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Learning about experiences of ageing across the globe

Shanghai by night
CASE researchers joined a whole-week workshop with participants from 13 different countries including researchers, national policymakers and technical experts from the World Health Organization, WHO. Photo: Susanne Iwarsson

CASE researchers Arlind Reuter and Susanne Iwarsson were invited to take part in an expert meeting on age-friendly environments in Shanghai last week.

The meeting were held at Nordic Centre and was organized by postdoctoral researcher Wenqian Xu, who is employed in the Active and Healthy Ageing research group, Department of Health Science in Lund. 

He is affiliated with CASE as well as the profile area Proactive Ageing. The meeting was co-funded by the Nordic Centre at Fudan University in Shanghai and the WHO (Asia and Pacific region). It welcomed representatives from across Asia and New Zealand, as well as researchers from Sweden and Finland. Over the course of five days, they discussed research, policy and practice on age-friendly environments. 

Group of researchers from many different countries.
Photo: Nordic Centre

Professor Susanne Iwarsson contributed with a presentation linking housing and the User Age project to the age-friendly environments topic. Researcher Arlind Reuter held a presentation on participatory approaches in this field of interest and facilitated a photovoice activity for all participants, in which they explored good practice and challenges on the Fudan University campus. 

There were open discussions, group work and formal research presentations with assigned discussants. A workshop focused on participatory and evidence-based approaches to bring together insights from research, policy and practice in the creation of age-friendly environments, with countries in the Western Pacific as the main target.  

Researchers in panel discussions
Photo: Arlind Reuter

What are the main results of all this?

The main results are the sharing of best practice and how commonly experienced challenges are addressed in different countries. A main outcome of the workshop is international networking, says Arlind Reuter.

What can you say about the research on ageing and health in China?

We have listened to presentations of results from a diversity of impressive research projects, particularly from the Fudan Institute of Aging. With a core of social science, the research is multi-disciplinary, with many different disciplines cooperating, says Professor Susanne Iwarsson. The institute was established only a few years ago, but already has an impressive publication record, notably also in international journals. With a total population of 1.4 billion, China has close to 700 million older people and thus massive challenges to cope with, now and in the future. The research presentations we listened to ranged from basic research on brain functioning, to research on care provision for older people living at home or in institutions, with notable similarities with research on ageing and health in Sweden and other Western countries.

People having dinner around a round table

Anything in particular the China trip has taught you?

Overall, it was very interesting to learn about the Chinese culture and experience how academic meetings involving an international policymaking organization, WHO, are conducted in this part of the world. From meeting WHO officials and researchers from different countries this week, we were curious to learn about different experiences of ageing across the globe. We learned that age-friendly environments are a big priority in Asian countries and they are very dedicated to implementing good practices in a short timeframe, says Arlind Reuter.

Paneldiscussion in front of tv-screen
Photo: Susanne Iwarsson
workshop with participants busy with their phones
Photo: Susanne Iwarsson

One positive experience is that Shanghai seems to have come a good way towards more environmentally friendly transportation – a very high proportion of all kinds of vehicles are electric, Susanne Iwarsson continues. Thus, despite this size and intensity the city is not very noisy and the air and streets are cleaner than we expected. Moreover, we were continuously impressed, challenged and frustrated by the digital infrastructure in China. People and the entire society seem totally observed and dependent on online resources, which in combination with the fact that most of it is in Chinese, is very demanding for foreigners. The digital platforms we use in Europe did not work in China and that caused us many problems – and some amusement as well. Considering this seriously, it is intriguing to think about to what this very rapid development means for people ageing in this society.


Not obvious to cooperate with Chinese researchers

Several large Swedish universities have stopped accepting CSC doctoral students (China Scholarship Council, Chinese Ministry of Education's branch for scholarship funding of doctoral students abroad). A risk assessment is made before every contract-regulated collaboration with China, according to David Gisselsson Nord, Vice Dean of Faculty of Medicin. 

Lund University's collaborations in Asia

Responsible internationalisation


About Nordic Centre, Shanghai

The Nordic Center is a collaboration between 19 Nordic universities (including Lund University) and three Chinese universities which, through joint research projects and training, aims to increase understanding and forge closer ties between the Nordic countries and China. The Nordic Center is governed by a council consisting of one representative per member university that meets twice a year, and by a board that leads and is responsible for the ongoing management of the collaboration. The secretariat for the Nordic Center rotates between the Swedish member universities. The Nordic Center has an office and a local employee (Veli-Matti Palomäki) on the Fudan campus, and is financed by the participating universities.



Read more!

Childlessness is a growing problem in many countries, especially in China. Researcher Wenqian Xu is employed as a postdoc in Susanne Iwarsson's research group Active and healthy ageing and has through CASE investigated what it is like to age without children.