To enable ageing populations to stay healthy, gerontology research needs to be allocated more resources and given greater priority. This will improve the quality of life for elderly people and relieve the economic burden of their long-term sickness.
Studies of ageing processes could help to prevent and treat chronic-disease states that are common after the age of 65, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes or neurodegenerative syndromes. For instance, the rate of increase in cardiovascular disease in people aged 50–90 is 7-fold in men and 16-fold in women. Arguably, this makes ageing a bigger risk factor than elevated cholesterol (Incidence and Prevalence: Chart Book on Cardiovascular and Lung Diseases NHLBI, 2006).Yet funding for gerontology research is paltry compared with that for, say, cancer or HIV.
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Geroscience Interest Group, which involves experts from 20 NIH institutions, has taken a step in the right direction in setting up funding mechanisms for cross-cutting areas of research.
Gerontology research also needs its own funding advocates. The American Association for Retired Persons in Washington DC and similar non-profit groups in other countries should take the lead. Scientists, too, can change the prevailing negative attitude towards ageing in their communications with government, colleagues and the public.
Brian Kennedy Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, California, [email protected]