Can a healthy physical and social environment compress the period of disability in older adults?

PI: Debora Rizzuto, debora.rizzuto@ki.se

In recent years, life expectancy in the European Union has risen faster than healthy life expectancy. To avoid declines in the quality of life in old age and ensure the sustainability of health care systems, we urgently need to reduce the burden of disability in older people. Healthy lifestyle factors and other preventive measures may help, but we do not fully understand which factor(s) could, on their own, reduce the burden of late-life disability the most. Moreover, we do not know the extent to which physical and social environments may synergistically modify this burden.

Our goal is to deepen knowledge of the determinants of the length of disability-free life, focusing on modifiable physical and social environmental factors. Research questions include: Which modifiable lifestyle factors are associated with a relative compression or expansion of the disabled period before death? Can we identify a threshold effect of different types of social network and engagement? Which environmental factors damage the health of older people the most? How do social and physical environments interact to influence the course of disability in older people?

Findings will contribute to the development of individual and societal prevention strategies to reduce disability burden and increase quality of life in older people.

The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life, and Welfare (Forte).