It is not often we get good news about dementia. Several positive items have been reported this year.
Results from the Framingham a study1 – a long running population based research project, show a 20% decrease in the incidence of dementia per decade over the last 40 years. In real terms this means there has been a reduction from 3.6 to 2.0 people per 100 over the age of 60 who develop dementia. Several other studies have shown similar trends but it has been hard to get good supportive evidence because of the difficulty of doing these projects over decades.
In September I was proud to launch the second HOPE-Selwyn Knowledge Exchange. Once again this was a very successful event with over 60 attendees from throughout New Zealand.
Sessions were chaired by myself, Professor Ngaire Kerse, Professor David Richmond and Associate Professor Valerie Wright-St Clair. Professor Valerie Wright-St Clair is the newest member of the HOPE Foundation for Research on Ageing Board being the nominee of the New Zealand Association of Gerontology.
To be a researcher one needs to have numerous qualities. These are much the same for those who support research.
One needs opportunity and encouragement. Nurturing an enquiring mind and giving a young student an early taste of research may start them on their research journey. Our summer studentships do this and we have just heard the presentations from two enthusiastic young people at our combined presentation session with the New Zealand Association of Gerontology.
Establishing the Hope Foundation, setting the aims, sourcing funding and keeping going has often seemed an impossible task.
The vision, leadership and perseverance shown by Professor David Richmond have led to the Foundation being in an optimistic and sound state to grow and further our aims. Thank you David for all your work and leadership. It is my pleasure to be taking over the Chair of the Hope Foundation and hope to build on this work with the support of the Board and Friends.
Anniversaries encourage reflection. It’s good to look back and ponder over where you have come from and how.
They offer a chance for celebration of the here and now. And they’re also a stimulus for renewing vision; trying to get the future a little more into focus and thinking about new directions.
Just a few weeks ago, the results of an international ‘happiness survey’ –the United Nations Global Report on Happiness - were released.
The researchers found that when a variety of social, personal and economic factors were taken into account, New Zealanders were ranked the 13th happiest world citizens. The five happiest countries were the Scandinavian ones. Of interest is the fact that the Scandinavian countries support some of the oldest populations in the world. In Sweden for example, 18% of the population is over 65 compared with 13% in NZ Mental illness is apparently the most important source of unhappiness. By world standards, we have a relatively high rate of suicide and that drags us down the ratings.
Since it started to fund summer research students doing age-related research in 1999, the Foundation has funded 23 such students.
Since it began funding scholarships for masters and doctoral student in 2004, 31 scholarships have been awarded to 18 doctoral students (some students have been supported for more than one year), and eight to masters students. In addition we have arranged at least one public seminar most years, paid for some contract research on issues the Foundation felt needed urgent review, and funded a visiting professor.
The Olympic Games occupied the attention of most of us in July. Even for those of us who don't subscribe to Sky TV, the free to air coverage on Prime TV was excellent.
We have been able to share the triumphs and the disasters, the good shows and the no shows in a more intimate and immediate way than I can ever recall.
I have finally got around to reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom. It is a gripping account of the struggle by indigenous Africans in South Africa for political freedom in their own country. Mandela was 76 years old when he finally assumed the mantle of president. Now in his 90s he’s still going strong – but not as president of course.
This led me to think about other famous figures who have achieved in their latter years. A few examples: Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaul and Golda Meir. Victor Hugo, Michelangelo and Verdi were still extremely productive in their 80s. Verdi was in fact so active and clear minded at 80, conducting rehearsals 6 to 8 hours a day that his doctors were astonished. One of them wrote: “The anomaly is so extraordinary that it may well throw the ideas of those who have done research on the subject into confusion.” What were those ideas? In the words of the famous physician Dr. William Osler of Johns Hopkins University, they included ”the loss of mental elasticity that makes men over 40 so slow to receive new truths” thus rendering people over 40 “comparatively useless” and those over 60 “entirely dispensable.”
As most readers of this newsletter will be aware, each year the Foundation sponsors two summer research studentships for undergraduates mainly but not exclusively from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of The University of Auckland. (This is in addition to the scholarships we fund at Master’s and Doctoral level elsewhere.)
The students spend approximately two months over the long vacation undertaking research projects that have a bearing on ageing, supervised by senior teaching staff of the Faculty.