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Fit in Old Age

Pan-European study aims to promote the health of senior citizens

More vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids and a special activity programme three times per week – this could be the simple recipe to staying fit and healthy in old age. Scientists at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) are involved in a pan-European study to ascertain whether such a recipe can really work. More than 2,000 volunteers, who must be at least 70 years of age, are to be evaluated at regular intervals over a three year period. They are to be split into eight groups; some will receive vitamin D supplements and omega-3 fatty acids while the others will only be given placebos. Additionally, all participants will be on two different training programmes designed to improve their physical fitness. The study’s aim is to promote health right into old age and thus to find a way of reducing age-related cost increases for healthcare systems. The project has been entitled “Do Health” and is financed by both the European Commission and European companies to the tune of €12.8 million.

“In Europe, the number of senior citizens over 70 is set to increase by 40% over the next 20 years”, comments Prof. Dr. Dorothee Volkert, who holds the Theo and Friedl Schöller Foundation Professorship for Clinical Nutrition in Old Age at FAU, and is involved in the study. “Over the same period, the number of people aged over 80 is forecast to as much as double.” Consequently, health authorities and doctors are expecting to see a corresponding increase in the number of people suffering from age-related chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and dementia.

The concept being tested within the framework of the Do Health study aims to counteract this development, maintain good health for longer and thus reduce the financial impact on the healthcare system. It builds on the findings of several studies which show vitamin D and simple, targeted training programmes can both improve senior citizens’ mobility and reduce falls and broken bones by up to 30%. The training programmes have been developed by physiotherapists and have proven to be particularly beneficial for rehabilitation purposes, and for patients with hip fractures. Omega-3 fatty acids should further strengthen the positive effects on bones, muscles and the cardiovascular system.

Executing the study
Volunteers will be recruited from and evaluated in eight European cities, including Nuremberg and Berlin, Toulouse, Coimbra (Portugal) and Geneva. In this way the researchers will achieve results that are both extensively representative of the European population and, at the same time, take account of differing diets and environmental influences between the individual countries. The participants will be medically examined once a year. Whether, and the extent to which, their physical condition changes will be measured by doctors against a range of factors: inter alia they will check bone density and blood pressure, and measure physical performance and cognitive ability. Additionally, every three months the researchers will conduct telephone interviews asking the volunteers about their physical condition and any intervening falls or hospitalisations.

The project partners expect to begin recruiting volunteers in July 2012. More information on the study is available online at www.do-health.eu.

Further information for the media:

Prof. Dr. Dorothee Volkert
Tel.: 0911/3000-517
dorothee.volkert@aging.med.uni-erlangen.de

uni | media service | research No. 7/2012 on 28.2.2012

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