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Encouraging ageing well, with keynote speaker Professor Eddy Strivens
Looking at healthy ageing has been a lifetime’s work for Professor Eddy Strivens, a key speaker at this year’s CRANAplus conference in Cairns in October. Here he talks about becoming an ‘accidental researcher.’
Professor Eddy Strivens, a practising clinician and national leader in geriatric medicine and dementia, stresses that the goal is not about living longer, it’s about the quality of life in your remaining years.
And when it comes to dementia, he says the aim for his patients is not to concentrate on the disease, but to look at what you can do to encourage ageing well.
‘Sure, it’s important for dementia patients to get their affairs in order,’ he says. ‘But then focus on your quality of life.’
Eddy says about half of all dementia cases are potentially preventable by looking at preventative measures and his top three suggestions to prevent dementia, to reduce its progression, and, at the third stage, to promote a life of living well are:
- Exercising, which he believes is as good as taking medicine and he emphasises using weights and bands as well as aerobic exercise
- eating well, and he suggests adopting a Mediterranean diet, and
- engaging in society such as joining groups, having a hobby, keeping in touch with family and friends and taking an interest in the community
‘Surprisingly – it all starts in pregnancy, says Eddy, who finds what drives him when it comes to improving health is looking at either end of the living spectrum. ‘It’s never too early and it’s never too late to look closely at those mid-life factors,’ he says.
‘We can’t do anything about family and age, but we can change things like vascular risks from smoking, lack of exercise and also lack of education.
‘I call myself an accidental researcher,’ says Eddy. ‘I’m a clinician through and through but to answer clinical questions about ageing, I discovered the importance of linking research with clinical outcomes.
It all goes back, says Eddy, to some of the work he did with a clinical outreach service in the Torres Strait a number of years ago.
‘We saw increased rates of dementia and at a younger age. The rate was three times what you’d expect on mainland Australia. We then started to recognise high rates of health issues such as vascular diseases and strokes.
‘We didn’t have the right tools to support these people. Let’s face it, back then those tools were created for ageing white US psychiatric patients. Not at all applicable in the Torres Strait. What we needed was to develop culturally appropriate cognitive assessment tools.’
This led to a current five-year project for Professor Strivens and a team of James Cook University researchers working with longstanding community partners in the Torres Strait, as well as the University of Western Australia, Melbourne Health Aged Care, the Top End Health Service, the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, and the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service. The team includes academics, clinicians, and researchers, all with an interest in gerontology and integrated service delivery models.
‘The big lesson we have learned through this work,’ says Eddy, ‘is the need across health generally to co-design programs with the community involved. It’s the community programme that is successful, not a programme designed in Canberra.’
HART (L to R) Dr Kathryn Meldrum, Valda Wallace, Diane Cadet-James, Dr Kishani Townshend, Torres Webb, Janet Swanson, Dr Jenny Mann, Prof Eddy Strivens, Mel Kilburn, Fintan Thompson, Rachel Quigley, Associate Professor Sarah Russell, Betty Sagigi, Chenoa Wapau, Dr Yvonne Hornby-Turner
Eddy emphasises the importance of research within communities, defining the problems within the community, and designing the research in tandem with the community.
‘Through surveys and feeding back results into the Torres Strait community, we learned the people didn’t want to concentrate on the disease of dementia, but to look at what could be done to encourage ageing well,’ he says.
‘We undertook yarning circles with the community to check out what healthy ageing looks like for them and, through participatory research, how individuals can change to promote ageing well.
‘Our research priorities are driven by the priorities identified in the communities.’
Eddy, originally from Norfolk in England, arrived in Cairns for a 12-month stint – ‘and I’m still here 20 years later. I fell in love with the role I had in geriatric care, with the community and with this part of the world.
‘I am so grateful for the Healthy Ageing Research Team (HART), the community teams and the hospital collaboration that has been crucial for this program.’
Professor Eddy Strivens will be discussing geriatric medicine, dementia and research, and in particular, his extensive work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Far North Queensland at the CRANAplus Conference this October. Head to cranaconference.com to find out more and register.