THEY may hope to have property and other possessions to pass on but a group of Ireland’s over-50s have already left possibly their most valuable legacy in a test tube.
More than 8,000 people who agreed to take part in a groundbreaking study of the lives of the country’s older people have also donated blood samples for use in medical research for the next 20 years.
The collection, from volunteers in The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), is a potentially priceless databank of information for scientists who rarely get such a large pool of samples to study or check new discoveries against.
TILDA researcher Prof Rose Anne Kenny, of Trinity College Dublin, said the samples represented a very rich data source that, together with the rest of the project, would attract attention internationally.
“Ireland could become a global hub for research into ageing and older people which would not only be a way of improving services for this age group but could also have commercial applications in terms of the pharmaceutical, technology and biotech industries. It could generate employment.”
The 322-page initial report from the project is a mine of information as it contains statistics on health, welfare and standards of living not previously gathered in such detail.
Participants will be revisited to see what has changed in their lives as they age, allowing the researchers to build up an ever more detailed picture of the ageing process and how it affects quality of life. Just as importantly, it will hope to identify what changes imposed on older people affect their lives and in what way.
Professor Alan Barrett of the Economic and Social Research Institute, who is also a director of the project, cited planned changes to Ireland’s already relatively high retirement age as an example.
“In 2014 the state pension age will be increased to 66 and by 2021 it will be 67. The result of this study shows that policy that affects everybody has very, very different impacts.
“The social welfare pension rate is also going to come under pressure because of the economic situation, but we now know that for 26% of older people, state transfers are their only source of income, that’s something policy makers need to consider.”
Future reports expect to capture some of the impact of the economic meltdown.
When participants were first visited in 2008, 70% of them owned their own homes and were mortgage-free, on average valuing their homes at €150,000-€300,000.
Those values are likely to have fallen considerably when next queried and researchers will be eager to know if people are re-mortgaging to help offspring struggling with arrears.
Already the report has revealed that older people make a huge contribution to their families. One finding shows that up to the age of 75, older people provide more practical help such as child minding or household chores to their offspring than they receive in return.
Eamon Timmins of Age Action said the report had helped shine a light on the role older people play.
“This is the demographic bounty which older people provide to society which is often over-looked.”
lThe full report is available at www.tilda.ie.
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