Social Innovation on active and healthy ageing for sustainable economic growth

Dr Elena Urdaneta from the Basque Culinary Center-SIforAGE Project highlights how the projects aims to strengthen cooperation among the stakeholders working on active and healthy ageing…

SIforAGE – Social Innovation for Active and Healthy Ageing- project pursues to strengthen cooperation among the stakeholders working on active and healthy ageing. We aim to put together scientists, end-users, civil society, public administrations and companies in order to improve the competitiveness of the European Union regarding the promotion of research and innovative products for longer and healthier lives.

The SIforAGE consortium is integrated by a wide range of stakeholders along the value chain of innovation, such as private foundations, care centers, civil society associations -representing aged people, universities, public policy makers, think tanks and experts at European and International level, in order to bridge the existing fragmentation among them.

Within this social incubator, examples of good practice across Europe are collected and analysed. These examples of good practice are subsequently disseminated amongst all stakeholders involved in Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA), through 5 dynamic documents – Knowledge Management Units (KMUs) – that relate to 5 key issues for AHA:

  • how to increase healthier living years (KMU1);
  • how to enhance autonomy and decision-making for older people, particularly for those suffering from Alzheimer’s (KMU2);
  • how to enable the older to be active in society (KMU3);
  • how communities and the private sector can promote an “age-friendly” environment (KMU4);
  • how new services and technology can help in promoting a better ageing experience at home (KMU5).

Aims and objectives

The general aim of this KMU1 is to identify interventions which will support healthy life expectancy and empower people to be responsible for their own healthy ageing.

A broad and relatively open definition was used in assessing whether any intervention is a ‘social innovation,’ KMU understands that this is a term which until now, has not been widely used. The social innovation concept applies to a wide range of established activities; the challenge was not to seek out those projects which label themselves as social innovations, but to identify any interventions which met the core criteria “an innovation which creates social change”. As well as successes (good practice), failures (bad practice) will also be of value.

Healthy ageing concept in SIforAGE

To build upon this ‘state of the art’ provided by FUTURAGE, we sought to pick up on these themes and issues and use them for a basis for the work on the healthy ageing concept.  This involved 2 specific objectives: (1) to map the key concepts which underpin “healthy ageing for healthier living years”, and (2) to understand the barriers to increasing healthy ageing and healthy life expectancy.

The healthy ageing concept

The experts understood healthy ageing from multiple perspectives.  There was an emphasis on enjoyment and pleasure, but balancing this with self-care and healthy behaviours.  Staying intellectually engaged was also mentioned, so as long as this is not an obligation, but enjoyable engagement.  Some respondents emphasised the pleasurable aspects of ageing i.e. that people should do what they enjoy as they age.  One respondent phrased this as “adding life to years rather than years to life”.

Several experts focussed on the issue of functionality.  As one put it:

Healthy ageing is building and maintaining the functionality to enable older people to be and do the things that are important to them. 

It was suggested that functionality has 2 components: the capacity of the individual, as well as the environment in which they live.  Still further distinctions were drawn within individuals, so that healthy ageing is viewed both in terms of physical and cognitive function.  Similarly, physical health, as well as mental health was discussed.  Another responded expanded this to state that ageing should be about physical, mental and also social health.

In relation to the healthy ageing concept

1. There was a recognition that we need to understand the complexity and diversity in healthy ageing, the modalities of age as one person put it. Culture plays an important role.  The healthy ageing concept can be tailored to address this diversity.  Including older people themselves in research was also seen as crucial.

2. In line with current trends, a life-course and cross-national framework for future research was emphasised.

3. Healthy ageing should be balanced with pleasurable or enjoyable ageing – people should enjoy what they do as they age in as healthy ways as possible. However, too much of a focus on healthy lifestyles can result in forgetting personhood.

4. An important dimension of healthy ageing is functionality, both physical and cognitive. However there should be less individual focus and more focus on how society can adapt to reduced functionality e.g. in terms of housing, transportation, and healthcare.

5. Ageism was felt to be an important topic to address since it inhibits a detailed nuanced understanding of older age. This should be a focus of future research.

In relation to social innovations for healthy ageing

1. There appear to be 3 central aspects to innovations: providing social support, social cohesion, social networks, or combating loneliness; improving the health and well-being of older people; helping older people engage in enjoyable or productive activities.

2. People take part in innovations mainly because they view them as a positive way to spend their time doing enjoyable activities, and to mix socially with other people. These 2 aspects might be emphasised in future innovations to maximise participation.  Innovators felt that participants sometimes downplayed the social aspects in explaining why they take part, but actually that this is the main reason.

3. In addition, participants highly value choice in which aspects they take part in, and a safe environment for participation e.g. a safe way to go on trips.

4. The value of innovations is clearly evident from the research. All participants reported positive effects, and most made lasting friendships.  Social, emotional, and practical benefits were reported.  One thought that the innovation had been a life saver.  The KMU concludes that it is vital that social innovations are funded and supported if we wish to encourage healthy ageing.

5. Key barriers to participation in programmes are work commitments and perceptions of ageing e.g. reluctance to engage with an innovation about the elderly. Innovations might therefore have different groups according to these dimensions to maximise participation.

6. Relatedly, stigma remains a key barrier to realising social innovations. In particular, there is stigma around not only participating in innovations, but also around staff who work with older people, which is a disincentive to potential staff, and also results in a lack of opportunities for development and training.  There should be specific opportunities and funding targeted at people who might work in innovation-based settings.

Dr Elena Urdaneta

Basque Culinary Center-SIforAGE Project


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