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Focus on adding life to years, rather than years to our lives


‘We must see the opportunity to rethink later life by focusing on how we can improve quality of life to match the longer length of our lives’ - George MacGinnis

With an ageing population across the developed world, countries are waking up to the need to provide solutions that keep their citizens living healthier lives as they get older. This is underpinned in the World Health Organization’s strategy in healthy ageing, and in the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, which identified ageing society as one of four global trends that will transform our future. It sets out “Grand Challenges” to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity. Leaders from government, academia and industry are travelling to BIO 2019 in Philadelphia to join the panel of speakers at the Northern Health Science Alliance’s (NHSA) UK BIO International Networking Breakfast on 3 June at The Franklin Institute. Hosted by the NHSA, an alliance of universities, teaching hospitals and health partnerships from across the North of England, the UK Networking Breakfast “Changing The Narrative On Global Ageing: From Crisis To Opportunity” offers speakers and delegates the chance to discuss the challenges and opportunities for international innovation arising from an ageing society. Ahead of his speaker slot at the breakfast event, George MacGinnis, Healthy Ageing Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation, has spoken of the importance of collaboration and the need to change the mindset towards ageing so the focus is on adding life to years, rather than years to our lives. “Ageing populations are too often viewed through the lens of rising demand on health, care and welfare services,” says George.

“Instead, we must see the opportunity to rethink later life by focusing on how we can improve quality of life to match the longer length of our lives. This is not just about care, but that is certainly a factor. Unless we take action, increasingly the prospect for later life would be living in poverty, isolation, poor health and cognitive decline,” George continues. “There is a need to challenge some deep-seated prejudices and for our increasingly older population to be seen as an opportunity and a valuable resource. This means thinking about work in later life, encouraging people to be active, designing homes, transport and communities to enable people to be more active, as well as addressing the so-called common complaints of ageing. “Within that there are areas where we can make early impact. I think three in particular stand out. These are services to enable people to be more active, age-friendly homes including opportunities to use smart technology, and preventative health.” George leads the £98 million (around $125m) research and innovation programme supporting the UK Government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge. This is to ensure that people can enjoy at least five additional healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest. He adds: “The Healthy Ageing Challenge aims to enable 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. “We will shortly be launching competitions, which we expect to include a range of opportunities mainly focused on disruptive innovations that will take services and products to scale. “We are seeing opportunities for innovation everywhere – new financial products, age-friendly employment policies, which also means recognizing that older people in the workforce often have caring responsibilities every bit as demanding as having a young family, healthy new towns and all the work going into rethinking health and care. “One of the big opportunities is to really understand what older people want. Too often the focus is on assumed need. That is why part of our investment will go into further research into understanding behaviour.” A recent EU report by Technopolis on the EU “silver economy” found there were 199 million individuals aged 50 and over in 2015 in the EU(39% of the total population) and in total, these individuals consumed €3.7 trillion of goods and services in that year. In 2015, the silver economy sustained more than €4.2 trillion in GDP and in excess of 78 million jobs. If ranked among sovereign nations, the silver economy would be the third largest economy in the world, behind only the US and China. George summarizes: “This is a global challenge. Some countries, such as Japan and China, are already faced with the challenges. There is much to learn from elsewhere, as well as real opportunities for the UK.” The National Innovation Centre for Ageing is a world-leading organization – created in response to the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy – with a £40m investment from government and Newcastle University. It brings together worldleading scientists, business and industry, health and care providers. Professor David Burn, Chair of the NHSA and Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Movement Disorders Neurology, Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University, said: “The National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) in Newcastle positions the North of England and the UK at the heart of future innovations within the healthy ageing arena, enabling much-needed research, development and spread of products and services that will help to improve quality of life in later years and reduce health inequality. “Our vision with NICA is to create a world in which we all live better for longer. This is a vision that is shared by many organizations in the UK and around the world. With the UK networking breakfast, we have an opportunity to explore how others are working to achieve the same goal, to share what works and what doesn’t work and collectively drive forward debate and action around the very important subject of healthy ageing.”

The North of England has a strong health science ecosystem, boasting research-rich institutions, world-leading facilities and expert researchers and clinicians. The NHSA is deeply embedded within the region’s health landscape and works closely with its members to showcase the North’s strengths at a national and international level. Nicola Wilson, Interim Chief Executive Officer at the NHSA, comments: “The North of England is leading the way in many areas of healthy ageing – whether it’s through the National Innovation Centre for Ageing or the Active and Healthy Ageing North programme, however, there is still more work to be done. Our UK networking breakfast will offer a deep dive into the challenges but, more importantly, the opportunities that ageing presents in the UK and all over the world.” The NHSA has played a crucial role in the creation and delivery of the Active and Healthy Ageing North (AHA North) programme, a framework for formal collaboration spearheaded by four NHSA supported organizations – The Innovation Agency, Health Innovation Manchester, Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, and The North-East Ageing Coalition. The collaboration brings together a consortium of expertise spanning a stable population of 16 million, providing a platform of engagement and maximizing on the sharing of best practice, helping to bring the best innovations and ideas faster to where they are needed most. The North of England’s strengths in healthy ageing will take centre stage at the NHSA’s UK networking event in Philadelphia, with speakers including NHSA Chair Professor David Burn, Professor Chris Todd, from Manchester University, and Lee Omar, from Red Ninja Studios. Lee, CEO at the design-led technology company based in Liverpool, will share an industry insight at the event with a focus on digital health applications. He comments: “Participating in conferences like BIO 2019 are crucial as we meet with partners, who we collaborate with to tackle the global challenges of our time, such as the ageing population. “We are all living longer, which gives us an opportunity to leverage technology and innovation to enable us to live our best possible lives.

“We work in partnership with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), which is the largest single-payer healthcare system in the world, to develop digital solutions that keep us out of hospital and living longer happier lives in our communities. Working with the NHSA allows us to connect with world-class researchers and clinicians to develop futureproofed digital health products.” The use of technology to empower ageing will be a key area of discussion during Dr Jennifer Boger’s presentation at the UK networking breakfast. Dr Boger will be sharing insight from the work she does in Canada as Director at the Intelligent Technology for Wellness and Independent Living lab, Schlegel Chair in Technology for Independent Living at the Research Institute for Ageing, and also Assistant Professor in Systems Design Engineering at University of Waterloo. “Ageing is an experience that’s shared by all of us,” she explains. “There’s tremendous potential to support ageing in innovative, holistic, and personalized ways and this potential is growing every day. However, leveraging this potential requires collaboration from across disciplines, sectors, and geographies. Doing so will spark new and accessible ways to age more gracefully and with choices.” The UK BIO International Networking Breakfast “Changing The Narrative On Global Ageing: From Crisis To Opportunity” takes place on 3 June, 8am – 11am, at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

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