Improved self-reported health could be key in reducing the health gap facing Indigenous Australians

A new study has found Indigenous Australians who describe themselves as ‘more resilient’ are 40 per cent more likely to report good health as they age.

The study of more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 60 years and over looked into the factors that lead to good self-reported health, which could help improve current health services.

The results showed those who reported higher levels of resilience, such as being able to cope with stress and change, and maintain a positive outlook, are likely to rate themselves as being in good health in years to come.

Lead researcher at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), Dr Louise Lavrencic, said that on the other hand, those who experience arthritis or kidney problems in particular are 60 per cent more likely to report poor health into the future – more so than those with many other chronic conditions, including diabetes and depression.

“It’s important to understand the predictors of self-perceived health amongst this population so we can support people ageing well on their own terms,” said Dr Lavrencic, a Postdoctoral Fellow at NeuRA.

The study is the first to look at the factors that shape how older Indigenous Australians rate their own health, in order to assess whether more holistic health interventions could help reduce the burden of chronic conditions and improve quality of life among older Indigenous peoples.

“Multiple and complex chronic conditions occur in Aboriginal Australians at a rate 2.6 times higher than non-Aboriginal Australians. Our findings suggest that whilst this is a priority that needs to be addressed, it is also important to consider how people are coping with other factors such as stress and pain.”

Co-researcher, Aunty Margaret Anderson, who is an Aboriginal Elder, said it is important to maintain the ability to cope throughout life.

“I’m using a walker to get around, and some days are better than others. But I remain heavily involved in the community, in research, and I travel a lot to see my family and friends. I’ve dealt with hardship, like many of the people my age, but life goes on,” Aunty Margaret said.

Over the next 12 months, researchers at NeuRA are working with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service partners to share their findings with Aboriginal Australian communities in Sydney and regional NSW. Their aim is to promote a positive view of ageing and the strength of Aboriginal Elders, to highlight and reduce the risks of age-related conditions with community members of all ages, and to better understand the factors that contribute to better health and quality of life later on.