Older people on lower incomes and living in deprived areas across the island of Ireland have considerably worse health than better off people of the same age, according to a study by researchers from Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.
This may be linked to differences in health behaviours, especially smoking and physical inactivity. The research, led by Dr Eibhlin Hudson and funded by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), explores these differences by analysing existing datasets in Ireland, North and South.
The findings show that older people on low incomes are more likely to smoke and have insufficient exercise. In contrast regular alcohol consumption is more common among those on high incomes.
When comparing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the research found that smoking rates among people aged 50+ are similar (18% and 17% respectively). Many older people north and south do not have enough exercise but low physical activity is much more common in Northern Ireland (54%) than in the Republic of Ireland (30%).
The research also highlighted the particular vulnerability of older people who are single or widowed and disabled or in poor health. People aged 50+ who are single, widowed or separated/divorced are more likely to smoke and have low levels of exercise.
Dr Eibhlin Hudson, lead researcher, said:
“When examining datasets on health among older people in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland it is apparent that lower incomes are associated with poorer health and certain health-related behaviours such as smoking and low levels of physical activity. The research also highlighted that vulnerable older people may need to be targeted to help improve health outcomes in these groups.”
Dr Roger O’Sullivan, Director of CARDI, welcomed the findings:
“This research clearly illustrates the inequalities that exist in health behaviours and health outcomes in the older population. It contributes to a growing body of evidence that policy actions should be targeted at low income and other vulnerable groups to help improve the health and quality of life of older people in Ireland, North and South.”
The research team consisted of Dr Eibhlin Hudson, Trinity College Dublin (now with Novartis); Professor David Madden, University College Dublin and Dr Irene Mosca, Trinity College Dublin. The full report is entitled ‘Examining inequalities in health and health behaviours’ (Hudson et al., 2014).
CARDI has prepared a research brief ‘Inequalities in health behaviours’ which summarises the main report and spells out some of the implications for policy and practice (link).
For more information contact Paul McGill at CARDI, tel: 00 44 28 9069 0066 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.