The HAGIS 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 well-being 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.
HAGIS Researchers at the British and Irish Longitudinal Studies Conference in Belfast
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.
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 enables (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 well-being.
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 tends 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.