Maori cultural values important in ageing

19 April 2012

Older Maori who are engaged in cultural practices and connected to their traditional community have a higher quality of life, according to a ground-breaking study by researchers at The University of Auckland.

Time on a marae, frequency of marae visits and knowledge of culture were also shown to enhance well-being. Furthermore in comparison to non-Maori, older Maori are busier as they age. This is because they have strong cultural community links and are more involved in cultural practices related to such things as tangihanga (funerals).

These are some of the key findings of “Life and Living in Advanced Age; a Cohort Study in New Zealand” (LILACsNZ): Te Puawaitanga o Nga Tapuwae Kia Ora Tonu — the first large-scale, longitudinal cohort study of those in advanced age in New Zealand and the only longitudinal study of ageing that includes a large number of indigenous people. The study aims to find out what leads to successful ageing in those already very old.

“Although other studies have shown the correlation between older Maori and their involvement with their own community, this is the first study ever to show this correlation through strong quantitative numerical data,” says Professor Ngaire Kerse, Head of General Practice at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

LILAC’s New Zealand study began in 2010 with researchers recruiting over 510 non-Maori aged 85 years and 420 Maori between the ages of 80 and 90 years from the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua regions. It has had initial funding from the Health Research Council and the University of Auckland’s Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement). It is envisaged as a 15-year study, aiming for a minimum of five years of follow-up for this precious group.

“We believe some of the results are already extremely useful for local planners and Government policy,” says Professor Kerse. “In general there were relatively low levels of depressive symptoms and high life satisfaction in our cohorts.”

Other findings from the first two years of the study show that 92 percent of participants in the trial took their prescribed medication, with a reasonable number not taking any medication at all; 90 percent had no cognitive impairment; 67 percent were still driving; and the average grip strength was close to or better than expected for this age group: 30.5kg for men and 19.1 kg for women.

As expected cardiovascular disease (CVD) was quite prevalent with 67 percent of Maori and 63 percent of non-Maori having established heart disease or stroke. The minority took cholesterol lowering medications (about 40 percent of Maori and 37 percent of non-Maori). Having CVD was associated with lower scores on the memory test, and memory is also more likely to lead to early mortality even after only one year of follow-up.

“We found food is important to successful ageing and living with others was associated with better nutrition,” says Professor Kerse. “Detailed food records are being collected in the next wave of research to celebrate the variety of foods eaten and understand the health risks related to nutrition.

“We are excited to see how this group of people in advanced age fare over the next year and the interviews this year include the main caregiver and their perspective on successful ageing.”

Contact: Professor Ngaire Kerse Phone 923 4467 Mobile 0274 393 788