The British Geriatrics Society has published a new report saying patients are never too old to benefit from preventative measures and that the impact on quality of life for an older population would be 'significant'.

The report, ‘Healthier for Longer’, examines how prevention is, and should be, the cornerstone of geriatric medicine. It says all health professionals should be looking for better health outcomes for their patients, allowing them to stay well, remain independent, stay out of hospital and return home as quickly as possible when they are admitted to hospital.

Key themes of the report include lifestyle factors (such as physical activity, smoking and alcohol), the basics of daily living (such as sleep and eye health) and medical interventions (such as polypharmacy and preoperative care).

It states that while the benefits of prevention in younger populations may take many years to come to fruition, prevention measures in older people, even those who are already ill and/or living with frailty, can produce immediate results.  

Professor Tahir Masud, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said: “It is never too late to start adopting preventative health measures and this report provides practical, highly relevant guidance to help healthcare professionals promote healthy ageing to all the older people they care for, including those who are ill and/or living with frailty.

"Prevention has been a government priority in recent years and it is essential that this includes older people who could potentially see significant, immediate benefits in terms of quality of life.”

Five steps to promote healthy ageing

The report highlights the following five steps that all healthcare professionals can take to help promote healthy ageing and prevention in later life:

  • ‘Care at every contact’ – every touchpoint of care is a potential opportunity to help people to engage in their own health and work with others to improve it.
  • ‘Cover the basics’ – older people need to be able to see, hear, eat, drink and sleep well even if other more complex health issues are being addressed.
  • ‘Consider the whole person’ – healthcare issues may not be the only or even the most pressing concern for a patient. Ask what matters to them and how they can be supported.
  • ‘Communicate clearly’ – tell older people what is going on and how they can help with improving their health.
  • ‘Collaborate with others’ – work with colleagues, nursing and therapy teams, families and the older person themselves to give the best chance of recovery and independence.

The report has been welcomed by other ageing charities. Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said that prevention is just as important for someone in their 70s as it is in their earlier years. 

She added: "While it is a sign of real progress that people are generally living longer than in the past, we must not forget that many people spend too many of these ‘extra years’ in poor health.

"It is important that healthcare workers and public health campaigns don’t overlook older people by assuming they are ‘too old’ for health initiatives to be of benefit. For instance, this report states that older people are far less likely to be offered surgery than younger people."

Professor Martin J Vernon, Consultant Geriatrician and National Clinical Advisor, Ageing Well Programme, NHS England and Improvement, added: “We can’t stop ourselves ageing- it’s a natural process- but we can certainly influence how we age, meaning we should do all we can to support people to retain resilience and functional ability for as long as possible."