The current and projected growth of older people over the coming decades is widely acknowledged as an issue that will have significant health, economic and policy implications not just at a global level, but nationally, regionally and locally. This is being recognised in policy, strategy and debate within and across organisations as diverse as the UN, the WHO, the EU as well as national, regional and local governments, public, private and third sectors. In particular, concerns about how we will cope with and address the needs of rising numbers of the ‘oldest old' (those age 85+) who make significant demands on our health and welfare systems, at a time when we have declining numbers of working age populations (hence declining contributions to pension and welfare schemes and who also provide the bulk of health and medical care).
Scientific and medical advances can and will make significant contributions to both curing and alleviating some of the worst effects of mental and physiological ageing and scientists at Lancaster University are playing a key role here. Our research work encompasses neuro-generative disease (particularly Alzheimer's and Parkinson's), molecular change associated with the ageing process as well as pathological developments associated with disease. Computer scientists and engineers are also working on the design and development of new technologies to support and enhance the health and well-being older people and their care-givers.
Importantly, however it is Lancaster's reputation for inter-disciplinarity that underpins its strength in the field of Ageing Research. Social scientists at Lancaster, for example, are also playing an important role in contributing to our understanding of how best to address the needs of older people and their carer-givers in ways that are both proactive and conscious of the need to place dignity, choice and independence at the forefront of care and support for older people. This kind of work seeks to answer different sorts of questions to those of bioscience and engineering etc. but it is the strength of this interdisciplinary approach that enables us to gain more detailed insights and offer more effective interventions to support a more successful ageing process. As an example, social scientists at Lancaster are involved in leading EU funded research on telecare and new care technologies designed to support older people to age in place. Rather than focusing on development and design issues however, their focus is on: how older people themselves experience these technologies, what the barriers to the implementation of these technologies are (both politically, economically and personally); how these technologies are changing the nature of health and social care and those involved in its delivery; and what ethical issues the implementation of technologies in the home might raise.
This provides just one example of how scientists and social scientists can address a common issue from different but equally important perspectives.