FUTURAGE was a two-year project to create the definitive road map for ageing research in Europe. The Road Map for European Ageing Research was launched on 18 November 2011 at a large (300 + person) conference at the European Parliament. It is the product of the most extensive consultation ever undertaken in this field, involving all of the major stakeholder groups and end users of ageing research, and spanning a 2 year period.
The FUTURAGE project focused on the necessity for a new vision of ageing and innovative ways to develop the science of ageing. A new vision of ageing is required because the present dominant paradigm is now a relic of a previous socio-demographic era in which retirement took place for a majority at state pension ages and post-retirement years were relatively short. Changes in the labour market and social behaviour coupled with a remarkable extension in longevity, associated in some countries with a pushing further up the age range (or ‘compression’) of morbidity, have transformed the experience of later life.
The FUTURAGE project set out to map the major research priorities for European ageing research over the next 10 or so years. The Road Map creation process began from the perspective that health and well-being in later life will be best understood and, therefore, extended (via policy, practice and product development) if research is carried out in four interconnected fields: biogerontology; social and economic resources; environments of ageing, and; healthy ageing and well being. A fifth theme of end-user involvement was also embedded in the Road Map process.
A specially designed iterative process ensured that the specific research priorities were not identified by scientists alone and were subjected to a high degree of reflection and cross-examination from a wide range of stakeholder perspectives, including policy makers, practitioners, business people, older people and their NGOs as well as scientists. This process led to an extraordinary broad and deep consensus on the major future priorities. A total of nine distinct stages of consultation were undertaken which involved the participation of 1000 people and organisations, the latter representing thousands of people.
The final Road Map contains the research agenda that will enable Europe to respond successfully to the unprecedented demographic challenges it faces. Its twin starting points are the high priority allocated to population ageing, by Member States and the European Union as a whole, and the fundamental importance of scientific research as the driver of innovations in public policy, in a wide range of clinical and other professional practices, and in the development of products and services.
In addition it advances the case for a new comprehensive approach to ‘active ageing’ which includes all activities, physical or mental, and all age groups. The seven major priority research themes of the Road Map are linked to the active ageing core theme on the assumption that this should be a central aim of ageing research (as shown in the diagram below). These major priority themes are: Healthy Ageing for More Life in Years; Maintaining and Regaining Mental Capacity; Inclusion and Participation in the Community and in the Labour Market; Guaranteeing the Quality and Sustainability of Social Protection Systems; Ageing Well at Home and in Community Environments; Unequal Ageing and Age-Related Inequalities; Biogerontology: from Mechanisms to Interventions. The Road map also identified eight basic assumptions that should figure significantly in all priority topics and four critical implementation issues.
Thus the FUTURAGE project has created a Road Map that sets out the major research priorities for European ageing research over the next 10 or so years. It also calls for new approaches to ageing research which are more multi-disciplinary, life course focussed, user engaged and have a big emphasis on knowledge exchange. Furthermore it calls for a new vision of ageing which promotes its positive possibilities rather than deficits, inclusion and full citizenship rather than exclusion. Therefore the Road Map challenges all stakeholders in ageing research – policy makers and research funders; NGOs, practitioners, business people; scientists; and older people – to work in unison to ensure that research maximises its impact on the well-being of all Europeans as they age.
The FUTURAGE Road Map has a wide range of applications for regional, national and European research funders and policy makers, as well as for researchers themselves, in planning and prioritising activity to maximise the effects of ageing research there are already some positive signs of its influence at both European and national levels.
The FUTURAGE Road Map development template has been replicated by the ROAMER project in a successful Framework Programme 7 application to prepare a similar one for mental health research (A Roadmap for Mental Health in European Research). The FUTURAGE project also assisted the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) ‘More Years Better Lives’ by sharing early drafts of the Road Map to support its priority setting exercise. It is clear that several applications to recent FP7 calls (Health and Social Sciences and Humanities) have made extensive references to the Road Map.
The Road map has also been used at national levels as a reference point for the development of research priorities or the evaluation of existing ones; the Canadian Insitute on Aging is using it to refresh its research agenda. In February 2012 the UK’s National Institute for Health Research Comprehensive Clinical Research Network Age & Ageing specialty group has adopted FUTURAGE priorities on healthy ageing into its statement of scope. The Road Map has been translated into Bulgarian and is also being translated into Russian.
The final road map can be downloaded here.