Interview with Cognitive Neuroscientist Judy Lobo

Judy Lobo is a cognitive neuroscience graduate student at the University of Miami. She uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and cell staining methods to study the links between health and cognitive abilities. fMRI is a technique for measuring brain activity and cell staining is used to better visualize cells and cell components under a microscope. Her Master’s project was one of the first fMRI investigations into Successful Cognitive Aging or “SuperAgers”. As a part of the BREATH Lab at the University of Miami, she also works with HIV populations. Their current work focuses on the mind-body interactions between chronic inflammation and the disruption of functional brain activity. We are excited to interview Judy about her research, fighting Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the role of exercise in cognitive decline. Follow her on Twitter @judi_diane

Can you tell us about your journey in science?

I am an unlikely member of the academic community. I am a mixed-race, Honduran American student and I do notice that I rarely see students like me (much less faculty) that understand where and what I come from. I am now in my third year of graduate school and finally feeling like I can catch the flow of research life, however, this was after an intensive cultural immersion into the academic environment. I must admit that I do love it, I love learning about the brain and rubbing elbows with people who are equally passionate about my field. This was a world I waited for years to be admitted into.

What areas of research are you currently pursuing?

I am part of a very interdisciplinary lab. I concentrate my efforts on fMRI analysis and how we can use it to understand and treat memory loss. I am interested in the mysterious phenomena of “SuperAgers”, older adults that are still as sharp as individuals who are 20 to 30 years old. I study their brain activity and how that contributes to their “special” abilities. However, there is another side to my research. I study brain activity changes due to exposure of HIV-disease as well as cell staining and cell cultures. I use these methods to investigate how inflammation relates to brain activity and memory abilities. *Cell culture is the process of obtaining cells from a plant or animal and then growing them in an artificial environment.

What’s one piece of advice you would give early career researchers?

Broadly, learn to work and study with others. As you get to advanced stages of your academic career, two heads truly are better than one.

How can science communication contribute to fighting against AD?

I think this is a vital piece that AD research needs right now. First of all, awareness of what AD is and how it can be prevented. Prevention is our best weapon against AD right now and it is possible to do so with simple life changes. Greater awareness also has a feedback effect; if more people knew about our research I also think more of them would volunteer for the studies and support our efforts.

What’s one recommendation you’d give people wanting to reduce their risk of AD?

Exercise. It’s the best intervention or treatment we have so far for cognitive decline.

What are you most proud of in your life?

At the moment, I am most proud of my current position. I would have been a happy teenager if someone told me that I would be doing fMRI research as a part of the University of Miami. I am a part of amazing research groups, such as the McKnight Research group which is a team of neurologists, neuropsychologist, radiologists all at the same investigating treatments for age-related neurodegeneration.  I am also a regular at the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Laboratory, which is one of the research laboratories that I looked up to earlier in my career.

What are your future career goals?

I hope to take fMRI research as far as I can. It has been a rewarding experience and it is such an impressive community. However, students like me have lower chances to move on to direct their own laboratory, so I remain open to prospects in the industry.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love making art. I have film cameras and paint canvases all stashed in my home for the rare moments when there is time to make something or shoot pictures.

Is there any other information that you would like to add?

To an early career researcher that is also an underrepresented minority, I would say: You are not alone. It’s a challenging life path, which is made more challenging if you blame yourself for a lot of the challenges that you encounter in academia.

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Interview with Alzheimer’s researcher, blogger, and advocate Maya Gosztyla

Maya Gosztyla is the creator of AlzScience. Her passion for Alzheimer’s disease began at a young age when her grandmother was diagnosed with vascular dementia following a stroke. She currently works in a lab at the National Institutes of Health, where she’s researching a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Niemann-Pick Disease. In addition to her love of research, Maya has a passion for science writing and hopes to continue educating the public about the ways we can keep our brains healthy as we age. We are excited to interview Maya about her research, fighting Alzheimer’s and the role of diet in brain health. Follow her on Twitter @AlzScience

Can you tell us about your journey in science?

I’ve pretty much always known that I wanted to be a scientist, but the exact field of science has varied quite a bit. For most of my high school, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. But then I took an advanced biology course in my senior year, and I was hooked! I ended up going to college at the Ohio State University and double-majoring in Neuroscience and Molecular Genetics. I knew I wanted to get involved with research, so I joined a lab that was studying how axons (the long projections that neurons use to send electrochemical signals) are guided to their proper destinations during the development of the nervous system. This research was fascinating work, but over time, my interests began to drift more toward studying human diseases. I spent some time in Switzerland doing a research project on Alzheimer’s disease, which convinced me that this was the area of research that I wanted to focus on. After I graduated, I secured a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where my research has a biomedical focus. I’m now applying to Ph.D. programs in Neuroscience, and I hope to begin my enrollment this fall. I plan to research the underlying mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases (including Alzheimer’s) and develop new strategies for treatment.

What areas of research are you currently pursuing?

My section of the NIH is called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. We are interested in the “bench to bedside” research, which involves taking scientific discoveries and trying to apply them to treating diseases. One of my projects is to develop a method to quantify how much cholesterol is inside of neurons that are growing in a dish. There are several diseases caused by the accumulation of too much cholesterol, including Niemann Pick Disease (also known as “childhood Alzheimer’s disease”). We are hoping that this new method will allow us to quickly screen thousands of different chemicals to see if any of them can reduce how much cholesterol is inside these cells. After that, we can investigate those chemicals further and try to develop them into a new treatment.

What’s one fact that you’ve learned about the brain?

During the day, your neurons are working hard sending lots of signals, and in the process, they release a lot of waste products into your brain. One of these waste products is amyloid-beta, a toxic protein that’s believed to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Luckily, when we sleep, all the gunk inside your brain gets cleared away. That’s why getting enough sleep is so important!

What’s one piece of advice you would give to early career researchers?

One of the best things I ever did was start a science blog. It’s a great way to get more familiar with your field of research while helping other people to understand. It’s also great for networking; so far two people at my Ph.D. interviews have told me that they are regular readers of my blog!

How can science communication contribute to fighting against Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?

There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding Alzheimer’s disease. A lot of people don’t realize that only one-third of your overall risk is due to genetics—the rest is all determined by your lifestyle choices! A balanced diet, regular exercise, and lifelong learning can dramatically reduce your risk of getting this disease. I’m hoping that my efforts in science communication can help more people learn how to start taking better care of their brains.

What’s one recommendation you’d give people wanting to reduce their AD risk?

Probably the number one best thing you can do for your brain is to improve your diet. A lot of research has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which is also great for heart health, dramatically reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This diet minimizes saturated fat and red meats while consuming lots of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Even if you take a small step toward improving your diet, like cutting out all sugary beverages, it can make a big difference in your brain health, not to mention your body!

What are you most proud of in your life?

I started my blog AlzScience about three years ago, and I’m so proud of how far it’s come. Last year the site had nearly 15,000 readers and also won a Science Seeker Award. It’s fantastic when people comment that they are grateful to learn the information.

What are your future career goals?

This fall, I’m planning to start a Ph.D. program in Neuroscience. My goal is to pursue a career in research either as a professor or in the pharmaceutical industry. I hope I can play a key part in bringing Alzheimer’s cure research to fruition.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love jogging; it’s my favorite way to clear my head. I also read a lot, and occasionally play around on my violin.

Four Key Questions When Choosing A Residential Care Facility

Does the facility offer memory care options?

Not all aged care facilities are created alike. Some offer memory care options, while others do not. Independent living facilities, for example, are geared toward older adults who are able to live an active lifestyle. Assisted living facilities and skilled nursing facilities (also known as nursing homes) may offer memory care options for people with dementia. Before choosing a care facility, ask the facility director if the institution provides specialized care or not.

What is the cost?

Caring for a person with dementia is expensive. According to an analysis conducted in 2016, the cost of health and residential care of people living with dementia can reach up AU $88,000  annually. Before committing to a facility, ensure that the facility and their services are up to or above par. Check the facility’s basic daily fee, plus its means-tested care fee and accommodation cost. Some facilities also charge fees for additional services.

What activity programs are available?

Mental stimulation can have physical benefits for people with dementia. Thus, an ideal aged care facility should provide inclusive programming, as well as specific recreational activities for residents with dementia. Some examples of activities include:

  • Reading and solving puzzles
  • Exercise and meditation
  • Playing a musical instrument/ listening to music/ sing-a-long
  • Movie screenings
  • Painting and crafts

What kind of training has the nursing staff received?

Thoroughly check ALL nursing staff credentials to make sure that they are adequately trained. Observe how the staff deals with the residents. Do they treat the residents with compassion and respect, or do they raise their voices or are rude when they communicate? Do you see signs of abuse or neglect? What is the staff-to-resident ratio per shift?

Also, make sure that a registered nurse is on duty 8 hours a day, and the facility is operated by licensed nursing staff 24 hours a day. Many dementia patients are unable to eat or drink by themselves, so check whether the staff is willing to assist residents who are unable to do so.

Healthy Brain, Healthy Heart

FirstCare Nursing Homes are leading nursing homes in Ireland. FirstCare has provided nursing home care for older adults and frail patients for over 14 years. A project coordinator for dementia care, Jane Bryne, discusses improving brain and heart health.

How are the brain and heart connected?

The brain and heart are two vital organs in the human body. Unknown to many, the brain and heart are more connected to one another than previously thought. A study confirmed that ensuring optimal health of the two organs will lead to the efficiency of the other. This means that having a healthy heart is related to lower dementia risk and a slower rate of cognitive decline.

It was also found that the cardiovascular system, operating in peak performance, supports the proper functioning of the brain, thus leading to sharper memory and best use of one’s intellectual capability. Also, failing to maintain optimal cardiovascular health damages the brain’s fundamental anatomic structure, which can eventually lead to various mental health conditions like dementia.

What’s the link between dementia and heart health?

A new study found that people who have good cardiovascular health are less likely to get dementia. The study concluded that leading a physically active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and smoking, are sure-fire ways to reducing the tendency of suffering from dementia later in life.

In another study published in the journal Neurology, doctors researched 1,200 older adults who gave consent to brain autopsies after death. The findings were surprising because those who had high blood pressure showed signs of dementia.

Is there hope for people with dementia?

Dementia is not a dead end for older adults who have the condition. They can live the healthiest life possible even with dementia.

How can older adults have a good quality of life?

Housing has a huge effect on older adults’ mental health. Easy access to health infrastructure and recreation centers have been shown to be crucial to physical and mental health.

What’s your take on embracing the aging process?

A change of mindset is needed and research has shown that those who have positive views of aging are less likely to develop later the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Growing Younger Gracefully: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazz

Sheena Nancy Sarles writes about her new book titled Growing Younger Gracefully. The book is a full-spectrum exploration and curation of simple tips to navigate and celebrate the gift of aging. 

My intention for writing “Growing Younger Gracefully: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazzis for you to be inspired to appreciate your gift of aging, and to be motivated to incorporate daily, weekly, monthly, or once-in-a-lifetime rituals that enhance your well-being regardless of your chronological age. Growing Younger Gracefully is not about looking younger, but about the positive attitude and vibrant energy, we can choose as our foundation, as we navigate this journey in body, mind, and spirit.

This book springs from many sources that came about at the same time. First, I am aging, and I really want to face my aging without panicking. And, not long ago, I was panicking! I want to look and feel my best. Yet, it is time to acknowledge that I am in transition. My body doesn’t respond the way it used to. My face looks different. I care less about some things and more about others. There suddenly seem to be more people around who are younger than me than who are older. I get notices on hearing aids and retirement needs instead of ads for gym memberships. Yikes!

I have always been interested in being active, healthy, and living well. I want to enjoy all the aspects of my life. A few years ago, I began picking up books and articles with terrific ideas on well-being, yoga, nutrition, meditation, health products, and pretty much everything in this area. I’ve kept notes and tried whatever tips interested me. That compilation grew and grew, and is now this book.

Growing Younger Gracefully: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazz” is my curation of the various elements that offer well-being at any and every age. We actually can enhance our well-being, or as I like to say, “grow younger gracefully,” with a commitment to the pillars of well-being: nourishment, movement, and attitude. Each relies upon the other, yet each holds great significance independently.

“Growing” is our constant cellular state. Our cells are ever-changing. “Younger” is the notion that youth is about creating new experiences, gaining new perspectives, and exploring life’s mysteries. Let’s keep doing that, no matter our physical age. “Gracefully” is the way in which we want to explore these mysteries of life—with elegance, ease, and respect.

Aging is identified in our culture as something to fear, deny, resent, remedy, cure, and most of all, regret. As we age, we can feel great. As we age, we can feel awful. As we age, we can feel it all. Our aging is real, and it’s all ours. Most of all, how we age is all about our choice and our perspective.

These tips are organized by topic, but it is not recommended that you start at the beginning and read through in order. I suggest you find one randomly and take that tip into your routine for a day. Or, if you are looking for something specific to address a current interest or struggle, do just that.

Welcome to “Growing Younger Gracefully: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazz”!

Join Growing Younger Grace communities on Facebook, InstagramYouTube and subscribe to the newsletter!

Sheena Nancy Sarles is the founder of Growing Younger Gracefully™ (GYG) workshops and creator of GYG Organic Facial and Body Serums. A certified yoga instructor, holistic life coach, and Reiki practitioner, she has curated her studies and practice of well-being in her newly released book, Growing Younger Gracefully: Your Guide to Aging with Vitality, Resilience, and Pizzazz. Follow Sheena on Twitter.

What’s on the Minds of Top Aquatic Experts?

The excitement and the anticipation of attending the fifth International Conference on Evidence-Based Aquatic Therapies (ICEBAT) had been growing inside of me for months.  Unsure who I’d meet, but, certain I needed to be there, my excitement multiplied when names like Bruce Becker and Johan Lambeck appeared in the “line-up” of keynote speakers.

For me, best possible outcomes for my patients/patrons meant I would have significant opportunity to learn empirical evidence from the some of the latest published studies and have face-to-face conversations with aquatic leaders like these two industry icons. Not only would I learn but, as in past professional aquatic conferences, I could reaffirm what I’d already put into practice with my patrons.

Keynote speakers from various countries presented their findings on such matters as end-stage dementia, neural plasticity, and motor learning, therapies for the end of life quality, appropriate applications for children with CP and cartilage health and repair.  Oral presenters and poster presentations were intermingled with pool practicums and equipment demonstrations that, in some cases were new to many and in some cases familiar to me.  What wasn’t familiar were vendors from other countries offering products and services like dolphin encounters as a therapy or in-water photography.

What I gleaned from all the presentations and research was simple:  the industry requires unification and some concrete basis of “assumed competency” and “common knowledge” that bridges between the practitioner (me), the trainer like Mary Wykle and Kiki Dickinson and the researchers like Ben Waller and Johan Lambeck.

To start, Paula Geigle’s opening keynote address emphasized a need for recording the specific parameters of dosing: a consistent and comprehensive documentation of what is taught in the water and how.  Specifically, each professional needs to record the following:

  • Cadence
  • Duration
  • Frequency
  • Intensity
  • Mode
  • Water Depth and temperature

At the top of this list, “cadence.”  Is it a coincidence that Geigle referenced it first and I find it THE most prominent controllable parameter of consistency for the participant? Geigle’s leading bullet was an affirmation for me that I continue to “set the pace” for my participant(s) by establishing the rhythm or speed either by music or verbal counting cue and sometimes both when cueing half-speed or double time.

Other keynotes spoke about using a metronome, but as a practitioner, in a true natatorium like a YMCA or Community Center, a metronome would likely be inaudible…especially to older adults!  The bass thump of 135 bpm Dynamix CD, however, would ultimately serve as my backdrop for tempo, half-tempo and double or even quadruple time, depending upon the moves.

As an Ai Chi instructor, I have grown so holistically through this practice of coordinating breath with a movement that I now incorporate it in ALL my teachings from personal training to boot camp or HIIT and deep water running or arthritis and mobility instruction.

Another practicum leader stated that he didn’t believe in stretching.  It has been an integral part of my cool-down phase of instruction in virtually every class or personal training I have led in 27 years of practice. I have no clinical data to back up my experience in leading arthritis classes, but, I feel certain that a stretch is imperative in the older population.  Where is the evidence to support such a belief that it isn’t important?

Bottom line:  This conference will reconvene in two years in China.  Start saving now. In a worldwide perspective, all can contribute, learn and be made stronger in the profession.  The intimacy of the gathering makes it somewhat elitist but also empowering.  In this setting, relationships can be established that foster progress for the industry in the world, not just in our country or region. For us in the U.S., it seems we need to ‘catch up’ with some other countries who are leading our industry.  Also, I hope that 2020 vendors will include new players in the field like float therapy pools and AquaBase. With the advent of full face mask snorkels, how many non-swimmers could overcome their fear of water?

Felecia Fischell is a certified aquatic practitioner with 27 years experience in aquatic personal training and group exercise.  She is passionate about water and it’s pain relief and healing properties. Fischell is currently in the process of relocating to the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize where she is setting up an aquatic practice. She continues to maintain an active interest and perhaps role in creating the 2020 ICEBAT Conference to be held in Beijing. Find her on Facebook at FunLife Aquatic Consulting, LLC

 

 

An Interview with Stephen Johnston: Tech and Aging Innovator

Innovating services for aging adults means bringing together different perspectives and aligning common marketing goals which typically do not overlap. This is what Aging2.0 co-founder Stephen Johnston set out to do when he launched an innovation network that would be global, inter-generational, and interdisciplinary.

Several years ago, Johnston had a light-bulb moment when transitioning from the mobile industry to health services innovation. He saw an opportunity to bridge entrepreneurship, technology, and aging to bring people together and meet real-life needs. Johnston is also passionate about strengthening communities to have sustainable impact.

Aging2.0 is an innovation network focused on technologies specifically for aging adults (gerontechnology). The network supports innovators and entrepreneurs dedicated to challenges and opportunities affecting over one billion older adults worldwide. It was founded by Stephen Johnston and Katy Fike in 2012, with headquarters in San Francisco, and has a global footprint in over 20 countries.

Their network includes some of the largest and most innovative companies in aging and senior care, including leading organizations, individuals, and entrepreneurs. They offer competitions, advice and boot-camps to startups, as well as a networked platform to connect their target audience. So far, Aging2.0 has hosted more than 400 events, connected over 15,000 people in over 20 nations, and grown to over 50 volunteer chapters in North and South America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

I met with Johnston to find out more about the latest events in aging and Aging2.0 expanding to Europe.

How did you get into addressing aging issues through technology?

I had no particular ambition or ideas to go into aging, but I was very interested in technology from when I studied in business school at Harvard. I did a lot of courses in technology and got excited about innovation and disruption. After business school, I went to Nokia. It turned out that mobile had a much broader value proposition than just phone calls and texting. At that time, I did two very formative things while at Nokia. One is that I got interested in healthcare and mobile health (mHealth) and how the two worlds connected. Another thing was being in a good company that was being disrupted and trying to develop a model for change. So, I created Nokia 2.0 to build a global community of innovators at the company with this idea of leading an innovation revolution within Nokia.

After I left Nokia, there was the opportunity to work with doctors developing mobile apps. One of the clients was a billionaire from Texas who was diagnosed with a rare dementia. I got brought in to do venture-philanthropy research to find a cure for this individual’s disease with a network of researchers. While working with a group of experts in dementia research, there was this lightbulb moment for me was when the family was talking about how they didn’t have access to products and services that would help them as caregivers. I realized there was my opportunity if my mission in life was to build a community of innovators and support these innovators to help families with dementia and older adults.

Nobody was doing anything like this and there wasn’t a playbook for how to build global ecosystem for innovation in aging, so I had to just start making it up. That meant I needed to build a community around me via blogging and events, and that’s how I met Katy who became my co-founder. It became clear that, outside a small group, there weren’t that many experts working in innovation and technology and aging. And that became the genesis of Aging2.0.

What were the starting steps for Aging2.0?

Since my career up until then was pretty corporate, I had a hunger to really do things my way, build something on my own and create a small team that would be super agile. We started by having coffee and meetups in local places and inviting people to come along who were interested in the topic. That was the start of what we are doing now and what we have been doing ever since. The local events had some of the biggest impact on launching Aging2.0 and they kept us grounded. We had older people and startups attending and we were really making those connections. We were starting to build a strong community. Since then, there have been over 400 meetings where 1000+ people attend. We get a lot of validation from people who come to our events and tell us that this is valuable. It’s been growing steadily, but at the heart, it’s still about bringing people together to talk about topics in aging.

It comes back to being a bridge between innovation, technology, and startups on one hand and older adults, aging, and the senior care space on the other hand. We see ourselves as a bridge and that allows us to work with both sides and make sure each side sees the others’ perspective. There’s not a lot of overlap in the technology and startups and aging and senior care worlds and that’s where we’ve really been focusing on building a bridge.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see to using technology to enhance and improve the lives of aging adults?

There are a number of key challenges that we consistently here about that startups face. The first is getting access directly to customers and the user insights about what older adults need. We support startups here by being a bridge to both sides – building trust with customers, with local assisted living communities for example, and connecting technologists to older people and caregivers.

The second challenge is that the space is very fragmented. There isn’t one industry, but we are crossing over several industries and people have to learn to speak the same language. Distribution channels are fragmented which makes it hard for a product to get to market, in particular to reach older people in their homes. Business models are a further challenge. A lot of these companies are doing good and helping people save money for the healthcare system, but at the same time, the healthcare system isn’t rewarding them. Often, it is a private pay model where the companies are actually doing public benefit. I’m looking forward to something like social impact bonds which could start to make some interesting connections between risk sharing and startups on the one hand and with healthcare payers on the other hand in order to open up some funding for these new business models.

What keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?

At the end of the day, it is about making an impact. For me, the way I thought about it was looking at what I think is needed in the world, what I’m good at and like to do, and what can bring in an income. And this is essentially why I got into running a for-profit, for-purpose business. I didn’t want to be purely in the corporate side or purely in the non-profit side, and I wanted to create something sustainable.

My grandmother was one of the most important people to me growing up and inspirational as she was also an entrepreneur. She was extremely kind, compassionate and wise and great with younger people. Aging2.0 hopefully captures some of that; it’s not only young people coming together to build technologies to make older people live better, it’s about how older people can have access to ways to share their perspectives, insights, and values, and discover more purpose. And I think both sides will benefit.

How does Aging2.0 approach challenges and opportunities in health and aging?

Everything we do is human-centric and we are working on the needs of older people, such as health, finance, transport, food, and access to services. This year, we have launched our Grand Challenges which takes 12 big topics relating to fixing today’s care system (such as care coordination and staffing issues), addresses topics relating to thriving in the community (such as social engagement, mobility, and lifestyle products), and also looks towards the more complex issues to be resolved (such as end-of-life planning, dementia, and new models for financial wellness). Our network provides ideas for the priority topics to be worked on, and also helps provide the answers.

What solutions have you come across that you use in your own life?

A big thing for me is the adjacencies, where we have seen services come into the aging space from outside, ones that aren’t designed to be aging products, like ones to count steps. For example, wearables, the Misfit wearable is one that I’m using. I use Amazon Echo a lot, too and we all benefit from having smart homes, not just older people. I imagine self-driving cars, robots and wearables will be categories in which older adults will be the first movers which will generate a good deal of interest by tech companies here in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Why is Aging2.0 expanding into Europe?

We’re building this global community and want to be in 100 countries by 2020. The US is where it started but, being from the UK, I’m excited to be bringing this into Europe. I am really excited for 2 main reasons 1) the amount of innovation, government recognition of the issue and financial support for new solutions is really tremendous in Europe. It’s more of a strategic priority partly because of the aging population in Europe is a higher proportion than in the US. 2) There is a big need for innovative, startup thinking and ways of doing things – bringing in the “Silicon Valley mentality.” There is a good opportunity to build up an innovation ecosystem that has an impact beyond aging – in particular, to spur economic development, which will help companies and cities thrive. In Europe, there’s a lot of energy around smart-, healthy-, and age-friendly cities. Many parts of Europe have strong, community-based cultures, and connecting communities is one of my bigger passions. I was really inspired by a recent meeting in Geneva with the World Health Organization and meeting other organizations and the work they are doing, thinking about where we could be a network and then build global innovation platforms on top of the Age-Friendly Cities Network. I think Europe is going to be a good testbed for that.

Aging2.0 recently held a Startup Bootcamp and Summit in Belgium, what were some of the highlights from the event?

It was our first major European event (previously we have been having local chapter events, but nothing European-wide) and we had people there from 15 countries. The aim was really to get people together on the same page and start a conversation about innovation in aging from the perspective of the continent. There was quite a lot of talk about living labs and how we need to bring older people – for connecting technologies to older people. There was quite a lot of discussion around integrating the needs of older adults and practical applications in this area. One of the things that came out of the event was this need for sharing perspectives and best practices, such as a database of what works. Often, we have been doing this work in silos and making the same mistakes again and again. There was also a strong focus on outcomes, the use of data, measuring impact, and return on investment for services in the aging space.

One theme was ways in which older people can keep living safely in their homes longer. So far, this hasn’t been easy and we have been seeing a lot of fragmentation – a lot of people doing different things, using different and new technologies, and none of it is really tied together. So, that’s one of the things we are going to try to do more of, to make things easier and more holistic. Europe has the potential to have a much more integrated approach. So far, we are still behind, as far as technology companies being in their silos. This is an opportunity where Europe has the potential to take a leading role in building holistic platforms.

What exciting events does Aging2.0 have planned for the rest of the year?

We have many local meetups and events going on, listed on our website.

There is our first Asia-Pacific event and Startup Bootcamp in Taipei on October 12. We are excited for people to bring ideas and for big companies to get involved. The theme this year is “Fun Long Life,” and we will focus on investing in longevity at the individual, organizational, and governmental levels.

We have our annual global innovation conference, OPTIMIZE, November 14-15 in San Francisco. There will be some great speakers, networking and partnership opportunities, a Startup Bootcamp, exhibitions, and over 1,000 innovators, senior and healthcare executives, tech companies, investors, and aging adults coming together around common goals.

Our big strategic push is around the Grand Challenges initiative I mentioned before, which connects needs + design + products + market. Through this, we work with our members to understand what aging adults really need, the issues we should be prioritizing, and how to collectively address them best.

Going forward, we will be looking to deepen our partnerships with organizations in Europe and support our Chapters to become a vital part of the local innovation ecosystems.

Acknowledgement

A big thanks to Stephen Johnston for taking the time to answer my questions! Make sure to check out Aging2.0 for more information.

*This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.*

Carrie Peterson is a gerontologist and consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

An Interview with Jacynth Bassett: Ageism-Fighting Trailblazer

At 24, Jacynth Bassett is founder of the-Bias-Cut.com, a company whose designs have been featured in the likes of Vogue, The Sunday Times Style, Stylist Magazine, Stella Magazine and many other leading fashion publications. According to the website, the-Bias-Cut.com is Shopping With Attitude – Where Ageism Is Never In Style. Bassett is fighting against fashion’s ageism problem, thanks to her elegant and fashionable approach to design, among other innovative ideas.

It’s no surprise that ageism exists in fashion. Models over a certain age struggle to find their place – and older customers are frustrated at the lack of elegant fashion styles. This can lead to negative attitudes about aging which has significant consequences for physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. From fashion to entrepreneurship, the-Bias-Cut.com is affecting change that can impact overall well-being in society and culture.

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INTERVIEW WITH JACYNTH BASSETT ABOUT THE BIAS CUT

What inspired you to launch the-Bias-Cut.com?

I was inspired to launch the-Bias-Cut.com after growing tired of seeing women like my mum feeling invisible and irrelevant in the eyes of the fashion industry, largely because of their age and changing bodies.

A love for style and wanting to look good does not fade. Yet brands and retailers tend to be either youth-focused or patronize the older customer base. We either see youth-based imagery and fashions designed for younger shapes, or clothing that is frumpy and dowdy – with both resulting in a demoralizing shopping experience for 40+ women who still want to look modern and stylish.

So I wanted to create an online boutique that empowers these women. We curate collections that cater to their body types and lifestyles, whilst still being contemporary and exciting, and we only use 40+ women to model our clothing. Plus we have an online forum called ‘Ageism Is Never In Style’ where they can share their views and be inspired.

Do you think society can get rid off ageism in this lifetime?

Anything is possible, but it will take a lot of team effort and self moderation for this to be achieved.

First we need to be encourage integration between groups and demographics rather than segregation. Only then will we be able to understand, appreciate and respect our similarities and differences. Then we need to collectively put in the time and effort to lead and promote the revolution we want to see, in order for it to have a real impact.

But we also have an individual responsibility. Ageism is so ingrained in society, even those of us who are vocally against it can fall foul of using discriminatory terminology or stereotyping without realizing it. We need to be acutely aware of our own biases, and be the change we want to see.

Your company is very customer-friendly! Customers can shop for outfits using the Shop By Body tab. Why include this in the shopping experience?

Finding clothes that fit isn’t easy, particularly online. But as women’s bodies change with age, it becomes even more challenging. So I wanted to create an empowering user experience for customers, where they can quickly and easily find clothes that will flatter their body shapes, and not feel disappointed or ashamed of struggling to find clothes for their body types.

We love seeing your customers as models! Have you felt any pressure to use professional models?

Only when I was doing research and developing the business. I carried out a survey with my target market, and one of the questions I asked was about how they would feel seeing customers as models. The response was mixed. Some loved the idea, but others were used to seeing clothing on professionals and wanted to keep it that way.

It did concern me but after further investigation, I realized that the negative responses generally came from their own personal biases and assumptions about using customers as models. So I stuck with my vision and fortunately we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response.

Where do you see the-Bias-Cut.com in 10 years?

I hope it will become the global one-stop fashion destination for discerning women of all ages who love style, and are looking for something of beautiful quality and a bit different.

From your articles, What Does ‘Frumpy’ Really Mean? to It’s OK Not To Go Grey, why should society be careful about using certain words or viewing aging as a single dimension?

Words are extremely powerful, but now that everyone is writing their opinions online, they also have a lasting impact. Even when you delete a comment, it isn’t really gone, and someone may have already read it. So we need to be careful with the words we choose to make sure we really understand their meaning, and use them in the right context.

When it comes to aging, there are a lot of terms and phrase that have become the norm, but are actually still derogatory without our realizing it. So I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and to take time and consideration before using them.

I also think we’re still struggling to recognize that ending ageism means having the choice to age as one wants to without external pressure or judgement. There are a lot of articles out there claiming to celebrate ageing in fashion – such as encouraging women to go grey, or to wear wacky clothes in order to be stylish – but actually they are still implying there is only one right way to grow older. Ultimately the right way is the right way for you, so we need to be acknowledging that we can age in a multitude of ways. Then we will all feel that we have the freedom to do so without being judged or criticized.

Do you work with the designers on your website? If so, do they share your mission?

Yes. I work very closely with the designers on the website if they’re British and/or with their agents if they’re European. It’s vital for me to understand where the clothes are coming from, the fabrics being used, and why the cut and style has been chosen. So I can spend hours at showrooms going through collections, trying on designs, and picking the very best pieces and patterns. And in some cases I’ve even co-designed exclusive pieces.

I also refuse to work with any designer or brand that does not support our mission. If a designer is ageist, it does not take long for a statement or comment to be made for the truth to come out, and for me to know they are not right for us. Maintaining a sense of integrity is integral to me and the-Bias-Cut.com.

What fashion item can you not live out?

Tricky question! I’m a bit of a style chameleon so I like to change things up all the time… Can I pick 3? I’d say a tailored dark blazer that I can throw over anything, a fabulous pair of ankle boots, and a pair of well-cut, slim fitting boyfriend jeans.

On the blog, you discuss fabrics from various regions (Hollandaise from West Africa, etc.), why is it important to explore other fabrics and designs?

To appreciate quality, I think it’s vital to understand fabrics: where they came from to how they have developed and changed over the years. Most of the common fabrics that we use today in the UK or the US came from other countries, and we should acknowledge and respect that. Plus its only once we’ve understood where fabrics have come from, that we can move forward.

I also think that we should be appreciating fabrics and designs from other cultures given the global society we live in today. Again it’s about integrating with one another, and by doing so, we can appreciate each other and be inspired to be even more creative.

What advise would you give millennials interested in launching companies especially for an older population?

  • Never make assumptions – integrate yourself as much as possible into your target market before moving forward.
  • Keep in constant contact with your market because it will change over time.
  • Know that not everyone in your target demographic is going to be a customer. So identify your ‘tribe’ so you can work out when to listen to feedback and not to.
  • But remember, just because you’re not your customer, doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t count. You have the advantage of being more objective.
  • Be disciplined – make sure each decision you make is because your market wants it, not because you do!

Acknowledgement

A big thanks to Jacynth Bassett for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out the-Bias-Cut.com for more information, including becoming a featured blogger and liking the Facebook page.

*This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.*

Tessy Chu is the Managing Editor of Global Health Aging.

The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, written by Judith N. Lasker, shines light on healthcare-based volunteering in developing contexts. While it does not explicitly focus on aging, this book poses a bold and poignant question: Does international medical volunteering really help patients?

Developing countries struggle with both acute diseases such as malaria that are less prevalent in developed countries, as well as many of the same chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that routinely affect people in nations like the United States. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases, which often impact older adults, are the leading cause of death or disability in the world. Many medical professionals who volunteer abroad often end up treating patients with such chronic diseases.

For example, International Volunteer HQ – a large volunteer-host connection service – offers North American medical tourists the opportunity to work with older adults in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Zambia. Another NGO, UBELONG, offers short term volunteer trips to Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Peru. Other programs, such as the volunteer surgeons who perform cataract operations, also target diseases that primarily impact older adults.

In Hoping to Help, Lasker investigates the impact of global medical volunteerism on patient health. She finds little evidence that global medical volunteer trips are actually helpful to the patients:

  • Lasker points out that most trips have no follow-up. Thus it is impossible to determine whether the patient benefited from medical care.
  • Most trips do not provide long-term solutions to chronic diseases; many individuals were prescribed medication –for example, blood pressure – without having access to a sustainable supply of the medicine. Once the volunteer leaves, the patient may become worse. Even a seemingly innocuous treatment, such as medication to reduce hypertension, can lead to a rebound hypertensive effect.
  • Finally, volunteer medical students or nurses will often conduct procedures or give treatment that is outside their scope of practice in their home countries.

The positive or negative effect on the health of patients treated by these practitioners are not well known, but it is safe to say that the impacts of global health volunteering are not all positive. There are many debates about the possible good or harm international medical volunteers can do to host communities – while some have compared the practice to colonialism, others have defended the noble intentions of these programs. What this debate leaves out, however, is the patient’s version of the story.

For individuals who wish to volunteer and contribute to aging in developing nations, Lasker’s book serves as a useful guide. She clearly delineates the positives and negatives of the programs. Volunteering is one way to help aging individuals in developing countries, but an investment in infrastructure development in the health sector will have a more meaningful, long-term, and sustainable impact.

Grace Mandel is a project manager for the Baltimore Fall Reduction Initiative Engaging Neighborhoods and Data (B’FRIEND) at the Baltimore City Department of Health.

The Power of Health Literacy in Later Life

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy refers to the ability to access, understand, communicate, and act on information related to health and disease. People who are health literate can find and understand health information, discuss concerns with medical professionals, and act on decisions to improve health and manage conditions. As a social determinant of health, health literacy is related to social factors, such as culture, education, or socioeconomic status.

It is an important factor in public health as health literacy rates affect health systems and the health services they provide. People with high levels of health literacy show healthier lifestyles, have fewer chronic illnesses, are more adherent to treatment, report better health, and live longer lives. In contrast, people with lower levels of health literacy have less use of preventive health services, are at higher risk for misdiagnosis, experience difficulties managing chronic conditions, medications, and treatment adherence, and have poorer health outcomes.

Health literacy affects everyone—even people with good literacy skills can have low health literacy. Most people will have difficulty understanding health terms or information at some point in their lives. Sometimes, people first hear specific medical terms or health information when they or a loved one has a serious health problem.

Health literacy has been shown to affect rates of illness and death, use of health services, and health outcomes. Low health literacy may account for up to five percent of overall healthcare costs. To address this, the European Union (EU) financed the European Health Literacy Survey, which revealed that nearly 50 percent of the population have a poor understanding of healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion.

Why Does It Matter to Older Adults?

Health literacy is population-focused rather than individual-focused. Like many regions in the world, Europe is experiencing an increase in chronic conditions. It is the leading cause of mortality representing 77 percent of all deaths. When people manage multiple health conditions, they need to understand complex health information and navigate healthcare systems. Research finds that people who have the most difficulty with limited health literacy are older adults, recent immigrants who may not understand the regional language, those with lower levels of education, and ethnic minorities. For some older adults, using the internet to find health information or services is a struggle, and for others using basic math to schedule medications is challenging.

With populations growing older, more people will live with chronic conditions and may not have the skills to access, understand and act on health information. Although Europe has a relatively high socioeconomic status, up to half of its citizens have a poor understanding of their health, which means that health literacy is a crucial factor to active and healthy aging. Improving health literacy supports people in taking responsibility for their own lives, to make better decisions about their personal health, and to have the capacity to live longer lives in better health.

Increasing health literacy means addressing the knowledge and skills of people with low health literacy, their families, and communities. It also requires teaching health professionals how to provide health information that is understandable for individuals and how to help their patients understand what that information means for their own health. Improved health literacy empowers individuals to further engage in their healthcare and take a more active role in their personal health. In turn, this will have positive impacts on health promotion, disease prevention, and better treatment outcomes.

Carrie Peterson is a gerontologist and consultant in eHealth and Innovation.