Photo by Emily Nicholson

Photo by Emily Nicholson

Why It Matters  |  What We Are Doing  |  Who Is Involved



Why It Matters

By 2020, people over 65 will outnumber children under five. Compared to figures at the beginning of the 21st century, by 2050 the number of people aged 65+ will grow from 524 million to 1.5 billion, and the number of those over 80 will grow fivefold.   Those too frail to look after themselves will quadruple in number, and those with dementia will grow from 26 million to 106 million. By 2050, 80% of people 65+ will live in low and middle income countries. Aging will increasingly challenge the resources, planning capacity and ingenuity of North Carolina, the nation and the world.

What We Are Doing

Transformative strategies are needed to promote healthy aging and enable people to age in place in homes and communities adapted to their needs.Gillings School faculty in many of our departments are leaders in aging-related fields such as population trends, dementia, injury prevention, chronic diseases that affect older people, diet and nutrition, and neighborhood adaptation. Our methods to actively engage caregivers and older people themselves at every stage of our research and interventions, particularly those from minority groups and hard-to-reach populations, have been adopted in a number of countries. Our dementia research has won national accolades. We have used large databases to compare treatments for osteoarthritis and methods to delay dementia in older populations, and we have trained dieticians in nutritional strategies for health maintenance and rehabilitation. Much of our work in chronic diseases is highly relevant to older people. In countries like the Philippines, we have studied the impact of diet and nutrition in the early years on disease and frailty as people age. Read More

However, we now realize that more is needed. The world is aging more rapidly than in any time in recorded human history, and the U.S. and nations across the globe, particularly in Asia, are struggling to respond. Worldwide, the societal cost of dementia care alone was over $420 billion in 2009, with a heavy burden falling on family caregivers as well as health care systems.

The rise in the number of older adults brings with it new challenges of how and where to care for this growing population. Traditional long term care options, primarily facility-based services, are no longer acceptable options for many older adults, nor are such services affordable and accessible to many groups. In response, there has been a growing aging-in-place movement, created by community members and health and social services professionals, to support older adults who are aging in their own homes, in their own communities. There also is a growing focus on the opportunities that new technologies may offer to foster independence, promote healthy lifestyles and engage aging communities.

The Gillings School has formed a groundbreaking partnership with Cambridge University in the U.K., MIT AgeLab, the Kenan Flagler Business School at UNC, and local retirement community Carol Woods to develop a strategy for transformative solutions for aging in place through technology. The goal of the collaboration is to implement smart technologies for healthy, successful aging in place, as well as to provide interdisciplinary training to the next generation of leaders in global aging. The collaborators believe that there is great potential for technological innovations – those already developed and others in the pipeline – to prevent many age-related diseases, injuries and conditions, transform the lives of aging individuals, provide better support to caregivers and reengineer homes and communities.

The collaboration will build from the partners’ complementary skills in implementation science, technology, public health, training, and sustainable business solutions. If successful, this alliance will create transformative solutions that are relevant both locally and globally.


Who Is Involved

Our leaders in aging come from across the Gilling School, and include our world-class faculty, staff, post-docs and students.  This overview only captures a fraction of the important research, teaching, and public service efforts in aging at the Gillings School.  Please explore the individual leader descriptions to learn more about their work.