Brussels, 06 Aug 2004
'European research on ageing has been given a considerable boost. However, the coverage of ageing research themes is only partial and what there is, is somewhat fragmented,' states a report on the 'ageing population and disabilities' key action of the Fifth Framework Programme's Quality of Life sub-section.
The mid-term assessment outlines which areas of research the EU has funded, what the likely impact of this research will be, and those areas which did not receive significant research funding during the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). The report, prepared by the External Advisory Group on the key action, also makes recommendations on future areas for research.
All EU Member States currently have an ageing population. Demographic changes will not only completely change the population structure, but will require new policies and new knowledge on ageing and the needs of older people. 'Research-based solutions will be needed to feed into medical and industrial innovation on a massive scale, not only in terms of products and assistive devices for disability and rehabilitation, and innovations for prevention and care, but also for enabling a higher standard of living and quality of life for increasingly active senior citizens,' states the report.
The key action on the ageing population and disabilities covered a wide range of research themes, from molecular science, disease and illnesses, to technologies, public health and social research. Some topics proved more popular than others among the research community. There was strong interest from those working in bio-medicine, health, technology and the physiological aspects of ageing, but a lower rate of interest from researchers in the fields of demography, longitudinal studies of ageing, and health and social care services.
The distribution of research funding therefore means that the key action is expected to result in a range of research results relevant for the pharmaceutical industry and for clinical practice. The project results are also likely to advance specialised systems and services for better care management.
The External Advisory Group was surprised at the dearth of projects addressing hearing disorders. Indeed, only one such project was funded. 'This constitutes a severe research gap in KA6 [key action 6], considering that hearing loss is so widespread in older people,' states the mid-term evaluation.
The Commission also funded few projects addressing the social aspects of ageing, such as social care, welfare and pension systems. Project proposals addressing these themes were often poorly put together, with vague methodologies, and a lack of precision, according to the advisory group. It is thought that these difficulties on the part of proposers could be due to the lack of compatible approaches and conditions across Europe. 'Such incompatibility does not suggest the inappropriateness of research but rather the need for new research models and improved methods of calibration,' states the report.
The report writers suggest that a European Area for Ageing Research would 'provide an important and useful infrastructure for the organisation and implementation of new research work.'
A designated research area may also assist the research community in addressing the challenges for the future, which the Eternal Advisory Group pinpoints as: extension of working life; improvement of quality of life of older people; and development of innovations for prevention and care.
Other recommendations include the maintenance of a multidisciplinary approach to ageing research, commissioning an EU-wide study on the strengths and weaknesses of European research, and determining the social and economic factors associated with healthy ageing.
The report refers to the technological changes that are accompanying demographic changes, and states that they must not be allowed to bring about the isolation of older people. Instead, new technologies must be embraced and used to improve the life quality of older citizens.
Finally, the mid-term evaluation points to a need for researchers to become involved in the formulation of new policies that governments will need in order to cope with an aging population. It is 'imperative' that decision makers are provided with evidence-based research results in so that they can appropriately shape these future policies, concludes the External Advisory Group. To access the report, please visit: http:///www.cordis.lu/life