Could a volunteer 'buddy' scheme support older adults to get out and about more and improve their mobility?

A new study aimed at improving mobility in older adults is being launched in Stoke-on-Trent, led by scientists at the University of Birmingham.

Elderly people exercising

A new study aimed at improving mobility in older adults is being launched in Stoke-on-Trent, led by scientists at the University of Birmingham.

Researchers are looking for 200 people over 65 years old in Stoke to take part. The study is designed for older adults who are starting to find everyday activities such as getting up from a chair, climbing the stairs and walking to the shops harder than it used to be. If that sounds like you, a family member or friend, they would love you to get in touch.    

Chief Investigator, Professor Afroditi Stathi, said: "As people get older, everyday activities, like walking and climbing the stairs, can become more difficult. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this issue even worse as many people haven’t been able to get out and about as much as normal and so have become less mobile and active. This deconditioning can affect people’s ability to live independently and makes life a lot less enjoyable. Contrary to the common belief that physical decline is inevitable in later life, we have strong evidence from our studies that it is possible to delay this physical decline, or even reverse it, by keeping active. But we know becoming more active is a lot easier said than done for many people."

Called ACE (Active, Connected and Engaged), the study is being carried out in collaboration with the Universities of Manchester, Cardiff Metropolitan, Cardiff, Exeter, the Royal Voluntary Service and Sport Cardiff. Its aim is to pair people 65 and above with a volunteer buddy, themselves 55+ years, for six months. The pair will choose some local activities to try out together over the first three months. It could be an exercise class, dancing, a choir or just a local walk. Over the following three months, the volunteer will support the participant to continue these activities independently, through phone calls and further face to face support.

The ACE study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, will see whether the volunteer buddy scheme will support people in getting out and about and so being more active and help them increase their mobility and maintain it for longer.   

The ACE team will follow up with people who are taking part after 6, 12 and 18 months, to find out how successfully they have been in maintaining their new levels of activity allowing them to live independently and to get the most out of life.   

Professor Stathi added: "An older person who remains mobile and active is more likely to stay healthy – both mentally and physically – and to enjoy their independence and a higher quality of life for longer. We have already had positive results from testing this buddy scheme on a small scale. Now, it is the time to get some definitive answers about how well the ACE programme supports older people, with mobility limitations, to increase and maintain they physical function and independence."

Anyone who might be interested in taking part in or volunteering for ACE, contact Katie Chatwin, or tel 07442989155 or visit the Active Ageing Research website for more information.

ACE volunteers will be managed through the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), a UK-wide volunteering organisation. The study will take place in three areas: Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. If the programme is shown to be effective, it will be rolled out nationally.

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