Monthly News Roundup – December 2016

It’s that time again! This may be our last monthly newsletter before we make it quarterly or just regularly.

We published our second book review titled Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other as well as a great piece on dance and health-related quality of life. “Movement can not only improve quality of life, but certain exercises like Tai Chi, can reduce the risk of falls.”

Our selected journal article showed that increased P3 amplitude was linked to improved performance; however there was no direct association between adaptive training and improved performance.

From dance to cinema, painting to theatre, the Bealtaine festival showcases the talents and creativity of both first-time and professional older artists. The festival offers participants opportunities to discover talents, make unique and challenging work, communicate traditions between generations, and showcase dormant skills in a new outlet. This video shows the wide range of activities taking place at the festival.

And here’s a quote to keep you inspired till next time!

Connect with Global Health Aging on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter and YouTube.


Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other

Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who views artificial intelligence and technology through a sociological and psychological lens. In the first half of her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other,  Turkle addresses the impact of technology on older adults. Technology advances such as robotics and assistive technology are making headway in society, especially in elder care. These new technologies can provide some comfort or care for older adults with chronic diseases. Turkle’s focus, however, is on the substitution of robots for human interaction and the emotional aspect of care performed by another human being.

Turkle conducts experiments where she brings different types of robotic technology such as AIBO, My Real Baby, and Paro the Seal into nursing homes. These robotics provide companionship and not practical assistance. For instance, many older adults began speaking to their robots, going over important life events and reminiscing about old times. They found that spending time with the robot reduces anxiety and isolation. The impact of My Real Baby, an “interactive learning doll”, was particularly significant in experiments because it gave older adults a sense of purpose. The My Real Baby doll needed comfort, changing, and other activities that made older adults feel needed (105). This promotes higher quality of life for older people.

Turkle also conducts research involving children, where children discuss the role of robotic technology in their lives. The children profiled in the book worry about technology replacing real human interaction. One child says, “that grandparents might love the robot more than you… They would be around the robot so much more.” (75). Another child worries “that if a robot came in that could help her [grandmother] with falls, then she might really want it… she might like it more than me.” (75). In her discussion of experiments conducted in nursing homes with the doll, My Real Baby, Turkle finds that older adults do not want to give the doll back at the end of the experiment (111). One grandmother even ignores her grandchild who is visiting to take care of the hungry doll (118).

What Turkle does best in this book sharply contrasts the ideal situation of having loving children or family who can visit and provide social interaction to the reality of isolation in many older adults. While Turkle acknowledges the barriers to artificial intelligence and technology as companionship for older adults, they surpass the alternative of no social interaction at all. She notes, “If the elderly are tended by underpaid workers who seem to do their jobs by rote, it is not difficult to warm to the idea of a robot orderly”. (p. 107).  She then points out that when given the choice between interacting with robots and interacting with a member of the research team, almost all of the older adults chose a member of the research team (p. 105). At the end of the day, these robots are not capable of producing the same amount of interaction and support as a human being. Turkle muses, “An older person seems content; a child feels less guilty. But in the long term, do we want to make it easier for children to leave their parents? Does the ‘feel-good moment’ provided by the robot deceive people into feeling less need to visit?” (p. 125). Robots providing clinical care may be an ideal solution to the shortage of workers caring for an aging population, but are no replacement for social interaction.

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

Effects of Dance on Health-Related Quality of Life
With the weather getting warmer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, many Brazilians are getting ready to get out and dance in celebration! One dance group in particular, Arte Par Dancar, has been garnering a lot of media attention for their dance moves… and for their age.

Apart from being fun, dance and movement is a form of exercise that has proven health benefits for older adults. Movement can not only improve quality of life, but certain exercises like Tai Chi, can reduce the risk of falls.

A team of scientists in Brazil set out to understand how specifically dance can benefit older adults. They found that eight weeks of ballroom dancing significantly strengthened the leg muscles of the women who participated in their study. Weak leg muscles are correlated with falls; therefore, strengthening leg muscles is a positive impact of dance. Older women seem more likely to take up dance as an activity, although it is unclear why this trend exists.

Another research study compared the health benefits of Tai chi to those of ballroom dancing. It found that senior ballroom dancers had better balance with their eyes closed, and seniors practicing Tai Chi had better dynamic balance including exponentially improved speed.

While different forms of dance and movement have varied benefits, studies show that dancers of all types have lower BMI’s, longer stride lengths, and higher bone mineral density. In addition to the physical benefits of dancing, there are clear psychological benefits, such as greater connectedness, improved mood, and higher levels of energy.

Recreational older dancers have also noted feeling more engaged in their community, and feeling a greater sense of purpose. An Arte Par Dancar member stated, “Now I am happy here, I dance. I have fun with everyone.” Another 86-year-old member of the dance troop said, “We move a lot doing lots of things. We already passed through our old person stage, now we are young.”

Dance and movement-based exercise is a fun way for older adults to become healthier and widen their social networks. This trend has proven so beneficial that Brazil is not the only country where older adults are learning to Samba!

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Monthly News Roundup – November 2016

One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment is our first book review! Written by Mei Fong, the book presents a compelling analysis of the impact of China’s “One-Child Policy” on older adults.

We published Part 2 of our series on elder abuse in South Africa highlighting societal responses from both public and private sectors.

From longevity to technology, these news articles further shape public conversations on aging.

Over 6,000 professionals in gerontology and geriatrics are expected to attend the World Congress in San Francisco. Participants will share in the latest science, research, training, technology, and policy development presented by experts from around the world. In 2017, the theme “Global Aging and Health: Bridging Science, Policy, and Practice” will bring representatives from medicine, nursing, social science, psychological science, finance, policy fields, and other disciplines to address the latest approaches to improving the quality of life of the world’s older adults. Register today!

The RAND Center for the Study of Aging is our featured company. Its research agenda focuses on the interrelationships among health, economic status, socioeconomic factors, and public policy. Center staff conducts objective, independent, behavioral research on older populations worldwide. For more information, visit RAND Center for the Study of Aging.

And here’s a fun article, “Inside a Musician’s Aging Brain,” about the benefits of music for brain health! Written by singer-songwriter Jim Walsh, we hope it keeps you inspired till next month.

Connect with Global Health Aging on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter and YouTube.

Government Response to Tackling Elder Abuse in South Africa

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on elder abuse in South Africa. In Part 1, the main focus was raising awareness of elder abuse. In Part 2, societal responses from both public and private sectors are stressed.

As a result of recent news reports on elder abuse, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) visited KwaZulu-Natal from Aug. 15-19 to examine human rights matters impacting older adults and individuals with disabilities. The five-day visit was led by Commissioner Bokankatla Malatji who manages the portfolio on disability and older persons.

The government’s prompt response to elder abuse suggests that this problem is not being taken lightly. Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. It is one of many challenges faced by older people in South Africa. In fact, elder abuse is expected to rise as the population ages. This is not necessarily the case but societies that have no regard for elders will need to anticipate elder mistreatment if it is not tackled beforehand. Much like other nations around the world, the silver tsunami has left many nations ill-prepared; even the most developed countries are struggling to find solutions for the foreseeable challenges of the future. It is therefore the responsibility of both public and private sectors to make dignified and healthy aging a leading priority.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director (RD) for Africa, states that “only with full, strong political will and commitment by governments, participation of communities, families and individuals can we achieve the vision of a continent in which everyone can live a long and healthy life.” Hence societies must hold governments accountable to ensure expedient and beneficial outcomes.

As the global population continues to age, reaching an estimated 2 billion by 2050, it is imperative that nations take a multifaceted approach to ensure the protection of older adults. Elder abuse is not reserved exclusively for citizens of developing countries. It is a public health problem that goes beyond regions, languages and ethnicities.

WHO believes that in order to adequately address the issue of elder abuse across continents, citizens must utilize approaches that are “placed within a cultural context and considered alongside culturally specific risk factors.” Such methods, with the collaboration of “both primary care and social service sectors,” can enhance the comprehensiveness of future programs, policies and legislation.

Andria Reta-Henke is a Credentialed Professional Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.

One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment

One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong presents a compelling analysis of the impact of China’s “One-Child Policy” on older adults. The one-child policy, a compelling story of population control for economic growth, has long term implications that are only now apparent. Fong describes the challenges of a rapidly aging population as she focuses on families who are struggling to care for older adults, and those who have no children to care for them in old age.

Published November 2015

One of the book’s most gripping stories is of parents during the 2008 Sichun earthquake. According to official reports, “eight thousand families lost their only children in the disaster.” (p.3) These parents, and other parents who have lost their only children, face barriers in accessing nursing homes, health care, and burial plots. Fong notes, “they are also more financially vulnerable than ordinary retirees, and more prone to depression, studies show.” (p. 41) While these challenges are tangible, the emotional challenges of losing support systems in old age is also a prominent problem. Fong addresses the growth of China’s hospice industry, stating that many older adults without family feel unable to contribute to society. (p.151)

The book also digs into the cultural complexities in aging and filial obligation. In one notable story, that received national acclaim in china, Liu Ting brought his mother with him to college, when she was too ill to care for herself. His mother suffered from kidney disease and uremia. Although Ting received fame and attention, his job opportunities after college were limited at the expense and time required to properly care for his mother. (p. 92)

While Fong discusses other implications of China’s one-child policy such as rise in adoptions, increase in bride prices to compensate for the greater number of men than women, and the further consequences of sex-selective abortions, the primary implications of the policy relate to the care and treatment of older adults. With only one child per two aging parents, the traditional way of caring for Chinese parents will cause economic slow down, and place burdens on the younger generation.

Fong is at the forefront of a wave of journalism that will detail the challenges of aging in China. She acknowledged that it could be difficult to find many children who were burdened by caring for aging parents, as more parents of children from this time period are in their 50’s and 60’s (p. 86) However, her book is at the forefront of a problem that will only become more prominent in the coming decades.

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Monthly News Roundup – October 2016

Last month, the publication focused on Europe and Australia. Have you ever been to Paris? If no, it should be on your bucket list!

Many ageing meetings are currently underway but from November 18-20, the 4th Annual World Congress of Geriatrics and Gerontology – 2016 will be held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The conference presents the latest research results, ideas, developments and applications in breaking research, medical management, innovative technologies,, social responsibility and more. This year, the conference theme of “Better Health in Old Age” rings true for everyone.

Why have six news articles? Because the newsletter has six parts! From religion to memory, we hope you enjoy these fascinating articles.

Peer-reviewed articles continue to showcase important research. Published in the Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging, our selected article evaluates the preliminary effects of tai chi qigong (TCQ) on improving night-time sleep quality of older adults with cognitive impairment. TCQ combines slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and breathing exercises.

Our featured company is Centre for Ageing Better, an independent charitable foundation working to help everybody enjoy a good later life. For more information, visit Centre for Ageing Better.

And a quote to keep you inspired till next month.

Connect with Global Health Aging on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter and YouTube.

Does Participation in Organized Sports Help Australia’s Older People?

With the conclusion of the Summer Olympics last month, there is an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments and physical prowess of the athletes who competed. Sports and wellness are important for the human body especially given the decreasing participation rates in physical activity and increasing rates of chronic disease worldwide.

While the benefits of regular participation in physical activity on both physical and mental health have been widely established, participation rates remain low among older adults. It has been shown that participation in organized sports typically peaks in early adulthood and steadily decreases as a person ages. In addition, when viewed in light of gender, men typically report higher levels of participation in sport compared to women, regardless of age.

In Australia, the participation rate in organized sports among older adults is estimated at around 6.8 percent for males aged 55 to 64 and 8.9 percent among females 55-64. Among men 65 and older, participation in sport is estimated around 9.1 percent for men and 8.9 percent for women. Though rates are low, the benefits of regular participation in sports for older adults have been identified. In a 2012 cohort study, it was shown that older adults who participated in popular organized sports experienced a 20-40 percent reduction in all-cause mortality compared with older adults who did not participate in sports. Social benefits of participation in organized sports also include decreased feelings of isolation and reports of stronger support systems, two important contributors to quality of life in older adults.

The benefits of participation in organized sports are many, however, it is important to address potential barriers that might prevent an older adult from getting involved. While one third of older adults who report they are physically active are participating in organized sports in some form, older adults who are not commonly report lack of time, lack of opportunity, and physical limitations as reasons why they do not. It has been acknowledged within Australia that creating more opportunities for older adults to participate in organized sports through targeted programming should be a priority.

There is an opportunity to engage older adults both physically and socially through organized sports. Perceived barriers should be addressed to make physical activity through organized sports accessible to older adults.

Diana Kingsbury is a doctoral student and Graduate Assistant in Prevention Science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

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.


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.

Monthly News Roundup – September 2016

So what happened in August 2016? This is why newsletters should not be delayed!

August was quite the month since we tackled tough topics such as addiction and elder abuse. The article on elder abuse was apart of a series which you can read here. Let’s take a look at what happened in August.

While many articles were published on the web, these six (we’ll tell you why in the next newsletter) were especially interesting. Learn about topics such as migration, geroscience and even robots!

Unlike news stories, peer-reviewed articles inform us of the science behind healthy aging and longevity. We selected a recent article focusing on opioid-induced constipation (OIC), which is often under-recognized and under-treated in older adults. Opioids are primarily used for pain relief.

Do you know that the University of Hawaii offers a ‘mini-medical school‘ to promote healthy aging? The new course is open to the public and covers topics like viruses, falls, and prescription drugs. As the saying goes, “you’re never too old to learn something new!”

And here’s a quote to keep you inspired till next month!

Connect with Global Health Aging on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter and YouTube.

News, research and opinion on healthy aging and longevity.

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