An overview of HAGIS

Healthy Ageing in Scotland (HAGIS) is a study of people aged 50+ in Scotland. It collects data on their health, economic and social circumstances. It uses this information to help scientists understand the circumstances of Scotland’s older people. This understanding will help improve the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s older people. HAGIS is the first longitudinal study of Scotland’s older people – a study which follows individuals and households through time. HAGIS will join the world family of longitudinal ageing studies which began in the USA with the Health and Retirement Study. Comparisons with other countries provides many opportunities to learn from their policies and practices.  

Currently, in its pilot phase, HAGIS will interview 1000 individuals aged 50 and over in Scotland and collect detailed information on their health, economic and social circumstances.  Participants can find out more information here. This pilot will be used to test a number of innovative aspects of HAGIS and to inform a full scale version of the survey.  In particular, the HAGIS pilot will investigate the processes and systems required to link the survey data with other data that is routinely collected in Scotland in the fields of health, social care, education and benefits. 

The HAGIS pilot will also be collecting detailed information on cognitive abilities, financial literacy and social networks. These are issues that differentiate HAGIS from the other ageing surveys and scientists in other countries are very interested in what can be learned from Scotland’s innovative approach to collecting information on these issues. Thus, as well as enhancing the understanding of ageing and improving outcomes for older people in Scotland, HAGIS aims to make Scotland a valued source in international comparisons of ageing research and to generate methodological advances that will benefit other ageing studies. 


HAGIS on the Radio

Would you like to hear more about HAGIS from the researchers working on the study?  Listen to Professor David Bell and Dr Elaine Douglas talking to Ken Macdonald on the Good Morning Scotland show on Radio Scotland.  HAGIS on the Radio - Click here to listen

Sport, mental health and dementia

Professor David Bell recently had the pleasure of speaking at a conference on Sport, Mental Health and Dementia, which was held at Scotland’s national football stadium at Hampden. The event was sponsored by Edinburgh University’s Academy of Sport, its Global Health Academy and the Scottish Football Museum. Much of the discussion focused on the great work being done by Michael White with people with dementia at football memories, a joint project between the Scottish Football Museum and Alzheimer Scotland. Many Scottish football clubs now actively support this initiative, which has had a transformative effect on the lives of ex-football fans and players.

HAGIS Researchers at the British and Irish Longitudinal Studies Conference in Belfast

In November 2016, Dr Elaine Douglas (Research Fellow/Project Manager of HAGIS at the University of Stirling) and Chloe Fawns-Ritchie (the cognitive testing officer at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh) attended the British and Irish Longitudinal Studies conference in Belfast.  The conference was hosted by the Northern Ireland Cohort Longitudinal Study of Ageing (NICOLA), Northern Ireland’s largest public health study.  Researchers from other longitudinal studies including the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA) were also in attendance.  This was a wonderful opportunity for us to learn how other studies use their data and to see and hear about their research findings. 

HAGIS – a new resource for Scotland by Dr Elaine Douglas

Dr Douglas highlighted the reasons why ageing research is important for Scotland: our population is ageing at a faster rate than other UK nations.  Scotland also has the highest mortality rates and lowest life expectancy in Western Europe.  It is key that we learn more about how to keep our population living healthy lives for longer.  Fortunately, Scotland has secure, confidential administrative data linkage that enable (with permission) survey responses to be linked to health and social care data. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how people’s work, home and social lives are associated with health outcomes.  These findings may inform social, economic and health policy and therefore have the capacity to make a positive impact on our nation’s health and wellbeing.  

HAGIS – cognitive function and ageing by Chloe Fawns-Ritchie

Chloe presented the work carried out by herself and Professor Ian Deary when developing a short cognitive assessment.  For HAGIS, we wanted to include tasks assessing cognitive functions that are important for functioning independently in old age, such as memory for past events and problem solving skills. Performance on these tasks tend to decline with increasing age. We also wanted to include tasks that assess functions that remain relatively stable in ageing, like vocabulary. During my presentation, I gave examples of these tasks so that the audience could see what we will be asking participants to do. Meeting many of the researchers involved in the more established longitudinal studies and learning how they are using their data to understand the relationship between cognitive changes in ageing and health and wellbeing was a particular highlight of the conference. In the future, we would like to identify the associations between cognitive change and health and social outcomes in a Scottish population, and determine whether these differ from those found elsewhere in the British Isles.

Invitations to join the HAGIS before Christmas 2016

Facts International is the market research agency which has been appointed fieldwork partner of the HAGIS research programme. As a leading UK market research agency specialising in face-to-face and telephone interviewing along with online research, their team of award-winning face-to-face interviewers will visit homes across Scotland as part of this study.

All of Facts International’s interviewers are fully trained to Interviewer Quality Control Scheme (IQCS) standards and the team who will be working on the HAGIS study are experts in conducting in-home studies of a sensitive nature.

Crispin Beale, Facts International’s Chief Executive, is the current Chairman of the Market Research Society (MRS), and the UK Representative of the World Association of Opinion and Marketing Research Professionals (ESOMAR). This means that Facts International is well aligned to carry out longitudinal studies with global reach.

Project Director Gemma Stephenson will be operating the fieldwork element of this study on behalf of Facts International.

If you have received a letter from Facts International and would like to find out more about in-home visits, or arrange an appointment, please contact them on their dedicated participant telephone line 01233 648 490.

November 2016: HAGIS takes to the field!

The HAGIS (Healthy AGeing In Scotland) pilot survey goes into the field this month! Interviewers from our fieldwork company, Facts International, will be knocking on the doors of randomly selected households in mainland Scotland and asking for permission to interview household members about their outlook on life, their circumstances and their health. This is a first for Scotland.

Scotland will be joining a list of countries that are asking the same questions of their older people. These include the USA, England, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, India, China and each of the countries in mainland Europe. The data collected from across the world can be compared to answer all kinds of questions that are designed to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.

Which pensioners have the highest standard of living? How much does poor health cause people to retire early? How well are older people networked into their local community? Are older people able to make the right decisions about their finances? These are the kinds of questions that HAGIS will try to answer. We will then be able to compare our answers with those from other countries to see if Scotland is performing well or badly against these important criteria. The next step is to take the answers to the Scottish or UK Governments to ask what policies might be put in place to improve outcomes in Scotland. We work very closely with colleagues in Ireland and England in these projects.

The fieldwork is being co-ordinated by Dr Elaine Douglas at the University of Stirling. She is a graduate in psychology from the University of Stirling and has a PhD in Public Health from University College London. At the moment she is very much focussed on ensuring that we make our target of 1000 completed interviews by March 2017.

Meanwhile Professor David Bell, the economist, is exploring possible funding sources for the first full wave of HAGIS. To be fully comparable with the other countries in the global network, it would be necessary to increase the size of the Scottish sample to at least 6000.

Funding for the pilot project is currently coming from the National Institute on Aging in the United States and from the Nuffield Foundation in London. Early projects to establish the feasibility of HAGIS were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Scottish Institute for Research in Economics and the Centre for Population Change.

October 2016: ELSA Wave 7 Launch

David Bell and Elaine Douglas went to the launch of the seventh wave of the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing’s on October 13th. HAGIS is yet to have its first full wave, so we are well behind England! Even so, ELSA is a youngster compared with the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) which began back in 1992 and has surveyed a group of Americans aged 50+ every two years since then.

The launch report focussed mainly on employment, retirement and health. These are also vital issues for Scotland – particularly with the new tax and welfare powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. The ELSA results showed that the poor and the wealthy are likely to retire early, with middle income earners waiting longer before they retire. If repeated in Scotland, this would have important implications for Scotland’s income tax receipts.

The report also showed how income and wealth are associated with the length of time people can expect to live free of disability or serious illness. At age 50, the wealthiest 33% of England’s population can expect to spend more than 76% of the rest of their life free from illness and over 90% of the rest of their life free from disability. In contrast, the poorest 33% will be 58% free from illness and 85% free from disability over the rest of their life.

These are fairly dry statistics. But Scotland will soon control a £2.7bn budget for welfare benefits. Most of this money will be used to support disabled people. So it is important that we know the equivalent figures for Scotland. One obvious way to do this is to increase the number of older people in the HAGIS sample. The seventh wave of ELSA surveyed 9700 people aged 50+.

Many of the other longitudinal surveys of ageing attended the ELSA launch. These included the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Brazil, India and Korea. We heard about their future plans and research. For example, some great work in the Republic of Ireland has traced how changes in blood pressure affect older people’s susceptibility to falls.

The principal investigator of the European longitudinal survey of ageing (SHARE) was also at the meeting. SHARE is a massive undertaking that now covers 28 European countries (and Israel). It was interesting to learn from him that SHARE has been chosen to lead the first survey of Syrian migrants in Germany. The applications of these surveys are many and varied!

Given the importance of the US National Institute of Aging in funding these studies, it was not surprising that a number of Americans researchers also travelled to London. They were very interested in HAGIS and particularly impressed by its potential for linking data from the survey to administrative data – particularly health and social care.

This linkage is very important both because it means that researchers don’t have to rely on people’s recollection of what has happened to them.  It is also much cheaper to consult health records than to carry out a health assessment which would require a nurse visit.

This was a really worthwhile meeting: it helped us to publicise HAGIS and to understand where it sits in the international network of longitudinal studies. Soon, we should be able to share the results from the HAGIS pilot with our international research colleagues!

October 2015

The HAGIS project recieved ethical approval from Stirling Management School on the 23rd of October. 

July 2015

The HAGIS launch conference- Ageing and Cognitive Decline: Longitudinal Perspectives- was successfully held on Friday 24th July at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The first half of the session was chaired by Professor Emma Reynish. Emma firstly introduced Professor Ian Deary, from the University of Edinburgh, who started the day by talking about his research on the Lothian Birth Cohorts. More specifically, he discussed the possible factors which contribute to greater cognitive decline in older age. Ian also outlined the cognitive domains which will be assessed in the pilot of HAGIS.

Next, Professor Ken Langa, from the University of Michigan, presented some interesting findings from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Ageing, Demography And Memory Study (ADAMS) - a supplement to the HRS.  In particular, Ken highlighted the prevalence of dementia and cognitive impairment in the US and the likely future increase in the actual number of people experiencing cognitive impairment as a result of an increasing elderly population. Another key message that Ken delivered was the high societal cost of care for cognitively impaired patients, 49% of which, accrues to informal care givers.

The second half of the day was chaired by Professor Marion McMurdo. Marion began by introducing Professor Robert Wright, from the University of Strathclyde, who talked about financial literacy and its relationship with ageing and cognition. Robert outlined the meaning and measures of financial literacy and presented some research from the British Election Study (BES) which suggested that some financial concepts are poorly understood by the British population. Furthermore, Robert explored the importance of understanding the relationship between cognition and financial literacy, and pointed to some preliminary results from The Irish Longitudinal Ageing (TILDA) study, which suggest cognitive ability, in several different domains, significantly predicts financial literacy.

Lastly, Professor David Bell, Principal Investigator for HAGIS, closed the day by talking about the benefits of data linkage to ageing research. David presented some findings from a recent project with the Scottish Government which linked patient’s health and social care records from 5 local authorities in Scotland. Additionally, David updated the audience on the current progress of HAGIS and the future of the project.

Overall, the presentations each pointed to the important role that HAGIS will play in helping to understand the ageing process in Scotland, especially in the presence of the ageing population facing us today. Thanks to all who attended, we hope to see you again soon!

Presentation slides from the event:-

Professor Ken Langa (11,661 KB)
Professor Robert Wright (622 KB)
Professor David Bell‌ (556 KB)