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New strategy advocates joint approach to ageing research challenges

Visit RCUK Lifelong Health & Wellbeing webpage

30 September 2010

A strategy for Collaborative Ageing Research in the UK identifies areas where experts can work together across disciplines and sectors to tackle the main health and wellbeing challenges that face our ageing society.

Today, one in six people in the UK are over 65 years old, and by 2033 it is projected that a quarter of the population will be. Ageing is inevitable, but it is not uniform. It is influenced by a variety of factors including genetics and socioeconomic circumstances and average life expectancy varies by as much as 14 years across the UK.

The strategy has been developed as part of the Life Long Health and Wellbeing programme, a partnership between the research councils, including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and led by the Medical Research Council (MRC), and Health Department funding. It advocates collaboration between experts from all disciplines as a means to solve the challenges an ageing population represents.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, outgoing Chief Executive of the MRC highlights how relevant the ageing strategy recommendations are to us all: ''Along with energy and climate change, ageing is one of the major global challenges for the 21st century. Life expectancy in the UK has increased by around 30 years over the past century and this dramatic rise is not limited to the developed world, developing countries are also now experiencing a demographic shift to an increasingly older population.''

Researchers need to find ways to help people live healthier, more independent lives as they age, not just to improve individual quality of life, but to ease the economic strain of an increasingly older population.

The strategy advises that a concerted approach from biologists, clinicians, social scientists, engineers, economists, policy makers and service providers is required to tackle the toughest ageing challenges, for example dementia and frailty. It suggests that experts also need to work together to understand the health and social impacts of working for longer as retirement age increases.

Opportunities for collaboration in areas most likely to have the greatest impact are explored in the strategy. They are:

  • Achieving good cognitive function and mental wellbeing later in life
  • Promoting physical health in old age
  • Extending healthy working lives
  • Enhancing mobility and independence in an ageing population

By highlighting these opportunities, the strategy aims to help researchers and funders, together with policy makers, industry and charities, develop future partnerships which will result in greater benefit for our ageing population.

A Strategy for Collaborative Ageing Research in the UK has been developed in consultation with the research councils and the four health departments in the UK, in recognition of the concern that key challenges in ageing - reducing ill health, maintaining independence and providing cost effective care - cannot be solved in isolation.

Professor David Armstrong, Kings College London and chair of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing panel, who led the development of the strategy said: "Researchers, decision makers, practitioners and carers who work in the ageing field are well aware of the issues involved. By bringing together experts from different disciplines with stakeholders and users of research it is possible to focus on where the UK is best placed to make the greatest impact. The strategy outlines these areas to the benefit of all."

The strategy is part of the cross-research council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme (LLHW). The programme has funded £16M of multi-disciplinary research since it launched in 2008 and a further £12.5M is scheduled to be awarded in the coming months. Funding is contributed by five research councils and four UK health departments. The Medical Research Council manages the LLHW programme on behalf of the partners.

ENDS

Note to editors

Download a copy of the strategy from the downloads sections above.

For more information or to arrange an interview with David Armstrong please contact the Medical Research Council press office on 020 7637 6011 or press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk. Out of hours call 07818 428 297.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz has now completed his term as Medical Research Council Chief Executive and is not available for interview in September.

About the LLHW

The Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) initiative is a funding collaboration between the UK's research councils and Health Departments. LLHW funds multidisciplinary research to find out more about what influences health and ageing throughout life. The Medical Research Council manages the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing initiative on behalf of the funders. For more information see www.mrc.ac.uk/LLHW.

LLHW is funded by:

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
    Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Chief Scientist Office, Scotland
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), England
  • Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland
  • National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR) Wales

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.