As part of its Fifth Framework Programme of Research and Technological Development, in 1998 the European Commission launched the “Key Action on the Ageing Population and Disabilities”, in order to promote research by pan-European teams on age-related problems in an ageing society. Over 120 projects were co-funded, with an EU contribution of over 190 million Euros.
One of these funded projects has conducted an extensive programme of investigations and development work which provides the focal point of this book: the “Friendly Rest-Room for Elderly People” (FRR). This project directly addressed some of the most critical – but least talked about – problems of getting older: how to cope with the functional limitations that come with ageing and, in response to this, how to design adequate, safe and user-friendly rooms for toileting and personal hygiene.
As an example of applied technological research and development in an area with a surprising lack of prior research, this project stands out. With its clear mission to establish the basic technical and design criteria for the toilet room and its use by older users from many parts of Europe, the project partners found it necessary to make a broad investigation into users' and carers' behaviour, identifying problems and difficulties; and to balance these against the technical and economic possibilities afforded by modern materials, technologies and construction techniques. An essential element in the FRR project was the involvement of older people as active participants in the work.
The “Key Action on Ageing” is recognised for the ground-breaking research approach that was espoused by the Expert Advisory Group, which helped to formulate and update the Commission's Work Programme, year on year from 1998 to 2002. This approach may be summed up with three keywords: ‘problem-solving’, ‘holistic’ and ‘multidisciplinary’. These characteristics are identified as especially desirable in the emerging field of ageing research, due to the complex and critical nature of many age-related issues. Few funded projects were able to conduct research in a way which did justice to all three of these priorities but “FRR” is one of those that did.
The reader of this book is therefore encouraged to reflect, not only on the insights afforded by the particular results of this substantial work, chapter by chapter, but also on the approach which the FRR project represents, through its methods and research design, being a paradigmatic example of the “new” ageing research.