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An Illustrative project
5% of Europeans aged over 65 suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Death generally occurs 7 years after the onset of the illness. Although there is no known treatment able to halt this process of neuro-degeneration, we have greatly increased our knowledge of how it progresses, and in particular the role of certain proteins and genes. A European project launched in 1998 is designed to create animal models and cell cultures which reproduce the culprits. As a result, researchers will be able to analyse in detail the molecular and cellular mechanisms of the disease and industry will have the tests it needs to assess treatment strategies and develop new treatments.
Implications for society
In just a few decades, scientific progress has brought about a significant increase in life expectancy in the industrialised countries. But has the quality of life of the elderly improved along with it? As people live longer, medicine is facing a general increase in age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease and certain kinds of cancer.
Implications for the economy
The number of retired people in Europe is expected to almost double by the year 2025, while the under-20s age group is set to decrease by 11%. Meanwhile, the median age (the age which divides the population into two numerically equal groups) will increase from 36 to 45. A declining workforce will thus be required to bear the medical costs of an increasingly numerous elderly population. How is society as a whole going to cope with this radical change to the age pyramid?
Implications for Europe
It is imperative for Europe as a whole to enable elderly people to remain independent for as long as possible, through appropriate preventive and curative care, services, and home help. As in all fields of health, the European dimension of research makes it possible to take a broader epidemiological view, and to undertake a deeper analysis of phenomena, particularly those related to lifestyles and diet. This approach cuts across various research areas, such as chronic inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and the genetic predisposition to age-related changes. It also has ethical implications for work on palliative care, notably decision-making in certain health situations.
Targeted fields of research
- Age-related illnesses and health problems with high morbidity - Illnesses where there is a prospect of treatment - Major age-related illnesses (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, etc.) - Physiology and pathophysiology of ageing and disability, etc.
- Biological, psychological, social and economic determinants of healthy ageing and the mechanisms leading to disability - Cellular and molecular bases of ageing, genetic predisposition, basic biological and psychological mechanisms underlying age-related changes, psychological implications of ageing, etc.
- Demographic and epidemiological research on trends in the fields of ageing and disability - Clinical trials, analysis and quantification of demographic, medical, sociological, lifestyle factors.
- New approaches to delaying the onset of disability, reducing the difficulties experienced by older people in their social and physical environment - Including the design and development of products and services adapted to their needs (housing, transport and leisure) and supporting their mental and physical functioning.
- Effective and efficient delivery of health and social care services to older people, including comparative research on the financing of long-term care and pensions.