Indepth interview with Astrid Stuckelberger, Co-founder and President of the Geneva International Network on Ageing (GINA), Privat-Docent, PhD, MSc Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva (Switzerland) and one of AgeingFit’s Steering Committee members.

In your opinion, as a healthy ageing expert, how do you see the sector’s evolution over the next ten years?

I foresee a significant evolution in the healthy ageing sector and a change in the perception of ageing, currently centered on age-related pathologies, towards a vision centered on health, well-being and ageing well at any stage of life.

Furthermore, I think we can observe differences between generations and we shouldn’t generalise. Research shows that generations are not the same. Each of them has specific characteristics: The “baby boomers” for example, are very marked by the post-war years, the 1968 revolution, freedom of speech and choice and new technologies. Market studies show that “baby boomers” are more active and keener on innovation and technology than their parents and grandparents. The latter, part of the older generation (over 70 years old), have more difficulty in using, understanding and making the most of new technologies.

Consequently, the major change in the next ten years will go beyond our simple wish to remain healthy. The desire to remain autonomous and efficient throughout our life will become a market priority. We can expect a dramatic increase in customized, self-managed or ‘connected’ solutions which will allow seniors to continue to live at home. Market influence will drive the implementation of all these developments in line with the consumers’ demand to not only maintain their physical, mental and social well –being, but also to improve it.

We will witness an evolution towards a new idea of ageing, where seniors wish to stay ‘fit’, in other words, stay healthy, strong and active throughout their life.

Currently, the major challenges are the political and legal delays in passing the necessary legislation, the lack of financing and the adaptation of other sectors to this new market. There is a continued perception that ageing is synonymous with misery and inevitable decline, although today, science is helping to refute this idea.

 

How should the healthcare system for seniors be restructured on a European scale? Do we have to rethink our concept of home care?

This concept needs to be reworked to achieve a balanced cost/benefit ratio that takes into account Europe’s vital need for social and economic coherence.

I see two important aspects: Prevention and technical assistance.

It is essential to focus on prevention and act before disease develops. Today, tools to prevent and pre-diagnose exist but they are neither used nor financed in the current healthcare system. Diabetes is an obvious example: On average, this condition develops ten years before diagnosis. However, it can be avoided or limited at a low cost, provided it is detected in time. The new health care system will have to propose this type of prevention in order to avoid predictable diseases from developing.

Secondly, opportunities for technological assistance in the case of reduced physical and /or mental capacity have to be studied. This assistance would maintain seniors’ independence, resulting in lower health care costs.

 

What are the financial and organisational resources necessary to support these changes? How can we develop the healthy ageing market?

I think the private sector will enable this development. For example, in the nutrition or home monitoring sectors, manufactured products result from strong consumer demand. Researchers are only realising now that they need to catch up, which explains the creation of programmes such as the AAL and H2020 to finance technological advances for seniors.

However, for this market to emerge and flourish, there must be a real change in policy, away from being focused on illness to being focused on health. 2012 was declared “European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations”, which shows strong political support despite the fact that for the moment, there has been no concrete action. We have to show more willingness to build a consistent and structured market.

This is a real change of mindset from seeing ageing as morbid to seeing ageing as “Fit” and this concept has to be integrated into policy but also taken into consideration by healthcare professionals, industrials and financing bodies.

 

The AgeingFIT business convention provides a unique exchange framework to facilitate collaborations and foster innovation between researchers, investors, buyers and users in the sector. What do you expect from this event?

AgeingFIT is a great idea in order to foster innovation. The event encourages key actors to come together in one place for two days, to share their knowledge and know-how and mutually benefit from these exchanges. This is a real opportunity for co-creation, which will result in new collaborations and solutions. Over time, this annual event will also become an indicator of the huge potential of the healthy ageing market.

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