The University of Edinburgh will establish a new £20m research centre to explore how quality of life can be improved for over 65s.

The Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), described as the first of its kind in the UK, aims to improve understanding of care in later life and address the “major challenges” it poses for individuals, families and the public and private sectors.

Under a seven-year programme combining research from multiple disciplines – including medicine, life sciences, engineering, informatics, data and social sciences – ACRC aims to transform how care is delivered for older people living at home or in supported care environments.

It will do this by enabling “data-driven, personalised and affordable care” that will allow individuals in later life to live more independently, in line with government objectives to ensure that people enjoy an additional five years of “healthy life expectancy by 2035.”

ACRC will be delivered in partnership with financial service Legal & General, which has put forward £20m funding to help establish the research centre.

Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted to host this ground-breaking collaboration with colleagues at Legal & General. This exceptional partnership will re-imagine care for the mid-21st century.

“As our population ages, so we need to develop innovative new approaches to provide individually-tailored care. This is the big challenge that the partners will address, bringing to bear pioneering research from the brightest academic minds across multiple disciplines to deliver creative and trusted solutions to address real world problems.”

A global challenge

The partnership with Legal & General marks the University’s largest industry investment, forming part of the £661m Data-Driven Innovation initiative within the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

All findings from the partnership will be publicly available. Legal & General said the programme would “put the University of Edinburgh and its partners at the forefront of research, development and collaboration to improve the academic understanding of later life.”

Dr Nigel Wilson, Group CEO of Legal & General, commented: “Establishing the ACRC will revolutionise the UK’s commitment to understanding and addressing the huge issue of demographic change – part of a global challenge with significant social and economic impacts.

“Edinburgh’s academic-led, data-based and cross-disciplinary approach will deliver vital positive change to ageing and care and we find this a compelling and practical vision.

“The partnerships we are forging with premier institutions up and down the country, from the University of Oxford and Newcastle, to Bath University, UCL and now Edinburgh will help shift the dial in the delivery of science, technology and ageing care for many future generations to come.”

According to figures from Legal & General, there are currently 12 million over-65s in the UK, with this figure expected to rise by 50% over the next 20 years.

Digitising elderly care

Allowing people in later life to remain independent in their own home has been identified as a key objective for supporting the UK’s ageing population, as well as cutting mounting pressure on the UK’s beleaguered social care system.

Much of the attention has recently been focused on integrating digital technologies into care homes and supported living environments, such as telehealth solutions that allow individuals to check in with care providers and smart sensors capable of detecting when a person has had a fall, or could be at risk of injury.

A project run by NHS Calderdale CCG in 2018 concluded that so-called connected care homes could free up some £1bn for the NHS and cut hospital admissions by as much as a third.