Fre 27 maj / År 40 / Nr 1 2022

Researchers in Stockholm hope to improve health and care for elderly people in the near future

There seems to be a global need for dedicated research in aging to improve our understanding of how and why we age and how we can improve care for elderly persons. The Aging Research Center (ARC, a collaboration between Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University) combines research with the educational and information programs of the Swedish Dementia Centre and the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center at the House of Aging Research in Stockholm. This is an integrated environment comprised of three centers facing the challenges in understanding human aging and related health issues.

ARC shares premises with the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center and the Swedish Dementia Centre, together forming the House of Aging Research. The name itself illustrates the focus on the common goal of bringing research activities together with information and education for the public as well as for health care providers and policy makers. Some examples of the main topics addressed at the House of Aging Research are socio-demographic changes, inter- and intra-individual changes in aging, medical and treatment needs, health trends over time, identification of new syndromes and recognition of new target groups such as the old-old. Elderly people are far more active today than ever before, and to maintain a healthy and active life, they will benefit most from target-oriented care that can meet their actual needs.

Current need for more research in aging
“Traditionally, there has been far too little research dedicated to the understanding of human aging, although life expectancy has continued to increase up to age 82 in the last fifty years. We generally live longer today; this is true not only for single individuals but also for whole populations in most of the countries worldwide. This positive phenomenon also implies that more people will need care for age-related disorders as they get older”, says Professor Laura Fratiglioni, Director of ARC.

At ARC researchers from different scientific disciplines work together to achieve the common goal of understanding aging and improving future care: why do we age and why do we age so differently? Some people are healthy throughout their whole life, maintaining a very active lifestyle after retirement. Others suffer from multiple illnesses as early as their 70s, which usually lead to disability, early institutionalization and shorter life. ARC’s research purpose is also to provide knowledge concerning risk and protective factors for different health outcomes to prevent diseases and disabilities in elderly persons, and finally to improve care for older people.

The Swedish Dementia Centre and the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center provide important foundations for bringing research closer to clinical practice, facilitating implementation of new research findings, and promoting evidence-based care. The Swedish Dementia Centre is a national center focusing on dementia and improvement of treatment and care of people suffering from dementing disorders. Understanding dementia and all related symptoms is important as they affect not only the individuals, but also their close relatives and friends. The Stockholm Gerontology Research Center is primarily concerned with public health issues related to aging, high-quality elderly care, and policies to improve living conditions for elderly people.

“In Sweden, as in many other countries, we are facing an explosion in the number of seniors that will entail many new challenges, not least for municipalities and county councils. Meeting these challenges requires investments in research, development and education. An important part of the mission of the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center is to provide a link between academia and the practical sphere. Acquiring knowledge on the health, care and welfare needs of seniors and making this available is crucial, not only to enable our politicians to make well-founded decisions but also for personnel caring for seniors to be able to give them the best possible care”, says Chatrin Engbo, CEO, Stockholm Gerontology Research Center.

Graduate Research School on Health and Aging
Aging research is a young and growing scientific discipline. It is only over the past 20 years that substantial national and international resources have been dedicated to a better understanding of the various aspects of aging. This means that there is an urgent need to educate more independent researchers in the field. For that reason, a number of years ago ARC started the Graduate Research School on Health and Aging, which involves different scientific disciplines, from medicine to socio-gerontology. The school runs a study program that includes seminars, international forums, workshops, and intensive courses. The program is open to all PhD students in Sweden and abroad (if space is available) interested in aging research regardless of their discipline. The graduate school is a central and integrated part of the House of Aging Research.

“As the social and health care systems have not been able to adapt quickly enough to demographic changes, we are now experiencing an increasing gap, both quantitatively and qualitatively, between health care provided and the real needs of elderly people. An important consequence of this gap is anxiety in the present and uncertainty about the future for both elderly and younger persons. In order to bridge this gap, a number of relevant steps are needed, including more research and education, greater dissemination of evidence-based medicine and care, and closer communication between the different worlds – scientific, clinical and policy making – that are equally important to successfully develop better health and life conditions for elderly populations”, Laura Fratiglioni concludes.