Society must tackle the challenges presented by ageing in every generation – not leave them until old age.
This is the key conclusion of a major new Evidence Review Report entitled Transforming the Future of Ageing, published today (27 June) by SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) and led by the Federation of European Academies of Medicine.
Two of the three vice chairs of the report are Trinity researchers – Professor Rose Anne Kenny and Professor Richard Reilly.
The report is destined for the desks of the new European Commissioners expected to take office later in 2019. It reviews the best evidence on what public policies might help EU countries to achieve inclusive, fair and sustainable health and social care in the future.
The authors, leading scientists nominated by academies across Europe, conclude that the ageing process needs to be transformed – and that the best way to improve life outcomes in old age is to anticipate and tackle them in youth and middle age.
In Europe and around the world, people are living longer than ever before. This is one of the greatest achievements of the past century, and it presents enormous opportunities both for us as individuals: new and fulfilling careers, new insights and perspectives, and an improved quality of life.
But it also brings challenges for societies and the European Union as a whole. We must adjust to what is projected to be an ageing and shrinking workforce, and find financially viable ways to deliver high-quality healthcare for all.
Professor Kenny states that “Society must engage with solutions early in life. The evidence from the Irish research source – Tilda – and other European data sets is clear. When it comes to predicting how people age, genetic factors are relatively minor compared to basic education, lifestyle and behaviours such as a healthy diet and physical activity. Policies to promote these from early childhood, and even in unborn children, contribute directly to a healthy ageing process across people’s whole lives.
Furthermore, solutions and alternative health care models to avoid or minimize hospitalization of older adults are feasible and benefit individuals and systems. The report details this evidence and policy recommendations.
Education improvements at a young age are vital not only to improve individual health, but also to equip our future workforce with the skills it needs to support an ageing population in a rapidly changing society.
Among the report’s other headline conclusions are:
- Ageing in the future will take place in a very different context from the past and will be profoundly affected by phenomena such as climate change, air pollution and antibiotic resistance, as well as ongoing social changes. Policies will only be successful if they are able to accommodate these changes.
- Age-friendly communities enable older people to feel secure and to go about their daily life comfortably. Architects, urban planners, experts in mobility and ergonomics, social care experts and geriatricians must cooperate to make age-friendly communities the norm.
- Technology, including wearable and assistive devices and the advent of AI, is already changing the experience of ageing, and could transform it if barriers of acceptance and practicality can be overcome.
The SAPEA report informs the forthcoming Scientific Opinion from the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, which will be delivered directly to European Commissioners to inform future policy-making.