Memorandum submitted by The Royal Society
1. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)
is pleased to respond to the Select Committee's Inquiry into EQUAL
(Extend Quality Life). The RSE is Scotland's premier learned society,
comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction,
from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry,
commerce and the professions.
2. The Society believes that EQUAL is an
important initiative and should be supported. The World Bank estimates
that, in the year 2000, 20 per cent of the population in countries
with market economies will be over 60 years of age. It has also
been estimated that this year, 10 per cent of the population of
the USA and Europe will be over 80, and, of these, 25 per cent
are likely to suffer from some level of dementia. Similar demographic
statistics apply to the rest of the developed world, with some
countries predicting even greater increases in the proportion
of the population over 80 and higher incidences of dementia. A
further change, that is occurring in many countries, is the increased
demand for older and more disabled people to continue to live
in their own homes, rather than within institutions. However,
without technological support, society is unlikely to be able
to afford appropriate quality of life for elderly people or their
carers in the future.
3. The Royal Society of Edinburgh is undertaking
a range of activities in this area and was recently awarded £500,000
by the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland to support research
and scholarly activities over the next three years aimed at improving
the quality of life of Scotland's ageing population. In addition
the Society held a Foresight seminar of "The Ageing Population"
in December 1999, addressing the opportunities and challenges
for all sectors associated with the projected increase in the
average life expectancy of UK citizens over the next 25 to 30
years. It concluded that work in this area was important and increasing,
and that there were exciting long-term opportunities for UK Industry.
4. The specific areas of consideration are
5. The Society believes that the EQUAL initiative
has been cost effective, and that it is important that initiatives
of this nature are continued and extended into new areas.
6. Given the large and increasing percentage
of the poulation which could be assisted by research into ageing,
there is scope for extending this initiative, and intitiatives
of this nature. At present levels of research effort, the challenges
of an ageing population are unlikely to be fully met, nor will
the UK industry be in a position to respond to the market opportunities
provided by the needs and wants of older people. In particular,
there is scope for more research into adapting communications
and information technologies for older people in order to reduce
social isolation; providing appropriate levels of monitoring and
supervision without violating privacy; and keeping elderly people
intellectually, physically and economically active, and independent
for much longer
7. The Equal initiative has produced some
very interesting research findings; however, the scope of the
initiative needs to be widened, and funding increased to encourage
the broader research community to undertake research in this area.
At present, this area of research does not have a sufficiently
high profile to attract a large enough number of high quality
researchers. As this field is a comparatively young one, attempts
should be made for the research to cover a wide portfolio of interests,
rather than focusing too narrowly on any specific priorities.
8. The current government policies, if implemented,
go a long way to creating the context for improving quality of
life for an increasingly ageing population. However, they need
to be supported by evidence and, where this is lacking, by a long
term research and development programme, which requires continuity
and foresight. The latter is obviously on board, and it is hoped
that the various components do indeed work together.
9. Research within the EQUAL remit is inter-and
multi-disciplinary in nature and it is still a young science.
The criteria for excellence for assessing research proposals of
this nature, therefore, can be very different from that for the
more traditional sciences. For this reason, it is important that
the Research Councils in general are aware of these differences
when research proposals relevant to this general field are assessed.
10. The reduction of disability and poverty
would make a major contribution to extending the quality of life.
Disability, however, is not simply a physical product of illness
or accident; it is compounded, and its reduction hindered, by
the interaction of all the topics under each of the disparate
research programmes. Therefore, if specific research priorities
are to succeed, there needs to be a comprehensive understanding
of how they can be tackled in a multifactorial and interdisciplinary
11. Copies of this response are available
from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands and details of the research
support available from the Royal Society of Edinburgh on improving
the quality of life of Scotland's ageing population can be obtained
from the Research Fellowships Secretary.