IFA Global Conference Day 1: Healthy ageing on agenda

IF you think things get tougher as you get older, then it's time to think again.

It's the beginning of day two of the three day International Federation of Ageing, 13th Global Conference (June 21-23).  Yesterday I listened and interviewed three experts in the field in of ageing.

Their new knowledge, community and government engagement convinces me that we have the equipment to respond to the changing age demographic of the contemporary world.  From these voices, I head a new narrative expounded on healthy ageing.

Professor Raina MacIntyre is Head of the School off Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology  is arguing for mature-age vaccination. She talks about vaccines for things like Shingles and Flu and has a mountain of statistics dismissive of value judgements based on ancient ageing stereotypes, and supportive of money, time and effort   put into healthy ageing.

In harmony with the conference majority, she points to the shared intergenerational benefits of healthy ageing.  "There is great value in preventing end-of-life illness," she said. One obvious factor being the transfer of disease.

Oxford Academic Dr Sarah Harper is Professor of Gerontology and Senior Research Fellow Nuffield College. She is a leader in world planning for the new demographic of ageing people.  She attributes the new demographics to a number of points including a lowered fertility rate - the number of babies born is not equalling those already here and ageing.

She talks of challenges and opportunities. The practicalities of technology will support independent living through home aids.  In terms of mature-age employment she cited a particular car manufacturer where robots released older workers from manual labour and increased their working life through the provision of physically easier computer generated design work.  On the issue of employment, she urges education to be made available for every age-group - "to ensure work opportunities."  Ultimately, she said that and understanding off ageing, health and respect for the older person will to appropriate actions.

"But above all, it is the will of government to drive these initiatives that can propel change."

Bradley Willcox, Physician-investigator in Geriatrics and gerontology.
Bradley Willcox, Physician-investigator in Geriatrics and gerontology.

Dr Bradley Willcox is a Physician-investigator in Geriatrics and gerontology and the man who told us about the health secrets of the long living Okinawa people. Along with a scientific team and his anthropologist twin brother, he examined the dietary habits of what is known as longest living people in the world. "Sweet potatoes", he told me played the biggest role in their diets, particularly purple ones this along with Jasmin tea and Miso.  A low calorie diet was also part of the equation.  But the Hawaii based academic researcher is keen to reveal the secrets of  the gene called Foxo3 - the longevity gene - which was discovered about 18 months ago.  About a third of the population have this gene, including Dr Wilcox and his wife.  He is currently researching the gene now and talks about discovering how it can be activated for people without it. Nevertheless, he agrees that a host of other factors such as environmental do impact upon the gene carrying out its role.

This is just snapshot of some of the  highlights - but there's another big day ahead - watch out for more news on the future of the world we live in from Seniors News reporters.


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