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TILDA Celebrates Ten Years of Research Into the Challenges of Ageing in Ireland

Resource type: News

The University Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

The study, which has 8,500 participants from across the country, has been internationally recognised for its wide focus of the issues facing older people.

By Simon Foy, Senior Editor

Photo: Sinéad Baker for The University Times
Photo: Sinéad Baker for The University Times

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, which is based in Trinity, is today celebrating ten years of research. The study, which for the last decade has surveyed thousands of participants aged 50 and over, has attempted to collate data on the issues facing old people in Ireland.

Established in 2006, TILDA was designed to provide evidence that would allow for an understanding of ageing in Ireland and beyond. Every two years, data is collected from 8,500 participants about a number of areas, including older people’s health, as well as their economic and social circumstances. Every four years, these participants undergo an in-depth health assessment. TILDA possesses, for instance, a biobank of around 10,000 blood samples, as well as 3,500 hair samples.

The purpose of this vast collection of data is to “make Ireland the best place to grow old in the world”, according to TILDA’s website. This is echoed by TILDA’s Research Director, Dr Christine McGarrigle. Speaking to The University Times , McGarrigle said that the study’s ultimate goal is to “provide Irish people with the knowledge of how to age successfully”.

The entire project initially benefitted from a large donation by Atlantic Philanthropies, who support a number of projects in Trinity, The organisation, founded by Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney, also provided €138 million to Trinity in November, along with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to establish the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI). With additional funding from the Department of Health, the TILDA managed to attract €28 million in total to fund its early research.

600 TILDA participants will today attend an event in Trinity to celebrate the ten years of research, at which researchers and participants will consider the impact TILDA has had on the lives of older people in Ireland.

The study involves collaboration with nine institutions across Ireland, including University College Cork (UCC), University College Dublin (UCD), and Queen’s University Belfast.

TILDA is one of the most ambitious studies into ageing carried out in Ireland. “TILDA was initially set up to provide an evidence base for understanding ageing in Ireland as no substantial prior research had been done”, according to McGarrigle. Since 2006, TILDA has also raised additional funding for research projects of €4.6 million, allowing it to continue to expand and grow.

There are currently 34 staff working on the project, including 14 post-doctoral researchers and eight students. Since beginning in 2006, 28 PhDs and post-doctoral fellows, as well as 140 field workers and 25 research nurses, have been trained through TILDA.

The project has played a significant role in policy-making, according to McGarrigle. One of TILDA’s biggest achievements, she said, has been “influencing government decisions and raising public awareness through campaigns”. So far, TILDA’s research has informed and acted as a base for 52 documents and reports for policy-makers and NGOs, while over 1100 people have access, national and internationally, to anonymous TILDA data for their own research projects.

In a press release, TILDA’s principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, who is Professor of Medical Gerontology in Trinity, emphasised the “rich legacy” provided by the participants in the study, who have helped provide “important information to help governments to make efficient policy decisions to optimise health and economic success as populations age”.

As TILDA celebrates ten years, the global population is also ageing. This shift in demographics, which will also affect Ireland, will see the number of people aged 60 and over around the world increase to around two billion by 2050, according to Kenny.

With an ageing population, increased life expectancy and a reduction in fertility rates in Ireland, the research conducted by TILDA is attempting to inform older people about the lifestyle choices, behaviours and strategies that might support them through the ageing process.

One TILDA study, for instance, revealed that one in three older adults cannot cross the street in the time allotted at signalised crossings. As a result, TILDA researchers are now working with local authorities to address concerns around signal timings, as well as supplying information to the Road Safety Authority to inform public safety campaigns.

Other examples include contributing to a nationwide programme to encourage more frequent blood pressure monitoring after survey results revealed that two-thirds of older people in Ireland have high blood pressure.

TILDA’s influence is not confined to Ireland. As of May 2016, TILDA’s research had been cited by 160 institutes in 48 countries, while the study is linked to 13 other similar studies on ageing across the world.

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Trinity College Dublin is an Atlantic grantee.

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Aging, Aging Research

Global Impact:

Republic of Ireland