frailty in older people. We need to look at it in a very different way. It might be an issue that cuts across the whole age spectrum.”
Save with SPP asked Dr. Raina if any of the findings thus far come as a surprise.
“Overall, Canada is doing quite well when it comes to aging of the population. However, we can’t paint everyone with the same brush. There are some populations who experience more challenges than others. We need to keep this in mind, especially when developing policies and programs,” he says.
Finally, we asked Dr. Raina what those of us who are older can do to stay in better health as we age. “The two things tend to drive many health issues are smoking and lack of physical activity. Keeping people socially engaged is also tied to healthy aging. So exercising more, eating well and staying connected to friends and family can have a major impact on how we age. Those are the things that will actually lead to some beneficial impact on the health and well-being of people as they grow older,” he says.
In May 2018, the CLSA released its first report on health and aging, which included some important findings, such as:
- 95 per cent of older Canadians rate their own mental health as excellent, very good or good
- Women are more likely than men to express feelings of loneliness and social isolation, and that there is a notable correlation between feelings of loneliness and the prevalence of depression among older Canadians
- 44 per cent of older Canadians report that they provide some level of care to others, and caregiving rates are at their highest (almost 50 per cent) among individuals aged 55-64
- Driving a motor vehicle is the most common form of transportation for older Canadians regardless of age, sex, geographic location, health or functional status
Save with SPP thanks Dr. Raina for taking the time to answer our questions.
Poverty, as we learned, is a factor that influences health and aging. If you don’t have a workplace pension plan and are saving on your own for retirement, a good option to consider is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Find out more today.
|Written by Martin Biefer
|Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22