The report is destined for the desks of the new European Commissioners expected to take office later in 2019. It reviews the best evidence on what public policies might help EU countries to achieve inclusive, fair and sustainable health and social care in the future.
The authors, leading scientists nominated by academies across Europe, conclude that the ageing process needs to be transformed – and that the best way to improve life outcomes in old age is to anticipate and tackle them in youth and middle age.
Professor Jean-Pierre Michel, chair of the working group that wrote the report, said:
“In Europe and around the world, people are living longer than ever before. This is one of the greatest achievements of the past century, and it presents enormous opportunities both for us as individuals: new and fulfilling careers, new insights and perspectives, and an improved quality of life.
“But it also brings challenges for our societies and the European Union as a whole. We must adjust to what is projected to be an ageing and shrinking workforce, and find financially viable ways to deliver high-quality healthcare for all.
“On this, the evidence is clear. When it comes to predicting how people age, genetic factors are relatively minor compared to basic education, lifestyle and behaviours such as a healthy diet and physical activity. Policies to promote these from early childhood, and even in unborn children, contribute directly to a healthy ageing process across people’s whole lives.
“And education improvements at a young age are vital not only to improve individual health, but also to equip our future workforce with the skills it needs to support an ageing population in a rapidly changing society.”
Among the report’s other headline conclusions are:
- Ageing in the future will take place in a very different context from the past and will be profoundly affected by phenomena such as climate change, air pollution and antibiotic resistance, as well as ongoing social changes. Policies will only be successful if they are able to accommodate these changes.
- Age-friendly communities enable older people to feel secure and to go about their daily life comfortably. Architects, urban planners, experts in mobility and ergonomics, social care experts and geriatricians must cooperate to make age-friendly communities the norm.
- Technology, including wearable and assistive devices and the advent of AI, is already changing the experience of ageing, and could transform it if barriers of acceptance and practicality can be overcome.
The SAPEA report informs the forthcoming Scientific Opinion from the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, which will be delivered directly to European Commissioners to inform future policy-making.