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The healthy ageing challenge.

This week I came across the UK Research and Innovation website and was surprised to learn about the amount of research going on. In particular, the work surrounding the healthy aging challenge.

As we all know by now, we in the UK are an ageing society. It is estimated that a third of children born today will live to 100. By 2050, the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to double in size.

Whilst this is good news in terms of longevity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these extended years are spent in good health. In fact, on average, those aged 65 today will only live just over half of their remaining life without disability.

Vision of UK Research and Innovation

The vision of the heathy ageing challenge is to address this, by enabling businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver products, services and business models that will be adopted at scale which support people as they age.

This will allow people to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible.

Funding

By investing in UK wide innovation and research the UKRI aim to support both our ageing society and the economy through the delivery of market innovations within the growing healthy ageing domain, while also addressing inequalities in healthy life expectancy.

The challenge is funding social, behavioural and design research, drawing on a wide range of academic disciplines, to provide market insight and evidence that will enable businesses to maximise their commercial opportunities and address key challenges in the field of healthy ageing.

Representing a wide range of industries, sectors and academic disciplines, funded projects align to seven key themes which provide the greatest opportunity to tackle market failures and stimulate innovation in healthy ageing.

The seven themes of the healthy ageing challenge are shown in the diagram below and listed here: 1. Creating healthy active places 2. Design for age-friendly homes 3. Living well with cognitive impairment 4. Managing common complaints of ageing 5. Maintaining health at work 6. Supporting social connections 7. Sustaining physical activity

Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP)

As part of the healthy ageing challenge, UKRI has funded several research projects including: Supporting Healthy Ageing at Work (SHAW)

Led by the University of Edinburgh, the project works with employers and older workers to understand ways in which health needs can be addressed to enable productive later-life employment.

Connecting Through Culture as We Age

Led by the University of Bristol, the project aims to tackle inequalities related to the accessibility and content of digital arts and culture.

Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD)

Led by the University of Stirling in collaboration with the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology, this project aims to improve access to online resources for older people in a bid to enhance life-course health and well-being.

Designing Homes for Healthy Cognitive Ageing (DesHCA) Led by the University of Stirling, this project aims to identify housing innovations that can better support people living with cognitive conditions, such as dementia, to stay in their homes for longer.

Extending Active Life for Older People with Cognitive Impairment Through Innovations in the Visitor Economy of the Natural Environment (ENLIVEN)

Led by the University of Exeter, this project supports older people living with cognitive impairment to be more active and independent, helping them experience a better quality of life through increasing their contact with the natural environment.

Summary

Taking time to review the research work funded by UK Research and Innovation has proved to be a real eye opener. Research projects often get a bad press because of sponsor’s self-interest. This however is different. Given the projected increase in people ageing levels over the coming years, it is vital that we address the problem of supporting people to remain healthy.

It is a staggering fact, that on average, those aged 65 today will only live just over half of their remaining life without disability. The research projects sponsored by UK Research and Innovation will improve our understanding of how we can make life better for us all as we grow older.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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