The area where an older person lives can influence their health as well as decisions about when to move out of their homes and into residential care, new research shows.

A South Australian study has found that environmental conditions can cause an older person to go into residential aged care earlier or become more likely to die sooner.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Adelaide, the study found that neighbourhood characteristics, such as location of medical services and amount of green space, can impact on an older person’s ability to age well at home.

Dr Danielle Taylor

Researchers from the university’s Adelaide Geriatrics Training and Research with Aged Care Centre and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Frailty and Healthy Ageing developed a new tool to measure this.

The Healthy Ageing/Vulnerable ENvironment (HAVEN) index incorporates over 40 variables across socio economic factors.

Some of these include social housing, social connectedness and physical access to shops and doctors.

The index also takes into consideration physical environment measures, such as pollution and access to green space.

“(A holistic approach) gives us two avenues to keep people healthy, rather than just one that relies on medical treatment.”

Dr Danielle Taylor, lead researcher

The first study using the HAVEN index mapped 142 Adelaide postcode areas to determine where people over 65 years are most vulnerable or most protected.

Influencing move out of home

Lead researcher Dr Danielle Taylor says the findings show that the residential environment of the older person affected their mortality and resulted in an earlier transition into residential aged care.

This was true even after factors such as age, gender and frailty were taken into consideration, she told Community Care Review.

“If we have two people in a low HAVEN index area and one in a high HAVEN index area… the one in the more vulnerable area is more likely to either die earlier or more likely to transition into residential aged care earlier,” she said.

A tool for providers

Providers can use the HAVEN index to identify areas that are vulnerable, according to Dr Taylor.

“Perhaps when they’re talking to their clients, they can look at the variables that we’ve grouped them into,” she said.

The tool can also be used to direct services to areas that need them the most, Dr Taylor says.  

“If easy access is an issue, then maybe direct (the clients) to council services if there are some that can help them get better access.”  

“That way, we can also improve neighbourhoods so that not only the current generation benefits from it, but also other generations coming through.”

“We can also improve neighbourhoods so that not only the current generation benefits from it, but other generations coming through can also.”

Dr Danielle Taylor, lead researcher

She believes the findings also pave the way for another avenue to healthy ageing.

“I’d like to see more of a focus for aged care not just being around medical care,” Dr Taylor said.

“We can actually broaden out healthcare to be looking at the environment and your personal health and things like that.

“(It’s) a little bit more of a holistic approach to health, which then gives us two avenues to keep people healthy, rather than just one that relies on medical treatment.”

Dr Taylor and her team will continue to work with the HAVEN index to better understand the most influential factors affecting the health outcomes of older people.

“Then we can start to communicate those findings to local governments to let them know these are the things that will make the most difference,” she said.

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