3 February 2015

Innovative aging researcher gives us new view of older people

Healthy Aging

Professor Rudi Westendorp has for many years endeavoured to change the way society view older people in the Netherlands. He is one of the most cited researchers into ageing in Europe and has moved to the University of Copenhagen on 1st January. Here he will be one of the driving forces at a European consortium, which will develop innovative solutions for promoting healthy living and active ageing.

On 1st January 2015, Rudi Westendorp joined the University of Copenhagen as a professor associated with the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health. He has published more than 500 scientific articles and is one of the most cited researchers into ageing in Europe.

Professor Rudi Westendorp will change our new on older people. Photo: Marc de Haan

Rudi Westendorp will be investigating innovative solutions for promoting the length and the quality of life of older people. His interdisciplinary research will be based on the concept of vitality that focuses on inspiring older people not just to get the most out of life for their own sakes but also to continue making a contribution to the community.

He is also investigating how to provide older people the tools to live independent lives despite declining physical and mental abilities. He comes from a post as Professor of Old Age Medicine at Leiden University Medical Centre, Netherlands, and was Director of Vitality and Ageing at Leiden Academy, doing research and teaching with the focus on innovation for promoting the quality of life of older people.

Age and illness are different issues

Over the past 150 years, average longevity has increased by 4-5 years per generation and the proportion of the elderly is rising. Professor Rudi Westendorp is highly engaged in how we as a society view the older people and old age. The general perception has most tellingly been called the 'problem of ageing', in which we regard older people as annoying and a socioeconomic burden. This is a view that he would like to challenge.

- Age is not a problem; society makes it a problem. When we look at older people, it is thought too often that old age and illness on two sides of the same issue. But old age and illness are two separate things. These days, most of us only start to become old around the age of 75. There are people who fall ill earlier during their lifetime but then illness is not merely the result of their age, says Professor Rudi Westendorp.

Older people are satisfied with life

- A key issue in ageing research is how older people perceive their own lives. Older people who manage to constantly adjust to the changing circumstances that life offers them are often those who themselves feel that they have a good life. Research shows that the Dutch and the Danes regard their lives as filled with opportunity, regard their infirmities as less significant and rate their satisfaction with life at eight out of 10, says Rudi Westendorp.

In order to promote positive agenda on elderly issues, Leiden Academy on Vitality and Ageing for example partners a festival featuring dance performed by elderly artistes, lectures by top researchers and European opinion formers and workshops with various experts in ageing.

Collaboration leads to innovative solutions

- Collaboration between private companies, public sector partners and knowledge institutions is crucial for determining the best, most innovative solutions for enabling older people to manage for themselves in future insofar as possible, says Rudi Westendorp.

Which is why he is very pleased to become one of the driving forces of the new European InnoLife consortium which received a DKK billion grant from the EU. The consortium also includes Danish enterprises - Novo Nordisk, pension company PKA and the University of Copenhagen.


Professor Rudi Westendorp, T: (+45) 2296 3141