UCL Ageing event
By Guest Blogger, on 15 November 2016
The United Kingdom has an ageing population and by 2025, one in four people will be over the age of 65. Unfortunately with increasing age there is not increasing ‘healthspan’, and actually people are now living unhealthy for longer.
With increasing age come increasing health problems, as people over the age of 65 have an increased risk of infections such as flu and shingles, as well as an increased risk of having dementia; this collectively places a huge burden on our already stretched NHS.
At the UCL Ageing Event – cultivating research connections across the university, arranged by the UCL Populations and Lifelong Health Domain and held on Thursday 3 November 2016, researchers from across UCL came together to discuss what we can do to age better.
Attendees heard first from Dr Jenny Regan (Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment) who works on the common fruit fly. Apparently, the fruit fly ages similarly to humans, with decreased mobility, increased infections and memory loss.
Dr Regan told us that the key to a longer life is to be female – a bit unfortunate for half of the population! Secondly, you need to have a calorie restricted diet, though this does not enhance the lifespan of a male fruit fly.
Dr Milica Vukmanovic-Stejic (Division of Infection and Immunity) introduced us to her human skin model where the lab studies white blood cells (immune system) in the skin of old and young people to establish if there are any differences that can explain why older people are more at risk of shingles.
Dr Vukmanovic-Stejic explained that it seems older people who have frequent interactions with younger children (often grandchildren) seem to have a reduced risk of developing shingles.
This is because the virus that causes shingles, Varicella Zooster Virus (VZV), is also responsible for causing chicken pox in children.
Through grandparents interacting with their infected grandchildren, this may generate ‘memory’ that prevents shingles in the white blood cells.
Dr Vukmanovic-Stejic’s lab is currently conducting a trial using a drug to improve older people’s immune system. Find out more here.
Dementia is an umbrella term describing memory loss, confusion and personality changes. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. With increasing age, there is an increasing chance of developing dementia.
Dr Jonathan Schott (Dementia Research Centre at UCL) is using a cohort of older people to investigate if there is a biomarker that could identify if someone is going to develop dementia. This biomarker could provide an early warning system which could be used therapeutically to treat someone before they develop dementia.
Loneliness increases with age, and isolation can have a huge negative mental and physical impact on the person’s health. PhD student Tarek Ahmed (UCL Eastman Dental Institute) has developed a fantastic app which enables older people to become more active and less isolated.
RecommendMe uses analytics to recommend users with activities and community centres relevant to their ability and thus alleviate loneliness.
The best ways we know to ‘age better’ are to keep active, interact with other people to prevent loneliness, interact with grandchildren, and importantly, keep up with your vaccinations. However, there are clearly areas of ageing that need to be further researched.
By providing an interactive event such as the UCL Ageing Event, we are able to provide an opportunity for scientists from a broad range of backgrounds to come together to exchange and develop ideas and improve and strengthen ageing research at UCL.