STATE OF THE ART

Europe faces the immense challenge of unprecedented increase in life expectancy, which will continue into the 21st century. Although this state of affairs is the essentially positive outcome from multiple improvements in health care and socioeconomic circumstances, it nevertheless presents great strains for all member and associated states of the European Union in terms of increasing prevalence of age-related health problems and the growing financial implications for pensions, etc.

It is widely recognized that in order to meet this challenge there needs to be multidisciplinary coordination of research and development effort. However, to date there has been little effective linkage between other areas of activity (social, medical, economic, engineering) and scientific ageing research, which aims to understand the nature of the ageing process itself – what causes ageing, what can modify it, what underlies the continuing increases in life expectancy and declines in mortality of the oldest-old across Europe, and how biological ageing interacts with other factors that influence the lives of older people. This lack of interaction has resulted in failure so far to exploit important linkages and to make the most of the enormous opportunities which exist to harness the growing understanding of the biological nature of the ageing process to help improve the health (understood in the WHO sense of complete mental, physical, and social well-being) and quality of life of Europe’s older people.

The reasons for the present situation are easily understood. First, scientific ageing research is relatively new and is itself still fragmented. Second, recent advances in scientific ageing research have overturned many of the traditional conceptions about ageing, but awareness of this has yet to influence other spheres of activity. Third, there has not yet happened any suitable action to bring together the various groups that need to engage with the difficult but essential task of building the necessary bridges between scientific ageing research and other domains.