December 2015 | Issue 21
Seminar on ageing brings together top scientists from Singapore and Sweden

Quick fire presentations and lively discussions were the hallmark of the Singapore-Sweden Excellence Symposium held on 4 November at the Centre of Translational Medicine at NUS. Across seven sessions, experts from academia, research, industry and clinical practice shared their latest research on and insights into ageing with an audience of more than 500 delegates.

With Singapore and Sweden at the sharp edge of the global ageing trend, the seminar, titled Ageing Societies and Innovative Ideas, brought together attendees and domain experts from the two countries to forge new and productive collaborations in the search for timely solutions to the global challenge of ageing. Experts from NTU and LKCMedicine were among the more than 30 speakers who took to the stage over the course of the day.

Much like speed-dating, speakers had 10 minutes to share how their work addresses the challenges and opportunities of ageing societies. Organised into thematic sessions, the seminar took a holistic approach to the topic covering aspects ranging from innovative ideas to support active ageing, to how a better understanding of the biological ageing process can help us manage ageing, to elder case, health services and policy.

During the first part of the Innovative Ideas session, delegates heard from academics who are working on interactive technologies that can monitor a person’s activity around the home, aimed at enabling older people to live independently for longer and even prompt healthier lifestyle choices. These presentations were followed by LKCMedicine Professor of Surgery and Nanyang Institute of Technology in Health and Medicine Director Russell Gruen, a practising trauma surgeon. He reminded the audience that while advances in technology have undoubtedly led to longer lives, prolonging life may not always be the end goal. When he has to operate on patients with severe trauma, who are unable to give consent, he asks their family two simple questions: what level of ability and function can the patient accept and what are they willing to go through to get there, a sobering reminder that technology cannot provide all the answers.

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Speakers Prof Russell Gruen (left) and Assoc Prof Chin Jing Jih (right) provide the audience with a clinical perspective on ageing and the needs of this community

Reiterating the necessity for patient and societal needs to drive technology development, Assistant Dean for Integrated Care Associate Professor Chin Jing Jih talked about the holistic care approach adopted by Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Focusing on quality of life, he talked about the need to develop devices that help people live independently without taking away their dignity. For example, he shared that elderly people here would prefer to use a supermarket trolley over a traditional zimmer frame. However, a combination device that serves as a walking aid, has a seat and shopping basket is much more acceptable to his patients. Other issues that innovators should consider are practicality, he said. Patients often refuse to wear a hip guard that helps to reduce the incidence of hip fractures because it is simply too hot in Singapore, he said.  

During the session on the Biology of Ageing, which was co-chaired by LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best, the audience heard from four speakers who talked about the effects of ageing on the body and how improving our understanding of these processes can contribute to healthier ageing. Speakers in this session included Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology Fabian Lim who talked about the benefits of habitual exercise on a person’s health span, i.e. the number of years over which good health is maintained. Improved glucose absorption, weight management and arterial elasticity are among the benefits that can be reaped by regular exercise, all of which contribute to a healthier lifespan.

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L-R: Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology Fabian Lim, LKCMedicine Dean Prof James Best and Associate Professor of Health Services Outcomes Research Josip Car all take to the stage at the Singapore-Sweden Excellence Symposium to give their insights on the biology of ageing

Prof Best and Associate Professor of Health Services Outcomes Research Josip Car both took to the stage during the first of two sessions on the burden of disease and ageing, which was co-chaired by Prof Gruen. Prof Best spoke first and talked about metabolism and ageing, asking whether it is survival of the slimmest. He concluded that while weight may not affect your mortality once you hit 65, it may still affect your health. He was followed by Assoc Prof Car who reviewed the evidence for population dementia prevention intervention. After each session, the floor was opened to questions and discussion, which were often lively and provided new project ideas for many.