Category Archives: Global

It is crucial to know how societies view and treat older adults. This category compares continents and regions, including countries in different continents. The goal is to identify and examine the challenges and opportunities of population aging across cultures.

A Poem About Covid-19

Together Apart by British artist Banksy

Lockdown
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, Sing.

Brother Richard Hendrick is a Capuchin Priest living in Ireland.

Five Questions With Medical Scientist Aisha Bassett

Name: Aisha Bassett
Job: Pediatric Clinical Researcher
Country: United States, England, Bermuda
Age: 33

Aisha Bassett is a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow working in clinical research in Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was born and raised on the island of Bermuda. She obtained a BSc. Psychology at McGill University in Canada and her medical degree from Norwich Medical School in England. Her research interests include maternal-infant immunityvaccine efficacy and the maternal-infant microbiome. Her hobbies include singing, song-writing, composing on the piano and art. Dr. Bassett has had a vegan diet for over three years. She enjoys cooking and curating new plant-based recipes which combine her knowledge of nutrition and its role in disease prevention and health. She is passionate about using her knowledge and experience to help people live healthy and full lives by incorporating tasty and nutritional recipes into their diets. Find her on Instagram, and LinkedIn.

On why she chose to study medicine:    

“I remember being fascinated at a young age by this magical place called the hospital where my mom, who was a nurse, would disappear and then emerge with interesting stories about the people she met. After loosing my grandfather to a preventable disease, I became interested in how diseases develop, their complications and how they could be prevented. At age 13, I started volunteering at a hospital in Bermuda and did so until I graduated high school. I enjoyed getting to know the patients and felt natural compassion towards them, several of whom had become resident in the hospital due to chronic diseases. The stories they would tell me made each patient and their condition memorable and fueled my desire to understand the underlying mechanisms of the diseases I was seeing.

Seeing first-hand preventative disease such as diabetes, that particularly affected Blacks and minorities, and the plethora of complications that developed further fueled my desire to study medicine. As a medical student, I began to learn that most deaths in the western world were due to preventable diseases. I became interested not only in how to treat the disease but how to stop or reverse the disease process and how we develop protection from diseases starting in infancy, the topic of my current research.

The research I am performing in the Pannaraj Lab at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is investigating how to make vaccines work better. One such vaccine that we are researching is the Rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus is a leading cause of diarrhea in children and results in roughly 130,000 deaths in children worldwide every year. While the vaccine is very effective in high-income countries, it is much less effective in low- and middle-income countries. We are looking at the role of breast milk and the infant microbiome, the trillions of organisms that live in us, in how the vaccine works in different parts of the world.”

On her experience in medicine across countries: 

“The clinical experience I have has come from working in various healthcare settings, namely in Bermuda, Canada, Belize, England and the US. Each healthcare system had similarities in terms of leading causes of mortality and morbidity that were preventable through diet and lifestyle factors such as Type II Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes and certain cancers. Across all countries, differences in access to the resources, socioeconomic status, and patient education play a role in access to health resources. In some countries, the cost of healthcare is a deterrent to seeking medical attention, in others, the understanding of when and where to seek healthcare impacts utilization of resources. Working in various settings has taught me the importance of the cultural and socioeconomic factors involved in the health of individuals and communities. These experiences solidified my desire to work to reduce global health outcome disparities.”

A couple of plant-based meals that Dr. Bassett cooks and curates on her Instagram.

On the role our diet plays in disease prevention:    

“When thinking of disease prevention, I adopt a holistic approach. There are several factors that play a role in prevention including diet, daily exercise, dental hygiene and attending regular checkups with your doctor. Many of the top causes of deaths such as heart disease, stroke and cancers are due to lifestyle factors including diet, that include consumption of processed food, refined sugars, and animal products such as meat and dairy as a main source of nutrition.”

Scientists are discovering more about the role of the microbiome in disease prevention and development. The hygiene hypothesis explains the role of the microbiome in eczema and allergies and explains why there has been an increase over the last few decades in allergic diseases, such as respiratory, skin, and food allergy. It explains that modern living conditions are very clean and so there is less microbe exposure early in life. This results in the immune system not being taught to be able to recognize and fight foreign organisms. In addition, an imbalance of the microbiome is known to affect the skins immune response in a way that predisposes to immune conditions, such as eczema. On the other hand, a healthy microbiome is reported to have a protective influence on the immune system. The development of the infant microbiome has been found to be influenced by early life exposure such as delivery method, breast milk ingestion, infant nutrition, and antibiotic use.

On the science behind the benefits of plant-based meals:

“Plant-based meals focus on foods primarily from plants. It means proportionally choosing more foods from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, beans and more. Plant-based meals are beneficial for many reasons. Some vegetables and fruits can reduce inflammation in our bodies. This is important for our health because inflammation, when it goes on for a long time, can lead to certain diseases. Eating foods that reduce inflammation or avoiding foods that cause inflammation, can promote health in the body. There are also substances in fruits and vegetables called phytonutrients. These phytonutrients have different roles. Some can actually ‘turn off’ gene that lead to cancer, which is simply an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Other phytonutrients can repair damage in our cells that would usually lead to disease states.

I have met so many people who have said to me, “I want to eat healthier, but I don’t know where to start.” People who want to make that change can often have a lot of information to sort through before they feel comfortable adding new foods to their diet. I started curating plant-based meals on Instagram to help people make food choices that would help them live a healthy life. As a doctor and researcher who has had a plant-based diet for over 2 decades, I enjoy sharing the meals I have created while also sharing nutritional facts about the foods I eat.

Regarding meal prepping and recipe development, the foundation of each meal is first ensuring it is balanced – that it has good portion of protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat as well as vitamins and minerals. Then I consider what flavors, spices and textures would complement the meal. Next, I create something new or put a healthy spin on a well-known recipe by replacing certain ingredients with healthier ones. Lastly, I also consider how to make the meal colorful and appealing. This is important because so much of what we choose to eat is influenced by our senses, that is, how food is presented and how it tastes. Making nutritional meals that people want to eat is my goal, so that their bodies can have the fuel it needs for them to function at their best.”

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Diagram from a journal article showing factors that influence maternal breast milk microbiome and proposed mechanism of how breast milk may alter the infant gut microbiome and health outcome. The article was co-authored by Dr. Bassett and her colleagues. Learn more.

On her best advice to new mothers: 

“Motherhood can be an exciting time, but it can also come with navigating all the surprises that come with being a new mother. Many moms have concerns about what is normal for their baby from how much their baby is feeding to the changing colors of their stool. The best advice I have given to new moms is that I encourage them to use the resources around them to navigate challenges as they come so that concerns don’t build up. This includes talking with breastfeeding consultants, doctors, more experienced mothers as well as making use of their support systems so that they can engage in self-care while caring for their baby. Some moms just need to be reminded that every mother’s journey is different because every baby is unique and has its own special personality. I remind them that they are doing a good job even when they hit speed bumps on the road of motherhood.

For example, it is especially helpful for mothers to learn how breastfeeding and the microbiome are linked to health and longevity. Breast milk is a specialized secretion that provides many nutrients, antibodies, and microbes. Breast milk helps establish the gut microbiome. This microbiome plays a role in our metabolism, that is how well we can get the nutrients we need from the food we eat. It is also vital to educating the body’s natural defense system, the immune system. Breastfeeding also provides protection against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections and is associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Having a healthy gut microbiome and immune system is a key part of health and longevity.”

I started curating plant-based meals on Instagram to help people make food choices that would help them live a healthy life.

Aisha Bassett, MBBS

Healthy Brain, Healthy Heart

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

How are the brain and heart connected?

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

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

What’s the link between dementia and heart health?

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

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

Is there hope for people with dementia?

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

How can older adults have a good quality of life?

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

What’s your take on embracing the aging process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Growing Younger Grace communities on Facebook, InstagramYouTube and subscribe to the newsletter! The book is available for purchase in paperback or e-book here.

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

What’s on the Minds of Top Aquatic Experts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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?

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

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

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.