The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is a unique and rich resource of information on the health, social, wellbeing and economic circumstances of the English population aged 50 and older. The current sample contains data from up to eight waves of data collection covering a period of 15 years.
ELSA includes objective and subjective data relating to health and disability, biological markers of disease, economic circumstance, social participation, nutrition, networks and well-being. The multidisciplinary and longitudinal nature of the data allows for the examination of complex relationships and causal processes.
The multidisciplinary and longitudinal nature of the data allows for the examination of complex relationships and causal processes.
A recent study from ELSA published in The Lancet Public Health, has found an association between perceived age discrimination and poor health.
The study used data from over 7,000 people aged 50 or older, who took part in a face-to-face interview and returned a self-completion questionnaire containing questions around age discrimination.
Perceived age discrimination was reported by 1,943 participants (25%). These participants were more likely to report fair or poor health. They were also more likely to have coronary heart disease, chronic lung disease, arthritis, limiting long-standing illness, and depressive symptoms than those in the study who did not report experiencing age discrimination.
For over 5,000 of the study participants, data were collected covering 6 years after the initial assessment. Over this time, perceived age discrimination was associated with the deterioration of self-rated health and coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic lung disease, limiting long-standing illness and depressive symptoms.
This is the first study to comprehensively examine the link between age discrimination and health and wellbeing. In a society with an increasing older population, this study emphasises the public health need for effective interventions to combat age discrimination and stigma.
“This is a substantial issue that seems to have quite a significant impact on health and wellbeing. So it is really a call for action for strategies,” said Dr Sarah Jackson from University College London, the lead author of the study.
This two-day course run by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL aims to provide a good understanding of a range of techniques for longitudinal data analysis and hands on experience of the analysis of longitudinal studies.
It includes a mixture of theoretical sessions and practical sessions (using STATA) to illustrate concepts. Practical sessions will use data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
An ELSA analysis has shown that people who rate their life as being more meaningful also have stronger personal relationships, broader social engagement, less loneliness, greater prosperity, better mental and physical health, less chronic pain, less disability, greater upper body strength, faster walking speed, less obesity and smaller waistlines.
The study also showed that higher worthwhile ratings were associated with more favourable biomarker profiles, healthier lifestyles, more time spent taking part in social activities and exercising, and less time spent alone or watching television.
Lead author and PI of ELSA, Andrew Steptoe, said: ‘Social engagement is a very important component of living a meaningful life for many people.
‘Being a member of an organisation may be meaningful in itself, but it can also provide social contact. Finding meaning when you are sitting on your own is quite tricky, since for most people this is linked to their relationships. We were struck by how important this feeling of meaning was, with people who saw their lives as meaningful being much more healthy as well as being socially engaged.'
People taking part in the study were asked to rate how meaningful they felt their lives were on a scale of 0-10.
Those who rated their life's meaning between zero and two, spent five hours and 18 minutes alone during the average day, compared to two hours and 46 minutes for people who saw their lives as more meaningful.
Those with ratings of 9 or 10 walked 18 per cent faster than those with scores of 0-3 and had a 13 per cent higher concentration of vitamin D, which boosts bone and muscle strength. They were 40 per cent more likely to report good sleep and had stronger hand grips, a measure of frailty and risk of mortality.
Leading a meaningful life at older ages and its relationship with social engagement, prosperity, health, biology, and time use. Steptoe, Andrew and Fancourt, Daisy. PNAS Epub ahead of print January 7, 2019 [link]