“It was primitive. The approach to health services for the aging was like fire fighting—bouncing from one crisis to another.”
– Professor Rose Anne Kenny, MD
In 2005, Professor Rose Anne Kenny, MD, an Irish native, was eager to move back home after 21 years in England, where she headed the clinical aging research program at the University of Newcastle. “I really wanted to give something back to Ireland,” she recalls.
At the time, there was little to no activity with respect to aging research or counteracting ageism in Ireland. “But there was a huge willingness—and enthusiasm,” Prof. Kenny explains. She saw huge challenges—as well as an opportunity to make a big impact.
Building a Dedicated Center for Aging Research
The incentive—and opportunity—for Prof. Kenney to return to Ireland resulted from an Atlantic contribution of more than €19.9 million ($26 million) toward building the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing. Led by Prof. Kenny, the institute, which will open later this year, has already raised standards and expectations for the care of elderly people, and has provided a hub of clinical services, research, training and education in the country.
As Atlantic’s President and CEO Christopher G. Oechsli explains, founder Chuck Feeney has always believed in supporting inspiring institutions as well as visionary leaders. “Mercer’s Institute is a perfect example of how building a strong institution with good facilities attracts good people,” he says.
Gathering the Data
A parallel major initiative has been the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), also helmed by Professor Kenny. TILDA is a large-scale nationally representative study of more than 8,000 individuals aged 50 and up. “We are now considered at the cutting edge of longitudinal research,” Prof. Kenny explains. “TILDA will help us to inform policy, to develop new treatments and technologies to make aging a better experience in Ireland.”
“We worked closely with Atlantic to take the whole health and aging domain into a completely new vista for Ireland, and to help create innovation with respect to health services and new health technologies in Ireland,” Professor Kenny says. “There’s no doubt that people are talking differently about aging now—this is one of Atlantic’s greatest legacies.”
Top photo: Madge Murphy in a class devoted to developing an understanding of aging at Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing. The students participate in the LAMP (Local Asset Mapping Project), which seeks to create a new paradigm for health care by focusing on a community’s existing priorities and assets.