Jim Edwardson is a retired Professor of Neuroendocrinology.
The mental capital and experience of older people is a vast resource that society could harness for the benefit of all.
“There is currently an appalling waste of talent, education and wisdom,” says Professor Jim Edwardson.
Engaging with older people
“That’s going to require universities and businesses to think in new ways about how to engage with older people, as equals, in terms of what they can bring to the table around agenda setting, prioritisation of research, what society really needs.”
Towards this end Newcastle University, positioning itself as a civic university, has made ageing one of its three Societal Challenge Themes, after earlier creating the Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age. Which means it is focusing academic knowledge, creativity and expertise on finding solutions and innovations that will make a difference to people's lives.
In addition it has hosted the Regional Forum on Ageing, since its creation in 2005 under the banner Years Ahead. This provides a voice on issues of concern to older people with regional and national policy makers.
“That’s very enlightened of the University,” says Professor Edwardson. “It means that we can speak with authority about engagement.”
The University also works closely with Newcastle City Council, which is funding the Quality of Life Partnership, involving an Elders Council of more than 2,500 people. This is in the process of establishing its office on the Campus for Ageing and Vitality. The aim is to make Newcastle an age-friendly city.
Professor Edwardson highlights the Government’s Foresight Report at the end of 2008 entitled “Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the Most of Ourselves in the 21st Century”. His colleague Professor Tom Kirkwood led the studies on the “Mental Capital Through Life” element of the report, involving reviews by 50 world leading scientists.
The findings pointed to the need to value much more seriously the experience and knowledge of older people and engage with them to a much greater degree.
As part of the Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age, the University supported the creation of VOICE North – Valuing Our Intellectual Capital and Experience – chaired by Professor Edwardson. Through this, over 1,500 older people can be now drawn on to provide groups for research projects, or to be consulted by businesses and on issues of public concern.
Since his retirement in 2006 Professor Edwardson has continued to champion age related issues. “My major research interest now is the question of how society really draws upon the intellectual and mental capital, and the lifetime’s experience, that are enshrined in its older people.
“The first thing is to have ideas and innovation. That largely comes from scientists working together and with the public. So there is this very exciting challenge of being a world class institute that taps deep into the collective wisdom and experience of older people in our region, to help them live well and independently.
“We also have the possibility of new industry spinning out from here. Enabling researchers and commercial investors to get a deep level of engagement with older people to come up with the services and products they really want,” he added.
“I grew up in South Shields and know the contribution the North East made to the last industrial revolution. Now I feel strongly that we should be making just as much of a contribution to the new industrial revolution which is knowledge-based and high-tech. And we’ve got the people to do that.”
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