Healthcare framework proposed to improve health of ageing populations

An LJMU researcher is part of an international team of researchers who have put forward a position statement, published in Science, which lays out a new healthcare framework to help ageing populations stay healthier for longer.

The statement, developed by Professor Claire Stewart of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences and others, is a ‘call to action’ to governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the scientific and medical community to come together and develop the classifications and staging systems utilizing the framework as the basis for diagnosing and treating age-related diseases, including directly treating all ageing tissue and organs.

Age-related diseases without adequate diagnostic criteria and severity staging limit the ability for prevention or treatment, as well as hindering the ability to develop new drugs and interventions. Ultimately, this impacts on the quality of life for members of society as they age. 

Ageing populations involve urgent and unmet healthcare and economic needs related to chronic disease and multi-morbidity, which require solutions at the national and international level. People worldwide are living longer. 

Today, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond. By 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015. 

Common conditions in older age include back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, sarcopenia and dementia. Additionally, as people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time, including advanced conditions that may have been building up over decades, which then lead to other diseases and health risks. Dedicated research, new disease terminology, metrics and analytical methods are needed for a wide range of ageing issues in order to effectively diagnose and treat them. 

Currently the classification and severity staging of age-related diseases is limited because it is inconsistent, incomplete and non-systematic. Some types of disease that can be found in many organs, such as intrinsic organ ageing , or organ atrophy or wasting, are classified in one organ but not another.

To help tackle this problem an international group of experts, scientists and medics, and supported by University of Liverpool Reader Dr Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, created a position statement which lays out a framework for properly and comprehensively classifying and staging the severity of aging-related diseases. Importantly the statement includes ageing at the tissue and organ level as well as organ atrophy, pathologic remodelling and calcification, and ageing-related systemic and metabolic diseases.

Professor Stewart said: "In an environment where the population is aging, we need to question if we are aging well. To enable healthy ageing for all, it is imperative we understand the ageing process.  The development of robust biomedical classification and staging codes for the ageing process, based on the WHO International Classification of Diseases, may enable improvements in policy and practice, ultimately facilitating appropriate and targeted interventions for an ageing population".

Lead author and University of Liverpool Honorary Fellow, Dr Stuart Calimport, said: “This framework will increase our ability to develop drugs and interventions that target the processes of aging and that can accumulate with age, which would have unprecedented benefits in relation to the treatment and prevention of serious diseases.”

The full paper, entitled ‘To help aging populations, classify organismal senescence,’ can be found on the Science website.


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