New £50m 'Centre for Ageing Better' in the UK seeks input on its 10 year priorities

A new organization has been launched in the UK that is looking to spend a sizable amount of money on best-practice, evidence-based programs, and are seeking input on the topics they should be working on, and how they should be working. This is the first of a couple of posts on the topic. This one describes what the Centre is and what the key topics are, and asks for your input on the topics - what's most important, what's missing? The second post will make a few observations of my own.

The Centre for Ageing Better aims to "help many more people have a better later life by identifying evidence of what works and by encouraging change in line with this evidence". They are a charitable foundation "entirely independent from government and from business interests", were awarded a £50m  grant by the UK's lottery fund, and have an anticipated lifespan of ten years (a spend down organization).

The Centre released a consultation paper in March this year. The paper outlines the approach of the center and fleshes out 8 topics (below) identified as potential focus areas and requests input. The Centre seems to be a response in kind to the House of Lords report Ready for Ageing? that was published by the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change in 2013, and chaired by Lord Filkin, who leads the new center. Unlike the dusty prose of most government papers, this one reads proceeds with the energy and pace of a Tom Clancy novel. The very first paragraph sets the tone and pulls no punches:

"The UK population is ageing rapidly, but we have concluded that the Government and our society are woefully underprepared. Longer lives can be a great benefit, but there has been a collective failure to address the implications and without urgent action this great boon could turn into a series of miserable crises."

This candour is both refreshing and necessary, and reminds us why we have a second chamber of government. Our societies have a long way to go before they're ready for aging, and given most people find the topic of aging and demographic change incredibly dull, the alarm bells need to be rung. However, with a stick there also needs to be a carrot, and that's an area where I think there could be some more messaging in the Center's stimulus document. I'll expand more on in a future post, meanwhile, here's a list of the topics that the Center is considering focusing on. (Note the overlap with the topics of the Future Agenda identify here). Feel free to contact me at stephen at aging2 dot com with any feedback about what's missing or what to focus on, and I'll pass it on.

Health Living for All
Habits and behaviours formed earlier in people’s lives - from childhood to the middle years - have a major impact on their health in later life. Physical inactivity, poor nutrition, smoking and alcohol consumption bring about a significant diminution of the quantity and quality of later life. A key issue is what works to help people shift their behaviour to healthier lifestyles.

Extending Working Lives
Many people want to work for longer and retire later, and many will need to. Working longer helps people to age better, offering health, financial and psychosocial benefits. The Centre for Ageing Better and partners would seek to help more people stay in work longer, with a particular focus on those most at risk of early exit - women employees, carers and certain groups of manual workers.

Social Connectedness
Loneliness matters, especially in later life. But there is more to be done in understanding what works to prevent and reduce it and how to finance and support effective interventions. In considering options for work on this topic, the Centre will be particularly keen to align its efforts with the work of other bodies for example, The Big Lottery Fund’s £82m Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme.

Sustaining Independence in the Home
Most people wish to  stay in their own home for as long as possible;  a safe and comfortable home contributes significantly to well-being. Yet many homes are not suitable for people as they age. Current services for home adaptation and advice need to be better designed and delivered.

Ready for Ageing Locally: What works?
Our prospects for a better later life are significantly affected by where we live. Localities differ greatly in the diversity of their populations and their readiness for the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population. Local leaders and communities can have a great impact on our well-being, by planning effectively both for optimisation and prevention.

Ageism: Understanding Its Perception and Impact
Ageism exists today in society, in employment, and in the provision of goods and services; over a third of older people report that they experience age discrimination. Despite the widespread impact of ageism, there is only partial evidence and understanding of its perception, impact and causes, and how these are changing over time. This topic review is a brief preface to a detailed evidence review which the Centre might undertake, to better inform the debate about how to end ageism.

Inequality in Ageing Outcomes
The gaps in well-being between different groups of the population are growing wider as we age. Inequalities in health, psychosocial, financial and place increase for those of us who are most vulnerable in society. The causes of such inequalities are complex, inter-related, and challenging to eliminate.

This topic review is a brief preface to a much more in-depth piece of work – either an evidence summary or a systematic review – that the Centre will undertake. This more in-depth project will be a key foundation for our work on other topics; the Centre is minded to undertake this  project early in its life, as we need to understand what the evidence tells us about the diverse range of inequalities in later life and their causes to ensure we understand diversity and focus on those most in need.

The Contribution of Older People to a Better Later Life
Older people - serving as carers and volunteers, in other forms of community activity, and also in paid employment around the provision of social care - make an extensive contribution to meeting other older people’s needs. This contribution is not only effective for the recipients; it also offers a sense of purpose and connectedness to the providers that can, in turn, help them to age better. The Centre would seek to understand and promote this contribution, and also to understand what works in securing more of it.