First research collaboration between Stockholm and Tokyo is on ageing

How can research help a society deal with an ever-ageing population? This issue was discussed at a workshop held to mark the start of a collaboration between Stockholm’s three leading academic institutes and the University of Tokyo.

Both Sweden and Japan have ageing populations, and this raises important questions, like how to guarantee access to healthcare and how to finance pensions. Other important issues are how we can stay healthy for as long as possible and how homes for the elderly can best be designed to suit their needs.

A workshop titled “Active ageing” was arranged on 21 September in Karolinska Institutet’s Nobel Forum by Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm University (SU), the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and the University of Tokyo. The event was part of the visit that a delegation from Tokyo is making to Stockholm in order to sign a collaboration agreement with Stockholm’s three top universities.

Karolinska Institutet’s vice-chancellor, Ole Petter Ottersen, welcomed the delegates to this first official part of the programme drawn up to mark the signing of the agreement. The University of Tokyo’s Executive Director and Vice President Mamuro Mitsuishi reminded participants that in 2018 Japan and Sweden will be celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relations, and that this new partnership serves to strengthen the bond between the countries and is a possible catalyst for new such collaborations.

Stockholm Tokyo Workshop on aging. Photo: Yanan Li

The Queen sees much potential for collaborations
Queen Silvia opened the workshop with a speech in which she said that questions of ageing and how society resolves them are important to both Sweden and Japan. She also talked about her own commitment to such issues: for two decades, the queen has worked to raise awareness of how to build a society that takes better care of its elderly citizens. Amongst the initiatives to which the Queen has contributed is Silviahemmet, which trains dementia careworkers. She then concluded her address by saying that Sweden and Japan have much to learn from each other and that this new collaboration opens up considerable opportunities.

The University of Tokyo prioritises Stockholm
In 2014, the University of Tokyo adopted a strategy to establish strategic partnerships with leading academic institutes around the world, universityvice president Naoto Sekimura told participants. Such priority partners include Berkeley, MIT and Cambridge – and Stockholm University, Karolinska Institutet and the Royal Institute of Technology, which it sees as a composite partner.

The collaboration will centre on research and education under the watchwords excellence, interdisciplinarity and social relevance. The focus will be on three prioritised areas: health and medicine; energy, resource use and climate change; and economic equality.

A rapidly ageing population
The first researcher to speak was Livia Oláh, docent of demography at Stockholm University, who stated that a growing proportion of the global population is aged 65 and above. Japan has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world and also has a much lower birth rate than Sweden. The relatively high fertility rates in Sweden are linked to the high levels of female employment which is supported by the generous family policies facilitating the combination of work and family for both women and men. Public childcare is one of the most important policy measures promoting the reconciliation of paid work and family. Oláh stressed that sustainable societal development requires a balanced age structure in which reasonably high fertility levels play a key part.

Healthy ageing is possible
Laura Fratiglioni, professor of medical epidemiology specialising in dementia diseases at Karolinska Institute raised the issue that healthy ageing is possible and already a reality. The challenge, she said, is to make sure it stays this way.

The population studies that have been conducted in Stockholm show that approximately 50 per cent 90-year-olds say they are relativity healthy. Moreover, the statistics show that the risk of suffering form a cardiovascular condition or dementia has declined in recent decades. If this trend is to continue, it is important for people, amongst other things, to be physically active, to maintain social relations and to refrain from smoking.

During the day, speakers from the four universities addressed different aspects of ageing from three general perspectives: the biophysical, the biomedical and the social scientific. The agreement will be signed on 25 September by the four universities at a ceremony to be held at Stockholm University.