Living in deprived areas increases frailty in old age

People who spend part of their life living in socially deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be frail in old age, a study suggests.

Stock image of an elderly couple getting into a car

Living in deprived areas after the age of 40 leads to greater frailty in men and women, while childhoods spent in disadvantaged areas are also linked to frailty in later life in men, the research shows.

Experts say that uncovering the underlying reasons could aid the development of measures to better support healthy ageing and reduce inequalities.

Later life

Edinburgh researchers have conducted the first study exploring the impact that living in deprived areas at different stages of life has on frailty in old age.

Until now, the long-term effect that living in deprived neighbourhoods has on frailty – a condition that can make older people feel weak and reduce their ability to recover from illness and injury – was poorly understood.

The United Nations expects that by 2050 the number of older adults will double worldwide and many of them will suffer from age-related conditions, including frailty. Identifying aspects of our lives that might slow the decline in health and functioning is crucial, and our research shows that the neighbourhoods where we live are one of these.

Dr Gergő BaranyiSchool of GeoSciences

Neighbourhood effects

The team examined data from 323 participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 with information on places where they lived from birth onwards.

Researchers used statistical modelling to examine links between neighbourhood social deprivation, frailty and the speed at which people’s health declined.

They did this using the deprivation status of participants’ previous home addresses and five measurements of their frailty made between the ages of 70 and 82.

Declining health

They found that the more time men spent living in deprived areas during their childhood and mid-to-late adulthood, the greater the chances they would be frail by age 70.

Women living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in mid-to-late adulthood were more likely to become frailer more quickly after the age of 70, compared with women living in more affluent areas.

The findings of our research show that the types of places we live throughout our lives impacts on our health much later in life, including our level of frailty in older age. Identifying why living in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood at different points during life translates into worse health outcomes offers an opportunity to enhance healthy ageing and reduce inequalities.

Professor Jamie PearceSchool of GeoSciences

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It used data from the Lothian Birth Cohort of 1936, a unique cohort of people born in 1936 and followed up with the aim to understand how our health, brains and thinking skills change throughout life.

The Lothian Birth Cohorts study has been supported by Age UK and receives further funding from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Wellcome, Royal Society, Medical Research Council and the University of Edinburgh.

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School of GeoSciences

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