New research which predicts that a growing number of elderly people  will suffer from multiple health conditions over the next 20 years highlights the importance of keeping mentally and physically fit, eating well and sharing meaningful relationships, says the manager of Fernhill House.   

The report, issued by Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, says the number of older people who have at least four different medical conditions is set to double by 2035.   

One in three of those diagnosed with four long-term conditions will have dementia, depression or some form of cognitive impairment, say researchers.   They predict a 179.4% increase in the number of people of pension age being diagnosed with cancer and a 118% rise in those who have diabetes.   

All diseases, apart from dementia and depression, will more than double in absolute numbers between 2015 and 2035 in over 85s, says Carol Jagger, professor of epidemiology of ageing at the institute, who led the study.   A large part of the increase in the number of people with four or more medical problems will come from an expected sharp rise in coming years in the number of people living until at least 85.   

“Our model shows that future young-old adults, aged 65 to 74 years, are more likely to have two or three diseases than in the past. This is due to their higher prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity, which are risk factors for multiple diseases,” she explained. 

“We need to shift our focus to helping people to stay as well and independent as possible for as long as possible.  

“As we get older, our health and care needs tend to overlap and become more complex. A more compassionate and intelligent approach to caring for older people must be a priority for us all.” 

Fernhill House manager Mike Dearn says the report adds to the growing weight of evidence that staying mentally, emotionally and physically active in old age is essential in retaining one’s health.   

He added that numerous studies show physical exercise and challenging the brain can slow the progression of dementia by as much as ten years.   

Fernhill House holds a weekly exercise class to keep the brain as well as the body active, alternative therapies such as massage and mental stimulation such as games, music and crafts.   

Studies say the definition of exercise is wide ranging and include activities such as gardening – something which takes place on a regular basis with residents working in the home's specially designed indoor potting shed and its two-acre garden.   
Mike explained: “One study showed that a stress hormone which keeps mental facilities sharp is produced by the brain during exercise.  Another demonstrated that even moderate exercise can boost memory and mental processing speed. Just walking at a moderate pace three times a week can reduce mental decline by up to 10 years in older adults.    

“Keeping your mind active can help slow the effects of dementia by reducing cell damage and supporting the growth of new cells. So, learning a language, doing puzzles, enjoying board games or playing an instrument can all help.”