Active and healthy for many years
The proportion of elderly people in the Norwegian population is growing, and the number requiring health and care services will increase accordingly. The Research Council of Norway has designated a new priority area targeted towards tackling coming challenges.
Thanks to steady improvements in public health, most Norwegians can expect to live to over 80 years of age. And more and more will live longer than that.
“This is a positive trend that opens up new opportunities for the individual and for society at large. At the same time, the increase in the proportion of elderly people in the population means we have to organise the health and care services in new ways and step up efforts to ensure high workforce participation,” says Jesper W. Simonsen, Executive Director of the Division for Society and Health at the Research Council.
The establishment of the Division for Society and Health at the beginning of 2011 was a tangible step in the implementation of the Research Council’s plan to focus greater attention on challenges associated with health, welfare and care services in general.
"We have dubbed the new priority area ‘Healthy and active for many years’”, says Mr Simonsen. “The objective is to deal with new societal challenges through know-how and innovative thinking. The Research Council has recommended earmarking NOK 140 million in the 2013 national budget for activities in this area.”
New solutions needed
In addition to research to develop solutions for improving health and care services, Mr Simonsen points out that we need to learn more about how to enable the elderly to live in their own homes and care for themselves for as long as possible.
“We also need learn more about how to ensure that the number of people employed in this country remains adequate . It is, after all, people in paying jobs who finance the care services and the livelihoods of individuals who do not participate in working life. We must therefore learn as much as we can about how to get as many as possible into the labour market and how to prevent individuals from withdrawing from working life at an early age.”
National agent for change
According to Mr Simonsen, there is too little research activity in this area in Norway today and the activities that do exist are poorly coordinated. “The Research Council has taken on the role of a national agent of change in order to identify and coordinate research needs in the interface between health, welfare, care and technology,” he says.
“Both research and innovation are called for here. There is a lot of creativity out there, and there are a lot of solutions being tested. But, unless the results are summarised, verified and disseminated, all that work will amount to little indeed.”
Another objective is to expand competency within the care services.
“The care professions must see themselves as part of a research and innovation framework to an increasing extent,” states Mr Simonsen. He points out that while the designated priority area as such is new, there are a number of research programmes in the Research Council’s portfolio that are already generating relevant knowledge.
Topics that Mr Simonsen says will be vital under the new priority area include innovation in welfare technology and strengthened research in geriatrics and mental health, which, in his view, is a segment of medical research characterised thus far by too little prestige and insufficient recruitment.
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