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Aging & Later Life Vision Statement

There is no such thing as the typical older person. Older people are not a homogeneous cultural group, and the process of aging affects different people in different ways. But what many older people do have in common is a desire to grow old gracefully and live well, to enjoy their twilight years and then die with dignity. At Aging & Later Life we want to help all older people to achieve this, so we think it is important that nobody is overlooked.

Aging & Later Life is a multidisciplinary, cross-departmental research program. We focus specifically on the concepts of resilience, quality of life, and personalised care during the three stages of the aging process: growing old, being old, and the last years of life. It is important to note that these concepts can mean different things in each phase of the aging process.

Currently, aging research focusses either on the idea of “loss” — in which vulnerability is defined negatively in terms of frailty — or on “healthy aging”, which, by emphasising success, leaves little room for older people who can’t achieve this ideal. By contrast, the idea of resilience — "the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity" — focusses on older people’s capacity for responding to specific age-related tasks and transitions. As such, resilience recognizes older people’s innate strength, without establishing an absence of problems as the norm for a good old age. By using the concept of resilience, we aim to provide a more realistic, more inclusive alternative that will help us better understand, investigate and address vulnerability.

For many older people, full physical health is often unachievable. But this does not necessarily mean that they cannot experience a good quality of life. A "good" life is determined by more than just physical health — it also depends on the extent to which people can continue to get value and meaning out of life after suffering a health setback. So at Aging & Later Life, we investigate how individual and structural factors can affect the quality of life of older people, and people in the final years of life. We think it is important to recognize and respect the personal meaning people assign to the concept of quality of life.

As well as older people’s differing values and preferences, another factor that contributes to the growing variety of clinical profiles is an increase in multimorbidity. There is a growing awareness of group differences in health effects or treatment results, and of the factors that influence that. We therefore need to know more about personalised care in healthcare. Amsterdam, a model of our increasingly diverse society where over 180 nationalities are represented, needs this more than anywhere else in the Netherlands. We want our research to help provide deeper insights into what kind of care works for whom, and when.

We want to avoid our research results being overlooked. That is why, as well as scientific quality, social impact is central to us. Our interdisciplinary approach and active exchange with other faculties, field partners and educational institutions is essential to achieving the impact we want. We strive to make research questions relevant and urgent for both researchers and stakeholders. Older people themselves are also important here: their perspective is essential to doing individually-relevant work. Our goal is to listen to the full spectrum of voices, because after all, there is no such thing as the typical older person.