What can a simple fruit fly teach us about ageing?

A recent study could lead to interventions that extend human lifespan and improve health in our later years. Based on new evidence regarding a DNA-based theory of ageing, this field aims to attenuate diseases of ageing such as cancer, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ageing research dates back many years, but thanks to scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging the field has become more widely recognised. Researchers at Buck coined the term ‘geroscience’ to explain the relationship between ageing and age-related diseases. The notion that people are more susceptible to diseases as they grow older rings true to most of us, although some older adults lead healthy and active lives without medical intervention.

“Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65, and every day, more and more of them are just as fit as me” – so says Linda Marsa, contributing editor at Discover magazine. Richard Johnson, an economist, says “Today’s seniors are healthier, better educated, and more productive than ever.” Despite these positive trends, many would argue that the goal of geroscience – to explain and intervene in age-related diseases including arthritis – remains highly relevant to today’s societies.

Since life extension studies remain inconclusive, scientists are working to improve ‘healthspan’ – the length of time a person is healthy, especially in the later years. Brown University Professor Dr. Stephen L. Helfand is one of several researchers whose work is advancing the rapidly maturing field of ageing science. He is also senior author of the study mentioned above.

This study showed that many transposable elements (TEs) become activated with age in the fruit fly Drosophila* and that this activation is prevented by dietary restriction – an intervention known to extend lifespan. TEs are sequences of DNA (our genetic material) that move (or jump) from one location in the genome to another. Drosophila is a small fruit fly used extensively in genetic research. Why do scientists use fruit flies? Because fruit flies share 75 percent of the genes that cause disease with humans including having a smaller, fully-sequenced genome for easier genetic manipulations. Ultimately, the study provides evidence that preventing TE activation by dietary restriction may be a useful tool in ameliorating aging-associated diseases. The hope is that such results could be applied to humans as research progresses.

“Our demonstration that dietary [restriction], genetic and pharmacological interventions that reduce the age-related increases in [transposon] activity can also extend lifespan suggests new and novel pathways for the development of interventions designed to extend healthy lifespan.” according to this study. Despite the possibility of a true causal relationship, scientists can (happily!) avoid misleading phrases such as the Fountain of Youth, since geroscience hopes to improve health and longevity – not provide some mythical youth potion. Older people are a rapidly growing demographic – by 2100, the number of people aged 60 and over will reach 3.2 billion. It is, therefore, vital that researchers use terms that do not marginalize an increasingly growing demographic –  or maintain the current narrative of our youth-obsessed culture.

We have seen major breakthroughs in public health and medical research, including a generational leap in longevity, the use of antibiotics, the completion of the Human Genome Project, and more. Society has also reaped the benefits of new medical technologies and advances in nutrition such as sustainable diets, virtual reality, and food scanners. As the field of geroscience continues to evolve, both public and private sectors may increase investments for ageing research, especially if it can reveal treatments for conditions that afflict older people. More data is also needed to understand and support research findings including the current study by Dr. Helfand. This paper comes as scientists from three universities including, Brown University, New York University and the University of Rochester forge a new partnership in DNA-related research. The collaboration is supported by a five-year, $9.67-million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Hence, study outcomes could have a lasting effect on health and society. David Sinclair, a researcher of ageing at Harvard Medical School, has put this attitude into words: “The goal of this research is not to keep people in the nursing home for longer. It’s to keep them out of nursing homes for longer.”

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Alcohol and Ageing: The International Trends Worrying Health Researchers

Risky drinking – defined as drinking at levels that put a person at risk of medical or social problems – has for centuries been viewed as an affliction of youth and immaturity. Yet, as the first wave of baby boomers reach retirement age, a startling trend is revealing itself: older adults are now drinking more than any previous cohort of retirees, with over 40 percent of older drinkers in some Western countries being classified as ‘hazardous drinkers.’

Our international research team recently explored patterns of drinking in older populations in nine different countries, including the United States, England, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Russia, Ghana, South Africa, and India. These countries span different political approaches, distinct continents, and various development levels, and the results were startling.

Drinking in older adults appears to be closely tied to wealth. We found that the proportion of older adults that drink is much higher in Western countries (e.g., the U.S., England and New Zealand) than non-Western countries. Additionally, while evidence shows that older men are more likely to drink than older women, this disparity is far smaller in Western countries than it is in non-Western countries.

When we explored the patterns of drinking across countries, we found that older drinkers in Western countries also seem to drink more frequently than older drinkers in non-Western countries. However, we also found that frequent (2-3 days per week) or very frequent (4+ days per week) heavy drinking occurs in both Western or non-Western countries, as with China and South Africa show an alarming number of older adults consuming alcohol heavily.

There are three key reasons why rising rates of drinking among older adults should spark international concern.

  1. Aging increases the risk of alcohol-related harm: Alcohol use merely is much riskier for an older adult than it is for a younger adult. The physiological aging process reduces our ability to process and detoxify alcohol, meaning we are more sensitive to its effects as we age even at the same level of consumption. Combined with this rising sensitivity to alcohol, aging itself also raises the risk of alcohol-related harm. As we age we are more likely to develop chronic conditions associated with (or exacerbated by) alcohol use or use medication that alcohol may interfere with, and to experience symptoms (e.g., nausea, sleeplessness, frailty, falls, depression) that alcohol can make worse. Unsurprisingly, older adults are far more likely to experience alcohol-related injuries and mortality than younger age groups.
  2. Older drinkers are neglected: Despite being at a heightened risk of alcohol-related harm, older drinkers are very likely to remain undetected in our communities. Research shows that older adults are much less likely than younger adults to be screened for alcohol use by health professionals. Furthermore, health conditions potentially underpinned by alcohol use are often misattributed to the aging process. Lastly, a recent report titled ‘Calling Time’ by Dr. Sarah Wadd and the British organization Drink Wise Age Well illustrates consistent neglect of older adults in alcohol policy, research on alcohol trends and harms, and availability of alcohol and addiction services.
  3. There are no benefits of drinking for older adults: A long-held assumption is that alcohol may be beneficial to heart health, and many older drinkers consume alcohol based on this belief. However, a growing body of international research now shows that the assumed health benefits of alcohol use were the result of poorly analyzed data and that there are no health benefits of drinking for older adults.

Unfortunately, our current health systems are ill-equipped to cope with this trend: in an era of rapid population ageing, a wave of older adults drinking at risky levels places considerable pressures on current health systems. Alcohol is the principle choice of drug for the ageing population and, although many do not meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, a large proportion will still require intervention to address the adverse consequences of excessive alcohol consumption (REF: Savage). Indeed, the number of older adults requiring substance misuse treatment services in the United States alone was expected to triple in the first two decades of this century (REF: Gfroerer). Given a rising rate of risky drinking despite the increased risk of harm and reduced likelihood of detection by health professionals, it is little wonder that the UK Royal Society of Psychiatrists now refers to older drinkers as ‘our silent addicts’.

What can we do? Fortunately, there is one key way in which we can collectively help mitigate this public health challenge.  As former American supreme court justice, American Lawyer Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) once said “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” This sums up the critical issue here: many older drinkers are just unaware of their risk levels because society does not realize that there is an issue to address. We have the evidence that shows many older adults are now drinking hazardously, despite the risks this poses, so now it is up to each of us to start talking to friends, family members, colleagues, health professionals and policymakers about it.

Dr. Andy Towers is a senior lecturer in the School of Health Science at Massey University (New Zealand). His teaching and research focus primarily on alcohol and drug use trends, policy and outcomes. In conjunction with colleagues at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), he leads a collaboration of researchers from the United States, Europe and the World Health Organisation in an international study of the global prevalence of older adults drinking patterns and health-related outcomes.

Hong Kong plans for a city that’s growing older

Today, about 16 percent of Hong Kong’s population is age 65 or older. By 2064, that is expected to be 36 percent.
HONG KONG — For decades, this city of more than 7 million has been one of Asia’s most dynamic places, filled with a youthful energy that drove rapid growth in both the population and the local economy.

Planners here still see Hong Kong that way. But they also are looking at the long-term trends, and grappling with a force they cannot stop: Hong Kong is getting older. That’s true of both the city’s people and its built environment — a phenomenon planners here call “double ageing”.

Today, about 16 percent of Hong Kong’s population is age 65 and over. By 2064, that’s expected to be 36 percent — and one in ten residents will be over the age of 85.

Meanwhile, housing stock that appears middle-aged today will become outdated tomorrow. By 2047, some 326,000 private housing units will be more than 70 years old. Many of them feature long flights of stairs unfriendly to older people. More than a third of seniors live in public housing, but the two-year wait list is bound to grow longer as citizens age.

The double-ageing problem is just one issue that Hong Kong’s planners are trying to figure out as they write a comprehensive plan called Hong Kong 2030+. The plan aims to take future demographic and economic trends into account while charting a path for improving quality of life in one of the world’s most densely settled cities.

Phyllis Li Chi Miu, deputy director of the city’s territorial planning department, says buildings, roads, parks and public transport all will need rejuvenation to make the city age-friendly. “It’s a challenging task,” she says.

Alignment with New Urban Agenda

Planners are also looking at how they can align the 2030+ plan with the New Urban Agenda. That’s the 20-year plan for sustainable urbanization that nations agreed to last October at the U. N.’s Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador.

Alignment was the main topic of conversation at a recent “Urban Thinkers Campus” conference here. At the event, Li noted that the 2030+ plan already stresses key elements of the New Urban Agenda such as social inclusion and environmental protection.

However, there was some debate about the New Urban Agenda’s relevance in the context of a city-state like Hong Kong. Paul Zimmerman, an environmentalist and elected councilor, said that some notable issues mentioned in the New Urban Agenda, such as increasing numbers of cars on the road, growth of slums and poor utility services, are not problems in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong is a city and also a country,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a city in which hyper-density and wilderness co-exist. Other mega-cities have no space in their periphery, while Hong Kong has a massive open space in its periphery.”

However, Professor NG Mee Kam of the urban studies programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Citiscope that the 2030+ plan “needs to strongly align with the New Urban Agenda to plug in crucial policy gaps.” For example, she said, Hong Kong’s plan could take a cue from the New Urban Agenda’s focus on the informal sector and the importance of cultural heritage.

Retrofitting and reclaiming

The 2030+ plan proposes three “building blocks” for implementation — planning for a liveable high-density city, embracing new economic challenges, and creating capacity for sustainable growth.

A major focus, particularly when it comes to dealing with the double-ageing problem, is retrofitting districts with the most old buildings. Tall buildings are likely to be renovated, while many smaller buildings will likely be demolished to make way for new construction and open space. Retrofitting public spaces is also a priority. The city intends to add curb-cuts at sidewalks to make it easier for seniors to walk, and aims to increase the amount of public space from 2 square metres per person to 3.5 square metres.

The plan also aims for compact urban growth that is highly integrated with public transport. Homes and offices are to be within 200 to 300 metres of transit; open spaces within 400 metres; and community facilities, railway stations and educational institutes within a range of 500 metres.

“We are looking at optimum land use through retrofitting,” Li said.

The plan also envisions reclaiming a good bit of land from the sea. That’s a strategy that Hong Kong has long relied on to create room for the city to grow — the city’s airport and Hong Kong Disneyland resort are both located on reclaimed land.

Under the 2030+ Plan, Hong Kong would add another 4,800 hectares (nearly 12,000 acres) of land — a little less than the area of Manhattan. The land would be used for housing, industry, transport facilities and open space. These would include a few large urban extensions such as the East Lantau Metropolis, which is to be home to as many as 700,000 people.

Work on the 2030+ plan started in 2015 and is in the fourth of six phases of public consultation. The final plan is expected to be released next year.

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.

Is it really possible to live until you’re 146? The science of ageing

Scientists doubt that extreme natural longevity is feasible. But if lifespan is ruled by a genetic ‘clock’, that view could change

The grim reaper comes for everyone in the end, but sometimes he is in less of a rush. This was certainly true for Sodimedjo, an Indonesian man who died on Sunday, but whether he was the full 146 years he claimed remains doubtful – not least because his purported birthdate is 30 years before local birth records began.

Scientists have their own reasons to be sceptical. A study published last year pointed to the existence of an upper ceiling on the natural human lifespan.

While the average life expectancy has steadily increased since the 19th century, data from the International Database on Longevity showed that the age of the very oldest people on the planet appeared to plateau in the mid-1990s – at a mere 114.9 years. Since the apparent plateau happened at a time when the reservoir of healthy centenarians was expanding, scientists concluded that an intrinsic biological limit had been reached: even if you evade accidents and disease, your body will still steadily decline until it passes the point of no return, the data appeared to suggest.

This raises the intriguing possibility that ageing could be slowed or even reversed, and some animal studies have already claimed to do just this.

Jan Vijg, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who led this research, said: “We simply provided evidence that humans do indeed have a ceiling that they really cannot go beyond. That’s part of being human.”

There will be the occasional outlier – the French supercentenarian and oldest woman to have lived, Jeanne Calment, was 122 when she died in 1997, but most of us have a shorter intrinsic “shelf life”. The probability of someone living to 146 is infinitesimal, Vijg said. “If somebody told you that they saw a UFO yesterday but it’s gone now, you’d probably be polite, but you wouldn’t believe it,” said Vijg. “That’s my reaction with this story.”

Before resigning yourself to the knowledge that you will almost certainly expire by the time you reach 115 years, it is worth noting that this ceiling could be moveable in the future.

Richard Faragher, professor of biogerontology at the University of Brighton, puts it this way: How long can a human live if you don’t do anything to them? Probably around 120. But there is a separate question, how long do people last if you can do something to them?”

Until now, the steady increase in average life expectancy (as distinct from lifespan) has been driven by fewer people smoking, better nutrition and antibiotics. Drugs and surgery for heart disease and cancer have also played a part.

However, scientists are only just beginning to explore the possibility of therapies designed to target the process of ageing itself, as well as the illnesses that come with advancing years. This field has recently taken an intriguing twist, as evidence has emerged that ageing is not simply the manifestation of environmental wear and tear. Instead, the latest work suggests that ageing is at least partly……….Read more here!

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

 is the Guardian’s Science correspondent. Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahdev

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.

 

Open Your Eyes: A Journey from Darkness to Sight

Open Your Eyes is a recently produced documentary on the impact of cataract surgery in Nepal. The film shows the transformation of health-related quality of life for older adults with access to medical care. In the film, Manisara and Durga make the long journey to get cataract surgery. Both husband and wife are blind and depend on family members for their most basic needs. Despite being blind, Manisara and Durga help care for their grandchildren and have an important place in the family. Their journey to the city is filled with nervous trepidation, but after the surgery, both are able to see their grandchildren and contribute to valuable work that benefits the entire family and community.

Open Your Eyes highlights the successful use of foreign funds to combat treatable diseases. The funding helps develop sustainable infrastructure and pays for many public health interventions such as cataract surgeries. In a previous article titled Hoping to Health, Global Health Aging reviewed the impact of NGO’s working on health including the effect of global health volunteering. Such efforts look very different in the Lions Club of Nepal – a club established by the service membership organization Lions Clubs International – where medical volunteers are Nepali citizens.

Overall, some questions were not addressed in the documentary. It was unclear if there was adequate follow-up care to prevent infection. And while Manisari and Duraga had no complications, both would have been virtually unreachable if they needed medical attention after they returned home. Cataract surgeries have a positive health impact due to their low complication rate and high degree of efficacy. It is not clear, however, that this model would translate for more risky procedures. In the end, Open Your Eyes does not discuss the challenges of bringing medical care to rural areas. Instead, it makes a compelling case for older adults as valued members of society who deserve quality care. Check out the trailer!

 

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.

News, research and opinion on healthy aging and longevity.

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