b. Introduction

Active Ageing and Healthy Living (henceforth AA&HL) deals with a growing and ever more challenging issue at the social and scientific levels for all the Western countries, and especially for Europe.

At the social level, increased life expectancy and the ageing of the population have for some time enjoined the rethinking and updating of the healthcare agenda. New issues arise and must be addressed, together with ones already explored but which require further investigation: the increase in the quantity of life prompts closer attention to the quality of life; health expands its horizons to encompass the prevention of risk and the enhancement of well-being; medical action (centred on disease) seeks new synergies with social action (centred on changes to unhealthy lifestyles and dietary habits, the expansion of networks and social communication to promote health, the transfer of knowledge/skills/empowerment to the population); policy-makers must consider – besides their traditional interlocutors – an array of stakeholders of increasing complexity (in politics, industry, the third sector, and public opinion); health interventions are required to be not only effective but also sustainable (in economic, human and social terms).

Against this background – which grows increasingly clear and requires urgent responses – commitment to AA&HL is a significant and promising choice. The project is (apparently!) simple in its essential aims: to improve the quantity and quality of life through the direct engagement of people as co-authors of their own health and through a virtuous interweaving among the resources made available by medicine and society. The working hypothesis appears feasible and potentially able to ‘square the circle’ between ends and means, as well as between personal aspirations and systemic constraints in regard to health.

Obviously, the hypotheses must be primarily verified at scientific level by means of basic and applied research. To be observed at this level is a non-coincidental flourishing of interest in Europe – of which the Horizon 2020 research programme is perhaps the most evident sign, even if not the only one (see, for instance, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing initiative, the Joint Programming Initiatives, and so forth).

Moreover, science’s concern with AA&HL is certainly not a novelty, and numerous research strands (well documented also in this book) have an appreciable history behind them. However, what today emerges as the new challenge for science is reconfiguration of the context in which research should be conducted; a reconfiguration that – without detracting from the traditional and physiological specialist orientation of individual disciplines – prompts their repositioning within a more composite framework with multi-disciplinary and meta-disciplinary features.

The broadness of the AA&HL topic is such that only a multi-disciplinary approach can investigate its manifold aspects without lapsing into useless and harmful reductionism. Incidentally, there is insufficient acknowledgement of the fact that the results of scientific research depend on how the field of observation is defined – and therefore more on what is excluded than what is considered! Combining the relevant points of view and establishing a virtuous ‘conversation’ among them is therefore a precondition for addressing the AA&HL issue in an ‘ecological’ manner.

On the other hand, the high social expectations placed in applied science (see above) require that research should be able to establish both internal linkages (in the multi-disciplinary sense) and also ones with the outside (in the meta-disciplinary sense); that is, a linkage between the production of scientific knowledge and its application in the social domain.

Guiding the encounter between science and its applications is an increasingly crucial task: a major challenge for the Knowledge Innovation Communities (KIC) is arising around the theme of AA&HL. Here research is required to converse with other domains: the socio-political system, the technological-industrial system, the welfare system, private-social networks, the so-called citizen-consumer, the world of communications and education. Overall, it is evident that the efficacy of scientific research will depend to a large extent on its capacity to converse with the other components of the system and to accomplish the fertile transfer of its knowledge.

The book that we introduce here remains faithful to this line of inquiry and also represents a tangible result of it. Indeed, AA&HL can be seen as a balance – retrospective and prospective – drawn up on a research area that the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore has for some time decided to support proactively.

The first part of the book ("Vision") proposes research directions deemed particularly promising and on which the Università Cattolica focuses its interests. These projects concern these lines of inquiry: scenario-building in regard to demographic changes in Europe and the redesign of public health policies; exploration of new synergies between AA&HL and nutritional science, positive technology, social and inter-generational networks, financial-insurance services, and new ways to thematize elderly patients and their involvement in care practices (see in this regard the themes of frailty and patient engagement).

The second part of the book ("Work in progress") describes recent developments in the investigation of AA&HL. These are multi-disciplinary contributions intended to favour the development of knowledge and applications in the most significant areas of inquiry: lifestyles and nutrition; the psychogeriatric approach and enhancing the abilities of the elderly; reconfiguration of the work career; and the role of ICT in redesign of the everyday lives of the elderly.

We leave to the reader the task (and – we hope – the pleasure) of exploring in the following chapters the topics only outlined here. We also leave to the reader the task of evaluating the book’s contents. This, however, does not prevent us from thanking all the researchers involved in producing its contents, and particularly the editors of the book for their work.

The Università Cattolica will continue its research commitment to these topics in the years to come, adopting an approach centred on participative cooperation with all agencies interested in developing research and action in the AA&HL area.

A. Claudio Bosio 

Delegate from the “Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore” for the LIFEKIC project (http://www.lifekic.eu)

Lorenzo Morelli

Coordinator of the “Strategies of Research” Committee of the “Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore”