The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) is calling for action to embed an ethical approach that places the diversity, values, and agency of older adults at the heart of all research and innovation related to ageing, in a new report published today.

After completing an in-depth inquiry on the role of science and technology in the future of ageing, the NCOB concludes that the potential for research and innovation to provide support for older people to flourish in later life is being adversely affected by ageist attitudes in our society. It found that more needs to be done to challenge ageism and address inequalities within the research ecosystem.

The report proposes an ethical framework and recommendations for collective action and culture change across all stages of research and innovation including priority-setting, design, delivery and implementation.

The NCOB makes direct recommendations to those with influence on the conduct and publication of research, including the UK Government, research funders, regulators, researchers, and practitioners. These are all aimed at recognising the value that older adults’ diverse experiences and perspectives can bring, placing their needs at the heart of research concerned with ageing, and helping to ensure that research and innovation is directed towards outcomes that will best support people to flourish in older age.

Amongst 15 recommendations, key proposals for change include:

  • Promoting meaningful collaboration with older adults to help shape decision-making

Action is needed within many parts of the research system to make sure that the experiences of diverse older adults help shape decisions about research.

For example, research funders should invest in supporting partnerships between research teams and public contributors, paying particular attention to ensuring that marginalised groups of older adults are included.

  • Tackling barriers to participation of diverse groups of older adults in research studies

Ageing-related research must include more older participants – with a particular focus on ensuring diverse experiences of ageing. This requires a more inclusive approach to participation of older people in research.

In particular, action is needed to address the challenges that currently hinder older adults with multiple long-term conditions being included in research relevant to them.

  • Support closer working between researchers and practitioners

Closer working between researchers and those directly involved in providing services for older adults should be encouraged and supported, for example by creating funding calls that actively require partnership working, with applications to be made jointly by researchers and practitioners.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is holding a launch event with guests from across the research and innovation sector on Tuesday 25 April. The UK Government’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty will join an eminent panel to discuss next steps in embedding an ethical approach to research and innovation concerned with ageing.

Professor Bella Starling, Chair of the Working Group on the future of ageing, said:

We have heard time and again during this inquiry from older people that they want to have a role in research and are too often sidelined, with their needs and wants assumed. For research and innovation to support us all to flourish in older age, it needs to actively work in partnership with those it seeks to benefit, including older people themselves, their families, carers, and others close to them. I am pleased that our inquiry has identified real opportunities to embed trustworthiness and inclusivity through research and innovation, which will ultimately lead to better support for us all as we reach and live well in older age. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped us with this work."

Danielle Hamm, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

I am delighted to be sharing our report and our ethical framework today which sets out steps for individual and collective action to guide a more participatory approach to research and development in the field of ageing. We look forward to working with Government, research funders, and others to help drive changes that will bring about a more inclusive research and innovation sector, that values and prioritises the perspectives of older adults, and acknowledges their diversity."

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said:

Advances in research and innovation are showing how we might enable older people to spend more of their later years in good health and with a good quality of life. Today’s report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is a valuable contribution to making this happen, ensuring that an ethical approach is embedded across the research sector. We can all work together collectively to achieve this."