Category Archives: Europe

The birthplace of Western culture in particular ancient Greece, Europe is the second-smallest continent by surface area. It borders the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Europe is the third most populous continent after Asia and Africa.

Five Questions With Data Scientist Crystal Grant

Name: Crystal Grant
Job: Genetics Researcher and Science Advocate
Country: United States and the Netherlands
Age: 27

Crystal Grant was recently awarded a PhD in Genetics at Emory University. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, she used bioinformatics tools to characterize the molecular changes in humans with age. Originally from New York City, Dr. Grant completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, where she earned a BA in Biological Sciences with a minor in Anthropology. Throughout her graduate studies, she advocated for graduate students as President of Emory’s Graduate Student Council, volunteered with K-12 science outreach and education initiatives around Atlanta, and mentored underrepresented students. Dr. Grant enjoys practicing yoga, exploring museums, and traveling. In her future career, Dr. Grant she aims to combine her interest in crafting evidence-based science and technology policies with her doctoral experience working with big data. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.

On why she chose to the biology of aging:

“My decision to study aging was a result of the lab I chose at Emory University. PhD students enter the university before choosing a lab and then do three 3-month rotations through different labs before choosing one. I had just come from working in a mouse lab on a leukemia-like disease as part of my gap year. While I liked getting to work on a human disease, I disliked having to sacrifice mice, so I went into graduate school hoping to find a lab that studied a human condition using bioinformatics tools–meaning I’d just be working on the computer, not with any animal models. And I found just that in the Conneely Lab!

I spoke early in my first year to Dr. Karen Conneely (my now advisor) so she could tell me more about her lab. She studied epigenetics (which is the field that looks at how the environment interacts with our genetics) and had a student in her lab who was using this approach to study evolutionary theories of aging. It was a fascinating conversation that got me excited about her research and the prospect of joining her lab. She then told me more about what would become my first paper—that the environment around our DNA changes in a way that is so predictable and linear that these changes can be used to predict the age of the person with very high accuracy across several different tissues! Because of this accuracy and the correlation of someone’s predicted age based on their DNA marks with their actual time to mortality, it was suggested that looking at this mark on DNA (called DNA methylation) could be a biomarker of aging–essentially meaning that it was a better predictor of someone’s health than their actual chronological age. I was sold and luckily, she let me join her lab.

Since joining Karen’s lab, I’ve learned a lot more about this field and I’m always excited to see the new things we’re able to learn about the process of aging. Before I began studying aging, I thought, like many people, that we understood it well–but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how little we understand this process that we are all going through! But I think the promise of biomarkers of aging could help revolutionize medical treatment. It has the potential to allow us to know exactly what environmental factors and behaviors age us faster in addition to who is more at risk of disease development and early mortality.

Crystal won the Poster Prize (and 500 EUR) at the Ageing, Health & Rejuvenation conference.

On her yearlong research fellowship in the Netherlands:

“It was a cool experience. I was able to go because I am an NSF Graduate Research Fellow; fellows can apply for this additional program, Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW). The goal of GROW is to get more American scientists collaborating internationally. I’m super grateful to have been given that opportunity by the NSF. And finding my lab in the Netherlands resulted from me attending an international conference and having dinner with Dr. Eline Slagboom who put me in touch with Dr. Bas Heijmans. Through GROW, I worked in the Heijmans Lab in Leiden for a year on an interesting aging project. Others in the field seemed to agree, I attended an aging conference and many people at my poster were excited about our approach to developing a new biomarker of aging. However, the marker I developed in my 12 months of work did not appear an improvement over existing ones, but I’m hopeful that, once another graduate student picks up the project, they may make more headway on this project given more time.

Something else I learned was just how similar the process of doing science is in Europe compared to the US–the main differences were work life balance (which I think they are much better at there) and that graduate students are recognized and employees and treated as such. I thought it was amazing that everyone was entitled to 5 weeks of vacation each year and that grads were given a raise every few years to acknowledge how much more proficient they had gotten at their craft. However, I was surprised to learn that many of their contracts run out before they are finished writing their thesis, so they end up having to write it while at their new job–something that seemed very stressful to me. Another difference seemed to be the scale of biobanks (these are tissue samples from people volunteering to be part of research projects) in Europe compared to the US. Because of historical factors and mistreatment by US scientists of minorities in research studies of the past, it’s much harder to get Americans to participate in research in the US compared to Europeans, which is unfortunate and something scientists and policy makers in the US need to address.”

On becoming a science activist in graduate school:

“In graduate school, I’ve been very active both at Emory and on a larger scale at Capitol Hill in DC. More locally, I’ve been passionate about empowering graduate students at Emory. Especially now that I’ve seen how the PhD is so different in other parts of the world, I’m more well versed in ways American universities could improve the graduate experience. At Emory, I’m on a task force with the goal of improving the graduate experience for biology PhD students. Additionally, I’ve been part of a graduate organization that works to educate students on how they can have an impact on policy-makers, specifically in communicating the importance of the federal government funding for science research. This organization, the Emory Science Advocacy Network (EScAN), has given me experience in science policy and knowledge of careers that marry my interests in science research with my desire to maintain my civic engagement.

Through the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other professional societies, I’ve gotten to travel to DC to talk to Georgia legislators about the importance of funding science research at the federal level—which was a great experience. I think more scientists need to work on being advocates for what we do and practice talking about it with non-scientists. If the public and law-makers can better understand why what we do is so important, they’ll feel more comfortable trusting both us as researchers and the scientific findings that we publish.”

aaas_profile.jpeg
Crystal was profiled as part of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Member Spotlight. In the interview, she talked about on her experiences in both genetics research and activism during graduate school. Read more.

On her future goals:

“This January, I’ll be starting a 3-month science policy fellowship at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine through the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program. I’m SUPER excited about this opportunity since working in policy has been a goal of mine since starting my PhD. I’m also really interested in careers in Data Science since this is essentially what I’ve done these last 5 years in my PhD. I find I really enjoyed working with data to uncover trends and draw conclusions and then communicating these findings, especially to non-technical audiences.

For now, my main goal is to finish my PhD sometime in early 2020 and find a job that I really love. My ideal career would allow me to combine my interests in analyzing data and contributing to crafting evidence-based policies (and hopefully let me still travel).”

On her love of travel and favorite places:

“I love to travel, I get stir crazy if I’m in one place too long. My year of research in the Netherlands was a great experience in part because Europe is so easy to travel on a budget–I went to as many places as I could staying in cheap hostels and bargain hunting for cheap flights. I went to: Dublin, Ireland for St Patrick’s Day; Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest; Paris, France for AfroPunk; London, England for the Notting Hill Carnival; and many more. While, I still think Amsterdam is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, I found the sights in Vietnam (specially Ha Long Bay and the rice fields of Sa Pa) to be the most beautiful to visit. But my hands down favorite place to visit is Venice, Italy.”

Crystal talks about aging research to her department.

Before I began studying aging, I thought, like many people, that we understood it well–but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how little we understand this process that we are all going through!

Crystal Grant, PhD

Five Questions With Public Health Registrar Rory McGill

Name: Rory McGill
Job: Public Health Specialty Registrar
Country: Ireland and England
Age: 33

Rory McGill is currently training as a Public Health Specialty Registrar in the North West of England. He is a health and social psychologist by background and worked as a Postdoc in academia upon completing his PhD in psychology from Queen’s University Belfast. Dr. McGill was born and raised in Derry, Ireland but is currently based in Liverpool, England. His research interests include the wider determinants of health and the practical application of the social sciences. His hobbies include all things horror and video game related, which can be explained partly by being a Derry native which is the global capital of Halloween! He is passionate about using his platform to engage with wide audiences about the causes of health and the importance of well being and connecting with others that goes beyond academic journal articles.  Find him on Twitter and Instagram.  

On his training as a public health consultant:

“Training to be a Public Health consultant is a very exciting opportunity! The training programme began specifically for clinicians to develop their specialty in public health and become consultants. However, this was then opened to health professionals with non-medical backgrounds as public health is more than just the treatment of illness or management of communicable diseases. It includes everything that can impact upon health, which if you think about it is almost everything from the food we eat to where we spend our time and how we feel. Having such a diverse curriculum means two days are never the same, which I love! I completed my PhD in psychology back in 2011 and had no idea what public health was. I worked as a postdoc within the field of psychology before taking an academic position in public health as it dovetailed nicely with my own research on eating behaviours. This experience made me certain that this was the field I wanted to be a part of. Being able to apply the academic theory in practice and see population health improve is so fulfilling!”

Dr. McGill was a guest on Homo Sapiens podcast with hosts Chris and Will. He talked about why our LGB elders are missing out on vital healthcare services. Listen here.




On one surprising fact about older LGB in your research:

“I am passionate about the health of our ageing population, particularly our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) elders. I am a gay man who is very grateful for the work our older LGBT generation have done in fighting for our rights to live as normalised and accepted members of society. However, there is a disproportionate focus on youth culture when considering the LGBT community. While this is a vital consideration, older generations can become forgotten about. My research examined the care experiences of older LGB people in Merseyside (UK) and their thoughts on the future. There is a lack of academic research and UK policy consideration involving older LGB people. The Office for National Statistics estimate that 2 percent of the UK population identify as LGB. Older LGB people experience multiple disadvantage living in a hetero-normative society, with poorer health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. This is worsened by a long-standing oppression which has shaped the interactions of older LGB people with informal (care from family and friends/social interactions) and formal care (medical care from a professional). The implication of this is widened health inequalities arising from sub-optimum care, yet little research focusses specifically on older LGB health. My research found that older people did not want to be defined by their sexual orientation. They wanted to be valued as a whole person when receiving any form of care or support, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it! What was surprising for me was the differences in viewpoint by gender. The older women I spoke to were not as accepted as gay men into the “gay scene” of the 1960’s and 1970’s, forcing them to develop their own close support networks. This resulted in a preference for care exclusively from female carers and in contexts predominantly female. This highlights that older LGB people are not a homogenous group and should not be considered as such!”

On making health systems inclusive for older LGBT:

“It is important to note that I did not include older trans people in my research as there are very important biological considerations necessary when serving our trans elders, such as training for healthcare professionals to carry out the appropriate screening checks, e.g. carrying out prostate examinations in older trans women. This is an area which needs to be explored more in depth! From my research, it was shocking to hear some of the care experiences had by older LGB people. Some older gay men were tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) despite not having had a sexual partner in decades, and older women having had pregnancy tests despite never having had sexual contact with a man. Their clinicians failed to hear them and tested them based on stereotypical assumptions which made them feel isolated, stigmatised and alone. This is completely avoidable and does not require huge investment for our overstretched healthcare services. Front line staff should treat anyone coming through the door as an individual and not with preconceived and outdated assumptions. Older people are vulnerable, and when you add any other minority status to ageing, it makes them doubly vulnerable and this should be a consideration within induction training for care staff, no matter what minority group it may be.”

On whether or not older LGBT care homes are needed:

“The idea of older LGBT care homes is a very interesting and contested concept. It has come about due the examples of older LGBT people having very negative experiences while being cared for. I read one case study about an older lady who was with her female partner for decades and who since passed away. She then wasn’t well enough to live independently and needed to move into a care facility. Her carer was reportedly homophobic and as a result, the older lady hid all evidence of her lifetime spent with her partner until she herself passed away. She essentially went back into the closet in the twilight of her life. It really stuck with me and got me involved in this research in the beginning. I was initially surprised to hear from my participants that a strong majority were very much averse to the idea of an older LGBT exclusive carer home. They wanted to be cared for alongside members of their local community and not “ghettoised” and isolated among only other LGBT people. They reported this would only magnify the “othering” they have felt throughout their lives. Considerable more research needs to be carried out exploring this before large financial investment is provided in establishing such facilities. In my own opinion, having a more inclusive care home environment with a kitemark signifying the space being a safe one for LGBT people, coupled with more sensitivity training would be an ideal scenario.”

On his future goals:

“My current goal for the future is to complete my training and qualify as a public health consultant. I then would love to be able to influence policy at a national level to help shape how we consider LGBT ageing in terms of both prevention of ill health and the inclusive treatment of illness. I would also like to highlight and showcase the diversity in STEM by being an openly gay man who can hopefully inspire others like me to pursue their own goals!”

Having a more inclusive care home environment with a kitemark signifying the space being a safe one for LGBT people, coupled with more sensitivity training would be an ideal scenario.

Dr. Rory McGill, PhD, MPH, MFPH

Interview with Medical Gerontologist Fatma Nur Mozoğlu

Fatma Nur Mozoğlu is a fifth-year student of Antalya Akdeniz University Health Sciences, Faculty Department of Gerontology and Eskişehir Anadolu University Social Work, The nation’s first Gerontology department was founded in 2006 at Antalya Akdeniz University. In 2018, Fatma was published in the Scholar Journal of Applied Sciences and Research. Her paper titled Gerontology and Aging in Turkey focused on healthy tourism, medications, and older adults, and university for older adults. She also works on a university initiative to encourage lifelong learning for students over 60. We are excited to interview Fatma about her research thesis and making intergenerational connections. Follow her on Twitter @fatmanurmozoglu

Can you tell us about your journey in Gerontology?

I started my journey in the Department of Gerontology at Turkey Antalya Akdeniz University Faculty of Health Sciences, this was in the 2014–2015 academic year. It has been a fun run and I’m excited to be writing my thesis with my adviser Dr. İkuko Murakami on the use of medicines for older adults.

Can you tell us about your work on intergenerational connections?

Since 2014, I have been working with Prof. Dr. Ismail Tufan and his team from the Gerontology department. Dr. Tufan is the gerontology chief of the department, he and his team published Turkey Gerontology Atlas (Gero Atlas) using data from the past 15 years. Gero Atlas was launched in 2000 and is expected to be completed in 2023.

60+ Tazelenme University is Turkey’s first Senior University. The university is specific to Turkey and aims to develop a model that will set an example in the world. It was founded by Akdeniz University as part of Dr. Tufan’s project on Gero Atlas. Open and free for students over 60, training lasts for four years and students can enroll in a variety of classes from archeology to agriculture. While all the courses have proven beneficial, a new knitting course offered only to men has given a special boost for those experiencing memory loss. Between classes, male students pass time knitting sweaters, berets, scarves and socks in the campus garden.

This initiative has created a new way of perceiving older adults in Turkey. On the 60+ Tazelenme University campus, it is ensured that lifelong learning is realized through theoretical courses, while on the other hand, practical lessons allow students to discover their talents. The aim of the training is to connect with younger generations studying on campus in a similar environment, older adults and gerontology students can benefit from their knowledge and experiences as they work together on projects. The main purpose of these studies is to encourage lifelong learning and I’m excited to contribute to the management of this project.

In your opinion what three words describe the characteristics of older adults in Turkey? 

Active, Knowledgeable, Healthy

What are you most proud of in your life?

I am a volunteer for environmental carbon offset and nature projects. I am glad to have Erasmus experience in the capital of Croatia. Additionally, I am an educator for disadvantaged groups, our topics are social entrepreneurship, safe internet, and innovation. Public and private services provided by the Internet makes life easier for people in the world. Use of the internet is growing rapidly in Turkey but everyone is not able to equally benefit from this technology.

I am a member of Crossing Paths, an organization running education and social responsibility programs mainly targeting the youth in Turkey. Crossing Paths believes that “most of our problems can be resolved through education, a kind of education that promotes empathy, tolerance, social responsibility and respect for differences. We trust that we can meet on common ground with anyone who shares this belief independent of their ethnic background, religion, political views, gender, sexual orientation, and age.” Crossing Paths was founded in Turkey.

What are your future career goals?

I would like to be an international researcher and academician. I am going to graduate in June 2019 and hope to start a masters degree next year. I am currently exploring internships with nursing homes, hospitals, and Alzheimer’s centers among others.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’m interested in tango, salsa, theater, painting, extreme sports, yoga, scuba diving etc. I play tennis as well as flute. I’ve also taken part in fun projects about stray animals and environmental pollution ecology in Croatia and Turkey.

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

I have many startup and project experience, I believe that social relations contribute to my academic career. I would like to reach more audiences by setting up a gerontology news channel on YouTube. I would also like to work with older adults and their families. Thanks to the Global Health Aging team for this lovely interview!

A Call to Reclaim Aging Today

Anti-aging! It’s everywhere.

There’s lotions, potions, creams, and make-up. Shampoo, moisturizers, face masks and toothpaste. There are anti-aging diets promoting superfoods, revitalizing drinks, vitamins, herbal mixes, homeopathic remedies and juicing whilst at the same time we read the latest story about the oldest person on the planet reaching that age on wine, chocolate, and a maverick attitude!

We’re told about anti-aging exercises, treatments, laser surgery, sun lamps, and cosmetic procedures. We’re advised on clothes, underwear, hairstyle, hair color, and even eyebrow shape!

There are books, magazines, DVDs, radio programmes, tv programmes, youtube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Snaps, Insta influencers, podcasts, and blogs all dedicated to anti-aging.

We can even go on retreats, workshops, and seminars to learn, discuss and discover the best ways to beat aging.

Why?

Aging is a sign of survival- what’s the alternative? Not surviving? Not a great option. We need to celebrate having survived, realizing that the wrinkles, the lines, the grey hairs are a mark of success, of having reached a point in life that is your new record and you beat that record every day by getting older day by day. A ‘personal best’ you might say.

Whilst there appears to be a huge industry in ‘anti-aging’ and there is a myriad of ways that are promoted to be able to ‘stay young’, it cannot be denied that we are, all of us, not staying young! And that surely is the point.

We are all getting older and that is a good thing, we should stop trying to defy aging and, instead, live positively. Shake off the dreadful, negative, old age stereotypes and ask yourself what is so bad about aging that it has created such an ‘anti’ industry?

Let’s all be pro-age and let’s call out and challenge all the age discrimination that exists out there which has led to this huge ‘anti-aging’ phenomenon.

Let’s do it today.

Morna O’May is the Head of Service for Scotland at Contact the Elderly, the national charity dedicated to tackling loneliness and social isolation amongst older people living in the United Kingdom. Morna also writes the Goodstuffgreatideas blog about all things Third Sector. Follow Morna on Twitter.

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.

Join the Style Club for 10 percent off your first order!

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 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.

Migrant Health: What About the Elders?

By now, most have heard about the migrant crisis, where around 1 million people migrated to Europe due to war, persecution, and other unfortunate circumstances. Many efforts to provide aid and support have focused on children, which is typical of most disaster and emergency responses. This is appropriate for the situation in Europe as children and unaccompanied minors comprise around 25 percent of migrants.

But what about the older migrants? Are they also receiving quality, targeted, and culturally sensitive care?

In disaster and emergency response, older adults have distinct needs that many relief organizations are ill-equipped to address. In fact, there is clear evidence that older people are often overlooked, neglected, or even abandoned. The main issues that such migrants face are health effects, housing issues, and pension challenges, which are significantly worse when compared to native groups of the same age. In addition to the psychological issues of being displaced, separated from family and community, and in violent situations, there are basic physical issues which make migration difficult for older adults. Temporary housing is often inadequate and cognitive conditions such as depression, dementia, and delirium all play a part. For some, reduced mobility impedes evacuation, while others may suffer from fatigue or frailty that affect balance when standing in lines for food, water, and medical care.

Both medical professionals and individual migrants face challenges in health consultations since cultural and linguistic backgrounds are very different. This can lead to older adults being less likely to seek out medical advice and care and the health sector having trouble in accurately diagnosing and treating those who do seek help due to the language and culture barriers. There is also the consideration that care services will not meet the (often different) needs of elderly migrants who receive health and social care or accommodate the cultural tradition of parent-child relationships.

Quality, targeted, and culturally sensitive services are required to meet the needs of older migrants. Likewise, training services are needed for health and social care professionals to develop these competencies. The age-specific information on migrants is growing, but more information is needed.

In Denmark, The Migration School is the largest training programme for the care of minority groups in Scandinavia and the first research project in Europe focused on diagnostic methods associated with dementia. In the Netherlands, Pharos has two programmes called Health for the Elderly and Asylum Seekers and Refugees. Both programmes focus on physical activity to prevent falls, supporting (migrant) carers for people with dementia, improving preventive care for asylum seekers and refugees, and the responsible use of medicine.

The global proportion of older adults is increasing. Older people will outnumber children under age nine by 2030 and people under age 25 before 2050. The majority of older people live in low‐ and middle‐income countries, where some are prone to disasters and emergencies. Not only will there be more older adults to be affected by disasters, but more older adults will also provide aid in the aftermath. It is thus important to address ageism and the ethical responsibilities of non‐discrimination in disaster and emergency management – older adults’ lives matter and should not be disregarded when distributing aid and planning services.

Carrie Peterson is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

Population Aging and Urbanization in Europe

Cities are seeing a rise in ageing populations. In the European Union (EU), 75 percent of residents live in urban areas. As urban populations continue to rise, more and more people will grow into old age. For instance, the over age 65 group makes up 20-27 percent of the population in cities inside Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Since population aging will influence health, social exchanges, and well-being of older adults, hundreds of cities are designing urban environments to foster active and healthy aging.


Urbanization affects many areas including the health and well-being of society. As a result, many sectors are collaborating to keep populations engaged and healthy. Adapting cities to demographic trends accommodates residents, allowing for independent living and participation in society. The European Commission estimates that over 75 percent of housing in the EU is not suitable for independent living. Other aspects of physical environments including adequate sidewalks, transportation, and functional green spaces can increase physical activity and improve mobility, which reduces the risk and effects of chronic disease. Social issues, such as employment discrimination, negative stereotypes, and ageism, also play a role in the health of aging populations. It is important to involve older adults’ perspectives on urban planning to identify issues and barriers which prevent participation in society.

To help cities adjust to demographic trends and support healthy ageing, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities and Affiliated Programs, as well as a guide for policy and action in fostering age-friendly urban environments. Over 300 cities in 33 countries are currently involved in the Global Network, including 19 Member States in the European Region. The WHO guide advises on eight areas¹ considered the most influential, which also reflect the UN Principles for Older Persons. Through the work of the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing (which has a dedicated Action Group on Innovation for age friendly buildings, cities and environments) the European Commission has published a guide on innovation for aging, with examples from 12 countries in Europe.

EuroHealthNet’s Healthy Ageing website also highlights examples of initiatives and key resources on healthy and active aging throughout the European Union. Arup, Help Age International, Intel, and Systematica have produced an overview² of aging in 10 European cities with comparative data on both urbanization and aging. AGE Platform Europe published a guide³ aimed at helping European cities to use the Urban Agenda to become more age-friendly and as a repository of innovative solutions for age-friendly environments. These networks and initiatives encourage cities to be health-promoting environments as they adjust to population aging, and share innovative ideas, experiences, and lessons learned along the way.

unnamed

By 2020, more than 50 percent of the global population over 60 years old will be living in urban areas. Planning now can stimulate active and healthy aging both for current and future generations.

1. The WHO guide addresses: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services.
2. The ”Shaping Ageing Cities” publication examines: society; mobility; built and digital environments; politics; planning; and aging.
3. The AGE Platform Europe guide addresses the eight areas in the WHO guide as well as eight themes corresponding to the Urban Agenda: inclusion of migrants and refugees; jobs and skills in the local economy; urban poverty; housing; air quality; urban mobility; digital transition; and innovative and responsible public procurement.

Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

Breaking Down the Stigma of Loneliness in Denmark

In Denmark, there is a stigma associated with being alone. In fact, it may be more socially acceptable to say you have depression, than to say that you are lonely. As a result, there are no cultural safeguards that tackle loneliness in Denmark, especially among the aging.


According to a 2015 report titled *Ensomhed i befolkningen (Loneliness in the Population), 2.6 percent (12,000) of adults between the ages of 65 and 79 reported feeling lonely. Among adults over 80 years of age, almost twice as many (21,000 people) reported feeling lonely. It was also reported that some 210,000 Danes aged 16 years or older have experienced loneliness, over 15 percent of whom were 65 years or older.

One of the biggest reasons loneliness needs to be addressed in Denmark is that it poses several health risks. The risk for illness and early death *increases by 50 percent when people do not have meaningful contact with others. Additionally, loneliness has been linked to increased hospitalizations, and a need for psychiatric treatment. Several studies have also equated long-term loneliness to smoking and obesity.

The good news is that policies and programs to reduce loneliness among older adults in Denmark have been operating for several years, and are especially used in senior care homes. These programs include activities that aim to create opportunities for socialization and strengthening social networks, intergenerational activities – where older folks socialize with younger people instead of just their peers – shared meals, and baby and pet visits.

There are also programs put in place by specific neighborhoods to take care of the seniors living in the vicinity, such as storytelling evenings, outdoor trips, and exercise-buddy systems. In 2014, Ældre Sagan (Dane Age) established the social project *Folkebevægelsen mod Ensomhed (the People’s Movement Against Loneliness), which aims to reduce the number of people who experience loneliness in half by 2020, by raising awareness, breaking taboo, and fostering togetherness through targeted social arrangements.

Another such initiative, “Denmark eats together”, brings different generations and people from diverse cultures together during mealtimes. They currently partner with over sixty schools, organizations, municipalities. The national movement kicked off in five cities in April 2016, and saw hundreds of local and private teams, large and small, urban and rural, take a stand against loneliness by inviting others to join them for a shared meal.

Programs targeting loneliness in Denmark have reduced the number of lonely adults over age 65 from *65,000 in 2010 to *33,000 in 2015. Three prominent drivers that mark the success of these programs are

  • the range of activities they provide
  • the fact that they actively reach out to vulnerable groups
  • their ability to provide transportation to and from events

*WeShelter in Denmark, a community of social services working with people who are homeless or disadvantaged in Copenhagen, is participating in projects to share their experiences with social groups and social food clubs. One current project is documenting the effects of volunteer work on loneliness experienced by older, formerly homeless adults.

Apart from such targeted activities, a growing number of older learners are taking short education courses offered to adults in Denmark. Some education programs also specifically foster intergenerational environments, as they believe these types of courses have benefits for both younger and older learners.

As we have seen, there are a number of different ways in which pockets of Danish society are recognizing and dealing with the issue of loneliness. It is now time to destigmatize loneliness in mainstream culture as well.

*Some references are in Danish but can be translated to your language of preference Google Translate.

Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.