Professor Rose Anne Kenny is the head of the Department of Medical Gerontology in Trinity College Dublin and is an expert on cardiovascular and mobility disorders in ageing. She is director of MISA – the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing and is the principal investigator of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing.
People are living longer. These changes take the same worldwide strategic importance as global warming. Never before in the history of humanity has the number of people over 65 out stripped the number under 5. We are living longer by 5 hours per day- a baby girl born today in Dublin will live 3 months longer than her sister born on the same day last year. The biggest increase in Ireland will be in the numbers of people over the age of 80 years- an increase of 60% over the next 20 years.
Japan has most dramatic age related changes- 1 in 4 people will be over 85 by 2030. The reasons for these dramatic changes are drops in fertility rates coupled with increasing life expectancy. Life expectancy is increasing year on year because of better health care, better awareness of health issues, better environments and less stress. So society will have to make dramatic changes to adapt to less youth and more older adults. In the early 1900s in Ireland there were 22 working people for every retired person- by 2025 there will be less than 3 working people for every retired person. We will have to take more responsibility for our own health and social welfare -the human resources will not be available to deliver health, social or other services as we currently understand them.
Technologies will play a critical role in facilitating such new models. In the urban environment, creating spaces which enable and encourage social engagement, social participation and social interaction are an important means by which design and technology can improve health care and quality of life. Many studies have now shown that good social networks are as important for health as smoking, diet, exercise and high cholesterol. Creating environments which enrich social networks will make Ireland a better place in which to grow old.
Our work in TILDA – the Irish Longitudinal study on Ageing continues to inform policy makers of factors which can achieve this goal. LAMP- The Local asset mapping study will further inform designers and policy makers of the environmental factors which enable healthy independent living. Trinity College has established a new Research Institute-Trinity EngAGE- to help tackle these issues – with 120 researchers working on 4 domains:
The Technologies Research for Independent Living program is embedded in the new Mercers Institute for Successful Ageing at St James Hospital and provides research collaboration networks for technology groups and designers in a clinical setting which deploy into community based platforms.