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Ageing: an FGCSIC strategic line


Fundación General CSIC Analysis Unit


Fundación General CSIC Analysis Unit


Fundación General CSIC Analysis Unit

Population ageing

By 2050 as much as 30% of Spain’s population will be aged over 65, with the number of over-80s set to exceed four million

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In a number of countries the combination of increasing life spans and low birth rates is accelerating the rate at which the share of older people in the population is rising. As a result, the population as a whole is getting older. These longevity gains are due to improvements HIGHLIGHTSFundación General CSIC Analysis Unit
in quality of life, and in particular, to the advances medical science has made in recent decades. Individuals are reaching ages that were once unimaginable, and the number of octogenarians has risen substantially.

In Spain the ageing process resulting from ever longer life spans has been particularly rapid, to the extent that the number of people aged over 65 has doubled in the space of less than 30 years. This process has been accentuated by the country’s low birth rate over the past few decades.

The birth rate in Spain began to fall in the mid-1970s. Thus, whereas in 1975 the average number of children per woman of childbearing age was 3, today it is barely 1.2.

The current data for Spain show the share of the population aged 65+ to currently stand at 17%, equal to over 7 million people (Instituto Nacional de Estadística-INE, 2008), of whom approximately 25% are aged over eighty. Furthermore, the projections by the Spanish National Statistics Office (INE) suggest the over-65s will make up more than 30% of the population by 2050 (almost 13 million people) and the number of over-eighties will exceed 4 million, thus representing more than 30% of the total adult population.

International foresight studies have produced even more pessimistic estimates and the United Nations projects that Spain will be the world’s oldest country in 2050, with 40% of its population aged over 60. (Population Ageing and Development 2009: www.

To put these figures in the context of ageing in the European Union, Eurostat’s 2004 projections for the 25 EU Member States are shown (Figure 1). The chart divides the population up into age groups over a period of 100 years from 1950 through to 2050, and highlights the marked increase in the share of the population in the older age ranges, from 65 to 79 years, and the over-80s. Thus, this group has gone from representing 10% of the population in 1950 to a forecast of almost 33% in 2050 (Features and Challenges of Population Ageing: The European Perspective by Asghar Zaidi: http://www.euro.

Comparing Spain’s data with that for the EU as a whole (Figure 2) clearly shows how much more accentuated the phenomenon of population ageing is here. Based on these estimates, the percentage of older people in the Spanish population will grow faster than the “In Spain, the number of people aged over 65 has doubled in less than 30 years”European average. The graph shows how the rate at which the 65+ age group has grown as a share of the population accelerated in the 1980s and has continued to grow faster than in most other European countries. Thus, as well as a general phenomenon of ageing affecting Europe as a whole, in some countries, notably Spain, this process is more marked. The need to deal with the challenges posed by population ageing is therefore more pressing in some societies than others. An additional factor to consider is that, as the graph in Figure 2 shows, the population in the 15-64 age range is shrinking. This makes it likely that there will be a smaller percentage of persons of working age in the population in the future.

This population decline is one of the biggest challenges we will have to deal with in the medium-to-long-term future, and poses a serious challenge to Europe’s economies’, ability to remain competitive and continue developing in the context of global population growth. This mounting concern about the ageing process, and its particularly marked impact on Spain, has motivated the FGCSIC to include the topic as one of its strategic lines.

Its Analysis Unit is therefore preparing a report exploring the issue from a dual perspective linking elderly people’s perceived needs with the various lines of research being undertaken by the Spanish scientific community.

FGCSIC Strategic Line: Ageing, Disability and Illness
With its Ageing, Disability and Illness line, the Fundación General CSIC aims to promote research efforts in various disciplines that address these problems. This means addressing biomechanical, social and psychological issues, as well as the biomedical dimension.

One of the aims of the Fundación General CSIC’s study is to detect the areas of interest at national level that are aligned with European-level initiatives. A review of a range of information sources has been conducted and national, European and international level data have been scanned.

The critical points indicated by the main organisations have been taken into account and attention also paid to the Spanish situation, considering the fact that, as in many other developed countries, Spain’s economy is primarily servicebased. The impact of rapid progress in Information and Communication Technology in recent years has also been factored in to the evaluation.

The study aims to give a general overview of the phenomenon of ageing. To do so it will set out the needs and expectations of the elderly and describe the European and national policies in place to enhance the lives of this population group. It will also summarise scientific activities in the field and take a closer look at research trends and emerging challenges.

As well as the cause and effect of ageing on each individual, it is also necessary to take into account its effect on society in general and the individual’s immediate surroundings also need to be considered. These are issues that are bound up with older people’s dependence “Ageing is a multifactorial and multifaceted issue”on their carers and relatives. There are three situations in which older people need support from those around them (Leichsenring and Billings, 2005: people living alone in their own homes; those who have been hospitalised in need of long-term care as they are suffering from geriatric and/or geronto-pscyhiatric conditions; and those suffering from chronic degenerative disorders and who are at risk of losing their functional independence.

It needs to be emphasised that improving the outlook for these older people’s relatives and carers is currently the most critical aspect of social protection and health-care measures (Trends and Priorities of Ageing Policies in the UN-European Region by Bernd Marin and Asghar Zaidi: http:// www.euro.centre. org/detail.php?xml_id=1025). Consequently, four overarching objectives have been set at European and global levels: Managing the provision of appropriate care by developing an ongoing-care system; improving support to family carers; providing palliative care to ensure a more dignified end to life; enhancing the integration of the elderly in society by encouraging positive ageing, and creating age-friendly spaces.

Ageing is therefore a multifactorial issue in that multiple factors determine and shape the ageing process. It is also multifaceted, as ageing has impacts in a wide range of areas (biomedical, social, psychological, economic, etc.).

Activity in Spain
Information for the study has been gleaned from a large number of academic publications, books, reports, conferences, etc. reporting the results of Spanish work on ageing. No time limits have been set, although the study has focused primarily on more recent work. R&D on ageing in Spain looks at practically all the factors and areas involved, although with varying degrees of coverage (data drawn from ISI Web of Knowledge: science_products/a-z/ isi_web_of_knowledge). It is worth noting, however, that to date there have been few attempts at transdisciplinary approaches.

That is to say, the majority of research focuses on specific aspects of ageing, rather than take a holistic view of the problem. Bearing these points in mind, we have reviewed those social policies that, at national and regional level, dedicate specific plans or strategies to ageing. This has made it possible to identify areas of interesting experience that have been compiled in a series of case studies so they can be used as models by scientists or scientific policy managers seeking to address the phenomenon in a more holistic way. The focus in Spain is on improving various dimensions of care for the elderly: the model of care for the dependent elderly; techniques to improve care delivery; and, new features of how care is organised. In Spain, the institutions pursuing ageing research most actively are the University of Barcelona, the Madrid Complutense University, the Madrid Autonomous University, the Spanish National Research Council (CISC) and the University of Valencia.

The Fundación General CSIC’s report will include an analysis of these and other bodies that play an important role in ageing research, drawing upon an in-house database with a compilation of information on centre profiles, research activity types, sources of funding, etc. As a preview of the report’s main findings, the bulk of publications are in the fields of gerontology and geriatrics, disciplines which have grown substantially over the last 30 years. There is a growing awareness in Spain of the importance of applying Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) and the major contribution they can make to improving quality of life during ageing. One example is the initiative by
the Spanish Patents and Trademarks Office (OEPM), which has focused on these fields and is offering technology watch bulletins on e-Dependence.

In terms of the application of ICTs to resolving ageingrelated problems, one of the most active institutions in the field is the Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC). CSIC researchers have developed SIG-Mayores (http://www., a tool to facilitate online searches for information and resources for the elderly in Spain.

Another initiative in this field is the Plataforma Tecnológica Española de Tecnologías para la Salud, el Bienestar y la Cohesión Social (Spanish Healthcare, Well-being and Social Cohesion Technology Platform, eVIA: http://www. which was created as a network for science/technology cooperation and brings together a variety of different entities, primarily ICT firms, research organisations (technology centres, universities and PROs), government agencies, and users interested in technologies for health-care and well-being. The platform, which has a clear focus on innovation, is an initiative of the Asociación Empresas de Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicaciones de España (Spanish Information and Communications Technologies Businesses Association, AETIC) and has set up various working parties and ICT projects in the field of ageing, primarily in relation to home-based health care for the elderly and applications devoted to smart patient-care applications, particularly for chronic patients, the disabled and the extremely old.

Worldwide activity
Considerable efforts have been made at European and global level to foster ageingrelated research. The reasons are clear: the lifespan of the world’s population has been extended, but we do not yet have the means to mitigate the impacts of ageing, as only in recent years has it come to be recognised as an issue.

In 2007 the United Nations Programme on Ageing and the International Gerontology and Geriatrics Association established what they called the “Research Agenda on Ageing for the 21st Century,” ( researchagenda.html).
This Agenda set out a series of research priorities for ageing, some of which have been incorporated in the European Union’s research lines in this field. The search for scientific and technical information on ageing at international level without temporal or geographical constraints would be too open-ended a task to be practical. Time limits have therefore been put on the search for publications and patents, with results dating from the present back to 2008 being included in the analysis.

This information has been divided into more than 100 thematic areas grouped under the headings of Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Arts and Humanities. In each case we aim to observe what is being researched at global level, and at the same time, to check if any of these research fields are being pursued in Spain.

At European level, it is also worth mentioning two projects in particular that are fostering ageing research in which Member States are taking an open-coordination approach to sharing best practice on policies in areas
they retain full competence, such as social policies, and in particular, research into the ageing process. One of these is ERA-AGE (http://, a collaboration network which aims to unite research efforts on ageing by launching joint calls for project proposals so as to avoid duplication of efforts by Member States.

ERA-AGE is funded by the European Commission through the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) and includes national funding agencies (such as the Ministry of Science and Innovation, in the case of Spain). The other is FUTURAGE (http:// futurage., “Information and communications technologies can enhance quality of life during ageing””which is a two-year project with more of an operational focus than the first, and unites research organisations and other centres specialising in the field (IMSERSO, in the case of Spain).

It emerged as an ERA-AGE initiative aiming to draw up a road map for ageing research through a series of workshops, focus groups and expert panels, so as to detect the most interesting areas for development on ageing research in a coordinated way. The five institutions most active in ageing research on the international level, in order of volumes of output are: Harvard University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Michigan, the (U.S. National Institutes of Health) and the University of California (San Francisco).

Critical points / pending issues
Social, economic, environmental and political changes, etc. affect older people directly or indirectly. It would therefore be worth identifying the issues arising from new scenarios as they are developed. With this in mind, the following fields have been mapped out:

  • Feminisation of ageing. This feminisation is not only the result of the greater number of elderly women, but also of the fact that they are often responsible for caring for older people in the family.
  • Distribution of primary care centres. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised the role played by primary health care centres to be a critical factor in older people’s health and that these centres need to be accessible and adapted to their needs.
  • Application of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to meet social needs and improve the quality of life of socially disadvantaged groups and individuals.
  • New residential strategies and systems adapted to older people to help prevent their losing contact with their family environment.
  • Promoting new systems of remuneration that buttress the economic security of the elderly population after retirement.

Fundación General CSIC Analysis Unit

The Unit was set up in 2010 to provide services such as technology watch, scientific foresight, evaluation of R&D programmes and organisations, and strategic planning for universities. It is responsible for maintaining and developing the institution’s resources, such as the R&D Status Map (a tool which enables research capabilities present in a particular geographic location to be determined), the R&D Search Engine (a search engine based on Google technology with information about R&D centres of excellence in our vecinity) and the R&D Indicator (a metric exclusive to the Foundation that supports the categorisation of scientific output).

The Foundation’s strategic lines shape part of the work of the Analysis Unit, as it is responsible for providing the knowledge input underpinning the calls for expressions of interest in the relevant areas.

Published in No. 02

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  • Lychnos. ISSN: 2171-6463 (Spanish print edition),
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