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A research project at the University of Strathclyde is exploring what helps the over-50s in Scotland stay active, healthy and independent for longer through the use of a free app that suggests physical activities.

Researchers on the Still Going Project at the university are using the LifeCurve App, which advises people how to retain or regain their functional independence.

The free app is based on research by Newcastle University and developed by ADL Smartcare. It is based on a model of ageing which shows that as people age, they lose the ability to do everyday activities in a relatively predictable order if they age normally.

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The LifeCurve App helps people to find out how they are ageing and then provides a range of recommended evidence-based activities to help the person maintain their ability or regain it where it has been lost.

It suggests physical activities geared towards building strength, balance, flexibility and endurance which can be incorporated into everyday life, without the need to visit a gym or use specialist equipment or clothing.

The functional activities include things such as climbing stairs, making a meal, going shopping, getting dressed and housework are key independent living markers. There are also four strength and fitness points, which help people who have not yet lost the ability to carry out activities of daily living to keep their independence for as long as possible.

The Strathclyde research team can offer participants advice and guidance on how to use the app and, in return, will collate the anonymous information to find out what helps people keep healthy and active.

Still Going Project Manager and Professor of Rehabilitation Science at Strathclyde Philip Rowe said: “Many people don’t know they should be doing these things to preserve their function, and it’s never too early or too late to start. It’s not about exercise per se or about running a triathlon, it’s about being functionally independent – that’s the crucial difference.

“It’s even more important if you have one or more long term health conditions and we know from previous work, the higher up the LifeCurve™ you are, the better quality of life you have and the less health care you use.

“We did a survey in Scotland of 15,000 people receiving health and social care services, that showed many people were being seen far too late in the journey to make a significant difference to their ageing journey.

“The only way to have a good impact on that functional decline journey was for people to get the message that functional decline is not inevitable and they can use the app to help them stay independent. During COVID-19 many more of us have been less active, so it’s even more important.”

Originally funded by the Scottish Government, this phase of the project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19 and is recruiting 1,000 people over 50 and who struggle with physical activities such as climbing stairs.

Professor Rowe added: “Our previous research shows if you do follow the advice in the app you can prevent or improve physical and cognitive decline in later life, and if you have already declined it is not irreversible. There are people in their nineties who can do all the functional activities and people in their sixties who can’t.”

There are also cost implications in terms of health and social care, the university outlines. For those at the top of the LifeCurve, a study showed their health care costs are about £3,200 a year. Whereas, at the middle of the app, it is around £6,800 and it is around £10,700 at the bottom.

Still Going Project Lead Susan Kelso, who is doing the project as part of a PhD, added: “People don’t often realise they that by doing things for their relatives to be ‘kind’, they could be making them less able.

“Instead of making them a cup of tea or doing their shopping for them, they should instead support the person to do it themselves or do it with them and preserve their functional independence.

“Even if you are living with ongoing paid support or in a care home, people have shown through small tests of change, that their functional ability can be improved. The World Health Organisation describes this as healthy ageing – the ability ‘to be and do what you have reason to value.’”

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