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May 25, 2017

Research Based Innovations in Healthy Ageing Symposium

A mix of academics, postgraduate researchers, primary healthcare stakeholders and a sprinkling of people from the voluntary sector made up the seventy of so delegates at this symposium which was hosted by Leeds Beckett University.

Each of the seven 30 minute presentations was based around the alleviation or elimination of morbidity in old age; truthfully it’s what most of us want – to stay active, healthy and pain free until we fall off the perch.

We were introduced to some jargon, one word that was often repeated was sarcopenia – the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength as a result of ageing – luckily there was a glossary included in the delegate pack.  There were some startling statistics not only on the billions of pounds currently spent, and the projected increase over the next two decades, but also the number of older people who suffer malnutrition, not through poverty but caused by frailty and loss of appetite. It is now known that the over 70s need more protein per kilo of body weight than a person in their 50; it is also recognised that increasing the protein intake in the elderly will be difficult. There are firms already developing protein supplements for the elderly, definitely something to look out for. The lack of protein and poor nutrition in turn causes further loss of muscle mass and muscle strength, age related anorexia ensues and so a vicious cycle is established.

A similar vicious cycle can follow when osteoporosis and fractures occur, when this happens depression and social isolation can follow compounding the problem.  There was a quote attributed to Professor Sally Davis “If physical activity were a drug it would be hailed as a miracle cure”. Most of the presentations offered low tech, low cost solutions to these common but complex ageing issues; more class 1 protein, an increase in activity especially high intensity training; try searching online for Kaatsu, although it was not part of the research study being presented it was discussed during the Q&A session, it was a new one on me. 

Age related vascular changes in the brain and neck and the relationship with vascular dementia proved a more difficult conundrum, Professor Clive Beggs was unable to draw any evidence based conclusions from his research which involved cerebral blood flow, he hypothesises that hypertension and vascular disease are associated with vascular dementia and that lifestyle choices such as exercise and dietary intake also play a part, one thing he was sure about was that neurologists and cardiologist need to collaborate in order to move forward in this field.

If you think this all sounds very heavy going you couldn’t be more wrong; this symposium was a full on day with only 45 minutes for lunch and two 15 minute coffee breaks, my brain was aching as I exited the building; being within the age cohort that formed all of the research programmes I was fascinated with the results presented, but there’s the old saying “you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” and that’s the elephant in the room; changing attitudes has proven to be the biggest challenge that health care providers face, this aspect was acknowledged at this symposium but it’s going to take a seismic shift in attitudes, a move away from pharmacy based treatment regimens to healthy lifestyle choices, more gym and less pills on prescription doctor please.

Guest post by Time to Shine Community Correspondents:

Jacqui Smith and Mary Johnson-Green
Tuesday 23 May 2017, Horizon Leeds