The global population is aging. By the end of the 20th century, “many countries, especially in the more developed regions, had already achieved population structures older than any ever seen in human history,” says a report, World Population Ageing: 1950-2050, from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations. Worldwide, the number of older people has tripled over the past 50 years and will more than triple again over the next 50 years; 80 and older will be the most rapidly growing group, the report says.
This brings new challenges as our societies grapple with the issues of how to adequately provide and care for growing numbers of senior people. “Population aging will lead to profound changes in economic growth prospects for countries around the world, alongside heightened budgetary pressures from greater age-related spending needs” such as pensions and health care costs, says U.S.-based financial consulting firm Standard & Poor’s in its Global Aging 2010: An Irreversible Truth report.
In recent years, governments have begun to recognize the impact of an aging population -- and the benefits of keeping people healthy. In 2008, Research Councils UK, for example, funded the creation of three new research centers dedicated to healthy aging.
Helping aging populations stay healthy and independent for longer is a challenge that researchers in many different disciplines are now taking on. Science Careers got a peek into the professional lives of scientists studying healthy aging from the perspectives of genetics, sociology and psychology, engineering, and neurology.
Science writer Mitch Leslie talks to postdoc Liz Cirulli about her work on a study that takes a whole-genome approach to finding clues to longevity among centenarians.
Science Careers Contributing Editor Elisabeth Pain finds out how social and behavioral scientist Nardi Steverink helps older people stay well and happy longer through her studies of psychological well-being.
Freelance science writer Lisa Seachrist Chiu talks to engineer Bryan Reimer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab about his work designing innovative systems to monitor and improve drivers' performance behind the wheel.
Science Careers Contributing Editor Elisabeth Pain profiles neuroscientist Sara Burke and her research in how aging affects the plasticity of neuronal networks and, ultimately, behavior.
Additional Resources for Healthy Aging Research
A nonexhaustive list of where to start looking for further information and opportunities.
- The International Aging Research Portfolio is a searchable database of research centers and projects, funding programs, training opportunities, and conferences in aging research
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) information Web site on Healthy Aging
- The European Research Area in Ageing 2(ERA-AGE 2) has a database of aging-related research programs, centers, conferences, and funding sources across Europe
- The U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Bethesda, Maryland
- NIA also sponsors five Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence that focus on the basic biology of aging:
o Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine
o University of Washington in Seattle
o University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
o Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City
o University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio
- The University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles
- The National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) at the University of Chicago in Illinois
- The Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California
- The Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Foundation in Mountain View, California
- The Center for Healthy Aging Research in Corvallis, Oregon
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab in Cambridge
- The Research Center on Aging in Quebec, Canada
- The Healthy Ageing Research Cluster at the University of Adelaide, Australia
- The Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London in the United Kingdom
- The Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) in Birmingham, U.K.
- The Centre for Brain Ageing and Vitality in Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K.
- The Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience, U.K.
- The Crucible Centre at University College London
- The Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology in Edinburgh, Scotland
- The CDC’s Healthy Aging Research Network (CDC HAN)
- Plateforme Equipe Transversale Pluridisciplinaires de Recherches sur le Vieillissement (ReVie) in Brittany, France
Funding and Research Training
- The U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers pre- and postdoctoral training fellowships, grants for new investigators, and other resources.
- The U.K. Research Councils (UKRC) Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity program lists organizations in the U.K. which fund aging research
- Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) in Healthy Aging: LIFE in an Aging Society at Oregon State University in Corvallis
- Master of Arts in Health and Aging at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada
- Research Training Network on Health, Ageing and Retirement based in Brussels
- Master's and Ph.D. training programs in healthy aging at the Research Institute SHARE in Groningen, the Netherlands