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Mining a wealth of untapped health data could reveal new insights into how we age - and help tackle one of the biggest killers of older New Zealanders.
A new study, led by medical specialist and University of Otago researcher Hamish Jamieson, will trawl through a sprawling national health database to look for clues to combating heart failure.
Heart failure was the most common cause of hospital admission in older New Zealanders. Half of those who suffered it died within five years.
"Multiple studies have shown that outcomes for patients with heart failure are difficult to predict - particularly older people who frequently have multiple co-morbidities.''
Dr Jamieson will turn to InterRai, a universal assessment of elderly living in the community who need home services or are being considered for entry into care.
The Ministry of Health-led programme involved a one-and-a-half-hour assessment covering all aspects of an older person's life, canvassing their ethnicity, living circumstances, social support, and physical, psychological and cognitive health.
Records were collected on some 100,000 people each year.
"This is a well-organised, well-structured database that can be used to better understand health in New Zealand - and very few countries have it.''
His four-year project was recently granted a $500,000 grant by the Health Research Council.
It will pull different InterRai datasets together to create a new statistical model to predict outcomes for older people with heart failure.
"This research will be novel as it will link large datasets related to ageing that have not been linked before,'' he said.
Dr Jamieson expected the new model would be used by clinicians in patient care, as well as by researchers and policymakers.
"It will give us a bird's-eye picture of trajectories of ageing to predict outcomes and to answer many questions.''
The new study comes after Dr Jamieson and colleagues recently used InterRai data to investigate loneliness in 72,000 older Kiwis.
They found more than 15,000 frail elderly identified as being lonely - equating to one in five older people - and Asians were the most affected ethnic group.
With New Zealand's ageing population, better understanding the health challenges facing older New Zealanders was crucial, Dr Jamieson said.
The number of older people was expected to rise significantly over the next decade, and, by 2039, the number of superannuitants was projected to balloon from 730,000 today to 1.3 million.