Healthy Ageing Across the Life Course (HALCyon Project)
The ageing of the UK population is a grand challenge facing society. Policy makers recognise that healthy active ageing can relieve the social and economic costs of an ageing population and enhance wellbeing.
We need to develop an improved understanding of how healthy ageing is affected by factors operating across the whole of life so that policies can be put in place which have the end result of helping populations to remain healthy, active and independent for longer.
Diana Kuh, MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing
The overall objective of this collaborative research programme (CP) is the scientific discovery of lifetime determinants of healthy ageing.
The four main aims are to: 1. investigate how individual ageing is subject to different influences over the life course 2. understand, through qualitative research, the dynamic ways in which the meanings and experiences of ageing are changing and diversifying 3. encourage and support the development of innovative multidisciplinary research groups and methods 4. provide a sound evidence base for policy and practice so that research contributes to the wellbeing and quality of life of older people
The first two aims will be achieved by bringing nine UK cohort studies together for the first time for comparative research. These cohorts include 30,000 men and women born from 1918 to 1958, currently aged 50 years and older many of whom have been followed-up since early life.
Using the wealth of existing data supplemented by new data and biological measures, we shall study three domains of healthy ageing: physical and cognitive capability; psychological and social wellbeing; and biomarkers of ageing (telomere length, genetic variation, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis).
Eight integrated work packages (WPs) will investigate inter-relationships between indicators of capability, wellbeing and biological ageing; how these indicators and inter-relationships change with age; and common lifetime determinants such as early development, lifetime health, personality, nutrition and other lifestyle characteristics.
Seven of the WPs will use a range of innovative quantitative methods. The other WP takes a complementary qualitative approach by interviewing a sample of cohort members from three of the studies to find out how they themselves understand their life history, the experiences that shaped them, and their response to ageing. These insights will be compared with the findings from the quantitative studies.
The last two aims will be achieved through a core project which has three components: methodology, knowledge transfer and programme management. This will foster the interaction of four groups: (1) primary cohort investigators; (2) cross-linking methodologists; (3) specialists in biological, psychological and social ageing; and (4) non-academic partners with expertise in disseminating and using research outcomes, led by Help the Aged.
This research will deliver high impact findings that will provide new insights into ageing throughout life and influence the delivery of health and social care, health promotion and the formulation of policy which affects older people.
New data from this collaborative research programme (CP) will provide a life course framework for ageing in its biological, social and psychological dimensions. The framework will reflect the diversity of the older population and will embed their subjective experiences within cutting edge epidemiological and biomedical evidence. This research will have implications for all older people, from the youngest and fittest in later life, whose priority is maintaining capabilities, to the oldest, frailest and their carers, for whom management of incapacity is a major concern. All these stake-holders will benefit in terms of their person-centred care, their involvement in the choice and mode of delivery of that care, and support in long-term limiting conditions, all key objectives of the NSF for older people.
There are four main types of users of the research findings from our CP:
Representatives of these four user groups have agreed to participate in a Knowledge Transfer (KT) Steering Group that will run for the duration of the CP. Membership includes older people themselves and representatives from Child Poverty Action Group, International Longevity Centre-UK, British Nutrition Foundation, British Geriatrics Society, Alzheimer’s Society, Royal College of General Practice, US Alliance for Aging Research and the Department of Health and other governmental organisations. The KT Steering Group, chaired by Dr James Goodwin of Help the Aged, is responsible for translating knowledge gained from the research into strategies for dissemination, intervention and policy change in order to improve the lives of older people. Operationally, it will be based on an interactional model that aims to maximise knowledge transfer and policy impact by fostering relationships between the researchers and the research users at all stages of the research process - from conceptualisation through to dissemination and utilisation. The KT Steering Group will meet six-monthly to receive progress reports, lay summaries and presentations from the scientists based on programme milestones and outputs, and to drive knowledge transfer activities. The group will highlight where our research activities are relevant for particular policy debates and construct an impact profile to optimise the mechanisms for launching or planning interventions and initiatives, including avenues and tools for dissemination. These include the six-monthly CP workshops that benefit research users, and workshops or conferences for policymakers, practitioners and older people themselves. New findings will be delivered into the public domain via press and media activities and will be brought to the attention of government as appropriate.
The interdisciplinary research team includes two consultant geriatricians as well as five others who are medically qualified. These investigators have an interest in incorporating biomarkers and performance tests into the assessment of older patients. The questions addressed by researchers are not always those asked by policy makers, practitioners or end-users, and translational research is essential to link policy and practice if recommendations are to be relevant to user groups.
Our interdisciplinary life course approach, use of mixed methods and findings on the lifetime biological social determinants of capability and wellbeing in ageing will be valuable to other researchers on ageing. We will collaborate with investigators on other UK and international birth cohorts to ensure that subsequent studies of ageing in these cohorts benefit from, and further develop, the lessons learned through this NDA programme.
In summary, knowledge transfer and policy impact are of high importance to the research programme and our model is designed to maximise their delivery throughout the life of the project.