International Conference on Health in Ageing

Posted on: 29 May 2008

An international conference on ‘Health in Ageing’, featuring leading experts on ageing from the US and Europe was opened by the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney TD today (May 29, 2008) at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. The conference was hosted by the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA)*  – the first comprehensive study on ageing in Ireland, of 10,000 people in the 50+ age group,  charting their health, social and economic circumstances over a 10-year period– which is led by Trinity College Dublin.

Commenting on the significance of the conference, TILDA Principal Investigator,  Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Trinity College and St James’s Hospital said: “This conference is timely as it brings together international expertise from a wide variety of international longitudinal studies of ageing to inform and enrich TILDA as it gets under way.  Participants from Ireland and abroad – health care professionals, scientists, academics and policy makers – will learn from their experiences in order to maximise the potential of the data that will be collected by TILDA in terms of innovation, disease prevention and new treatments”.

“Most developed countries have been undertaking longitudinal studies of ageing for a number of years to inform government policies. For example, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) – the largest US longitudinal study of ageing started collecting data in 1992 while English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) in the UK began data collection in 1998. Data is particularly important in the Irish context in order to plan efficient allocation of resources both to hospitals and community services”.

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney said: “Solid reliable data helps put older people at the centre of health policy. There is an obvious need for high quality information to make sure that high quality services are based on evidence supported best practice.”

Speakers at the Conference included international experts from longitudinal studies around the world:

Dr. David Snowdon, principal investigator of the Nun Study of 678 American members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame religious congregation. Comprehensive information on health issues was available for this group for an average of 25 years until death and included post mortem data. This landmark study revolutionised our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and taught us the importance of education, the interplay between risk factors for heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and the role of nutrition and genetics.

Professor Tom Kirkwood,Director, Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University (UK)led the 85+ Study and has gained international acclaim based on his theory of why we age, ‘The Disposable Soma Theory’. This theory suggests that the process of ageing can be attributed to an imbalance between cell requirements and repair through cell stress.  With a finite supply of food it is the compromise in the allocation of energy to the repair function that causes the body to deteriorate with age.

Professor Daniel Levy, is a Professor of Medicine in the Boston University School of Medicine and Director of the Framingham Heart Study in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.  The Framingham Heart Study was one of the first studies to demonstrate the association between high cholesterol levels and heart disease and more recently the implications of the emerging obesity epidemic on heart disease and longevity.

Professor David Weir, is the Research Professor and Associate Director of the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, and Assistant Director of the Health and Retirement Study, the largest longitudinal study in the US. His work has highlighted the effect of early life experience on ageing and longevity.

Professor Martin Prince,a Professor of Epidemiological Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry in London and coordinator of the study of mental and cognitive health in the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe and the UK National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. His main research focus is in mental health priorities in developing countries and he has coordinated since 1998 the 10/66 Dementia Research Group, a network of over 100 researchers who have worked together to promote more good research in these regions.

Professor Carol Brayne,is a Professor of Public Health Medicine at Cambridge University in England and current Director of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study in England. She is also involved in epidemiological research into specific neurodegenerative conditions including Parkinson’s disease and Early Onset Dementia.

The conference is funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

Notes to the Editor:

What is a longitudinal health study?

A longitudinal study measures current health status but also allows health to be tracked over time which informs the process of ageing, causation, risk factors.


To understand the ageing process to ensure a healthy and happy life span for the people of Ireland and to underpin future planning.

*About TILDA

The study is being undertaken by a cross-institutional, multidisciplinary team of experts from the Dundalk Institute of Technology, the Economic and Social Research Institute, the National University of Ireland Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and University College Dublin. TILDA’s funders are the Atlantic Philanthropies and Irish Life.

Ageing on the scale we will experience in the near future is an unprecedented phenomenon in Irish history. In stark contrast to the evident importance of ageing, there is an acute shortage of social, economic and health information on older persons in Ireland. In addition, we need to have better understanding of the changes that have taken place in recent years. The data from TILDA will help to fill this gap and will provide policy-makers in the fields of health, social care, pension planning and biotechnology with a unique knowledge base. TILDA is essential to underpin planning and to ensure a healthy and happy life span for the people of Ireland. 

Ireland differs from other European countries in a number of important ways with regard to ageing. In the first place, its population is much younger than the European average.  Ireland will age more slowly and its relatively low old age dependency ratio will persist for some time (OECD 2006). The age at retirement is also comparatively high. Secondly, the Irish State pension system is much less generous than in most advanced European countries and is flat rate rather than income related. This poses problems with regard to adequacy and ensuring a good standard of living in retirement, but it makes the system much more likely to be sustainable than the heavily stressed systems seen in many other countries. Third, in a comparative perspective, old age poverty rates as conventionally measured are relatively high in Ireland (partly as a consequence of the pension system).  Ireland is also characterised by a number of other important social and demographic features, such as the very high level of owner occupied dwellings, the low divorce rate and a recent surge in immigration.

TILDA Principal Investigator – Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Head of the Department of Medical Gerontology, Director of the Falls and Blackout Unit, Director of the Centre for Successful Ageing at St. James’s Hospital.  She has been a world leader in research into cardiovascular and mobility disorders in ageing and causes of blackouts in all age groups.