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Harnessing the full potential of an ageing population

Europe’s population is rapidly ageing. To help societies and economies adapt to this demographic reality, the EU-funded MOPACT project has explored new and innovative policies that will turn Europe’s longevity revolution into a major asset for the continent’s future social and economic development.

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The number of Europeans over 65 will double in the next 50 years, and the number of individuals over 80 will almost triple. Life expectancy will continue to increase, yet unhealthy life years make up around 20% of a person's life. Within this context and considering Horizon 2020’s ambitious goals on the demographic challenge, MOPACT’s core mission has been to produce evidence in the form of both groundbreaking scientific research and policy analyses to allow policymakers to truly understand the complexity of the substantial demographic changes taking place in Europe and, therefore, be in a strong position to frame innovative responses. In particular, MOPACT has examined both biological and social/economic aspects of how to promote active and healthy ageing. ‘Breakthrough biological work on the facilitators of healthy ageing, such as calorific restriction, have the potential to both improve the quality of later life and reduce the public expenditure costs of ageing,’ explains MOPACT project coordinator Alan Walker. ‘In economic terms, for example, the demonstration that pension costs can be contained if pension ages are linked to increases in longevity, with protection for the disabled, is of critical importance and has the power to defeat the “burden of ageing” fears in one stroke.’ Challenges and opportunities These challenges remain formidable and will require dedicated and concerted efforts to address. One of MOPACT’s key findings is that increases in life expectancy in the EU are not being accompanied by increases in healthy life expectancy. The research team found that the three countries with the largest number of unhealthy life years are Slovakia, Portugal and Germany. ‘This means that Europe must re-double its efforts to promote active and healthy ageing,’ comments Walker. With regard to long-term care (LTC), MOPACT has uncovered that there are great variations across the EU, with the Nordic Member States coming top of the class and with Central and Eastern European (CEEC) countries lagging behind. In particular, there is an urgent need for innovation in 4 key areas: expansion of services, coordination and integration, implementation of community care, and professional training. However, there are many positives, as Walker elaborates that MOPACT research shows that only 20-25 % of healthy life expectancy is genetically predetermined and that it is lifestyle choices and environment that make the crucial difference. ‘By encouraging ageing individuals to make lifestyle changes, such as exercising more and adjusting their diets, age-associated accumulation of molecular and cellular damage can be prevented or greatly delayed,’ says Walker. Encouraging longer workforce and political participation MOPACT research also focused on innovative ways to allow longer working lives as life expectancy increases. Again, there is a clear fault between pioneering countries at the forefront of these efforts and those lagging behind, again primarily the CEEC countries. Whilst the project team have studied many different social innovations Walker points to the Finnish model of ‘workability’ that has been very successful in both alerting employers to workforce ageing but also giving them the tools to adjust their workplaces and practices to enable people to work longer. In terms of political participation, Walker also pointed out the participation of older people in Senior Citizens’ Councils in Denmark rated as a good practice for involvement in decision-making. He also drew attention to the Senior Citizens’ Participating Budget in Portugal as being a leading example of co-decision making in public bodies. Moving forward from MOPACT The project officially ended in February 2017 but the project team will continue to disseminate its research results. Specifically, MOPACT’s legacy will be its vast body of research collected and its stakeholder engagement model. A major book is also in the pipeline and due to be released later in 2017. ‘The rest though is up to the policymakers to take the next steps, and they need to do so urgently’ concludes Walker.


MOPACT, healthy ageing, healthy life expectancy, long-term care, LTC, demographic changes

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