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THURSDAY 21 JULY 2005

SCIENCE CAN MAKE OLD AGE A BETTER TIME, SAY LORDS

Despite a rising life expectancy, older people risk spending more of their later years in ill-health. More must be done to make them healthier and to improve their quality of life.

Today a House of Lords report explains how the Government can apply scientific resources to improve health in old age and allow older people to live longer in their own homes in safety and comfort.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, who chaired the inquiry, said:

"At a time when people are living longer, their last years should be years of good health and active engagement in society. Instead, older people believe their last years are increasingly a time of ill-health and isolation."

"The Government should do much more to support ageing-related research and to promote its application. The mechanisms for funding and coordinating research and for translating its messages into new and better practice need a radical overhaul."

"Each year 70,000 people die from strokes. The UK mortality rate for stroke is worse than the rest of Europe, and double that of Canada. Results could be dramatically improved simply by locating scanners in A&E departments. At present less than half of patients have a brain scan within two days. The NHS should make this a priority."

"Ageing is a progressive process, and this report looks at the longer term: not just what should be done for older people, but also what can be done for those who are now young or middle-aged to improve their old age."

The report looks at:-

• Health

  • There is no point in having a minister who is "Government Champion of Older People" if health is not a main responsibility.

  • NHS targets are vague. Claims that they are met are unsupported.

  • Resources are spent on treatment to meet targets, when it might be more cost-effective to spend money on prevention.

  • The Government must invest in technologies which allow people to monitor health in their own homes.

• Research

  • Comparatively little is being invested by the Medical Research Council into ageing-related research, and virtually nothing by the Economic and Social Research Council.

  • Coordination between different research funders is poor.  Significant improvements must be made.

• How older people live

  • The rate of ageing is greatly influenced by social and economic factors. Older people die of diseases caused by cold and damp. The Government has said it aims to eliminate fuel poverty by 2010.  Without more resources, it will miss this target.

  • Building Regulations: the Government has promised a review to incorporate the Lifetime Homes Standard. Fifteen months later, the review has scarcely got under way.

  • Social isolation: transport and communication must be planned with an ageing population in mind. IT connections are poor yet of immense potential value for old as well as young. Ofcom must work to make broadband universally available.

• Ageism in industry

  • Older people are a large market virtually ignored by industry.

  • Existing technologies could give older people much more help.

• Measures to slow the ageing process

  • More Government and local authority funding for exercise at all ages, from schools onwards.

  • More information about nutrition for older people.

  • More frequent check-ups.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. This inquiry, which began in July 2004, was conducted by Sub-Committee I of the Science and Technology Select Committee, which was chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. Other Members were:

Lord Broers

Lord Drayson (until May 2005)

Baroness Emerton

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

Lord May of Oxford

Lord Mitchell

Baroness Murphy

Lord Oxburgh

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

Lord Turnberg

Baroness Walmsley

2. The report is published by The Stationery Office: Ageing: Scientific Aspects, HL Paper 20, ISBN 010 400730 3, price £19.00. The report will be available via www.parliament.uk/hlscience.

Further information from:

Michael Collon (Clerk to the Sub-Committee) on 020 7219 5750.

Jillian Bailey (Committee Press & Information Officer) on 020 7219 8659.

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