What can a simple fruit fly teach us about ageing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Can the Arts Promote Health-Related Quality of Life in Australia?

As the global population ages, it is important to start designing strategies to address quality of life among older adults. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Designing programs and policies to encourage quality of life across the age spectrum should not focus solely on addressing health issues as they arise, but rather promoting positive ways of living that can impact health in all realms – physical, mental, and social – throughout one’s life.

Strategies for healthy aging should include promoting activities that foster both individual growth and community participation. One such option is participation in the arts, which has shown to have a positive impact on both the individual and society.

Studies have shown that participating in visual arts, music, dance, drama, storytelling, etc. can improve mental and physical well-being, provide increased opportunities for friendship and meaningful social contact, foster a sense of social cohesion between different age groups, and break down stigmas associated with aging.

In Australia, several initiatives have been put in place to encourage “creative ageing,” which is defined as “the utilisation of the arts to excite imagination and support older people to age well.” For example, creative ageing was included in the Eastern Australian state of New South Wales’ Ageing Strategy, where community-based organizations such as the Creative Ageing Centre and Institute for Creative Health were established to encourage older adults to engage in the arts.

Results from the 2014 report titled Arts in Daily Life: Australian Participation in the Arts showed that participation in the arts increased from 41 percent to 48 percent since community arts centers became part of health policy. Among adults aged 55-64, participation increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.

The number of Australians aged 65 and over is expected to increase to 6.2 million by 2042, up from an estimated 3.4 million in 2014. Australia’s population is ageing. Now, more than ever, is the time to think creatively about aging and how these innovative strategies can have positive effects beyond for both the individual as well as society as a whole.

Diana Kingsbury is a doctoral student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.

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

https://pixabay.com/en/dance-living-room-pink-black-641672/
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.

http://giphy.com/gifs/martial-arts-EEfbNqNldIxCU


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.

News, research and opinion on healthy aging and longevity.

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