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Press release


  • 23 April 2004
  • University of Sussex teaches older patients new health tricks


    The University of Sussex has joined forces with the NHS to improve the health of the nation's fast-growing pensioner population.

    It is estimated that there will be 14 million people aged over 65 in Britain by 2030 - a huge problem for the health service, as this age group uses a large portion of the health budget, often with ailments that could be avoided or minimised by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

    According to University of Sussex Professor of Psychology Charles Abraham and Dr Kate Kelley, Research Fellow at Worthing and Southlands Hospitals Trust, people of any age can benefit from being helped to adopt a healthier lifestyle - as initial results from their research, to be published in the journal Social Sciences and Medicine, have shown.

    Their study was conducted in Worthing, West Sussex, which has a large over-65 population. Over-65s in the outpatients department at Worthing Hospital took part in the trial of a booklet - the Active Healthy Living Plan - that applies the psychological theories of planned behaviour and goal theory to show people how they can take personal responsibility for their own health. As waiting rooms can be boring, they were judged to be good places to engage people in this health promotion-activity.

    Patients were invited to fill in a questionnaire on their attitudes and intentions regarding diet and exercise. Half were then given the health booklet, while a control group completed a patient-satisfaction questionnaire. The booklet offers advice and invites patients to assess their own diet and exercise levels and adopt simple measures, such as eating five pieces of fruit a day or taking more walks. It also helps patients monitor their own progress by completing a checklist diary.

    After two weeks, all the patients were asked again about their attitudes and intentions. Those who had used the booklet showed more improvement in their eating and exercise intentions and habits. Professor Abraham and Dr Kelley are now seeking further funding to extend use of the booklet to GP surgeries. The results come as the Government is pushing for people to take responsibility for their own health to avoid "lifestyle" diseases related to obesity, drinking and smoking.

    Professor Abraham says: "Research shows that changing behaviour even late on in life can have a positive effect on health. The elderly are often more motivated in this because they can see the consequences of deteriorating health." Dr Kelley says: "Health-care professionals do not always know the best way to deliver health promotion, or enough about the techniques, such as goal-setting, so we are providing something for them to use with older people."

    Annie Blackwell, a nursing specialist for older people at Worthing Hospital, says: "The booklet could serve as a link between hospital care and work in the community. It empowers the patients."

     

    Notes for editors 

    For further information, see: Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour (http://www.pm.gov.uk/files/pdf/pr.pdf), HMSO, London.

    University of Sussex Press Office contacts: Jacqui Bealing or Maggie Clune, Tel. 01273 678888, J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk or M.T.Clune@sussex.ac.uk.

     

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