Trial of groundbreaking ‘buddy’ scheme for older adults launches

The trial of a groundbreaking volunteer buddy scheme aimed at improving mobility in older adults is being launched today in Stoke, Manchester and Cardiff.

The study led by The University Birmingham in collaboration with The Universities of Manchester, , Cardiff Metropolitan, Cardiff, Exeter, the Royal Voluntary Service and Sport Cardiff, follows a successful small-scale trial carried out previously in Bristol.

The Manchester study team are looking for around 200 over-65s in the Manchester area 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.

The aim is to test if the volunteers - who are themselves over 55- can support people getting out and about, be more active, increase and maintain their mobility.

Chief Investigator, Professor Afroditi Stathi, from The University of Birmingham 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 new volunteer buddy scheme will pair people 65 and above with a volunteer for six months.

The pair will choose local activities to try out together over the first three months such as exercise classes, dancing, a choir or just a local walk.

Over three months, the volunteer will support the participant to continue the activities independently, through phone calls and further face to face support.

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. 

Dr Helen Hawley-Hague

The ACE study will assess if the volunteer buddy scheme can support people in getting out and about and so being more active and help them increase their mobility and maintain it for longer.

The team will follow up 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.

Dr Helen Hawley-Hague from The University of Manchester 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.’

Pictures are from the initial small scale trial.  Credit:  Alex Rotas (alexrotasphotography.co.uk).

Anyone interested in taking part in or volunteering for ACE, contact Amy Davies on Tel  07442943716 or email amy.davies@manchester.ac.uk or visit our website  www.activeageingresearch.org/about-ace 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. If the programme is shown to be effective, it will be rolled out nationally.

ACE is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Public Health Research Programme

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