Photo: Ruben Gudmundsrud
NO-Age joins forces to form a Centre of Excellence
Brian C. Gilmour1, Ruben Gudmundsrud1
NO-Age editor, UiO.
On the 22ndof August, NO-Age met with representatives from different fields to discuss founding a Centre of Excellence
A problem & a solution
Ageing represents a significant hurdle for humanity and is by many considered a disease – a far-reaching problem that touches every aspect and everyone. What we can all agree on is that ageing comes with a range of challenges: susceptibility to disease, frailty, societal expenses and distress to families and individuals. To promote healthier ageing NO-Age is taking the initiative to establish a multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence at the UiO.
Prof. Linda Bergersen, a founder of the NO-Age network, spent time at such a multidisciplinary research centre at the University of Copenhagen. There she quickly realised the potential such crosstalk could have in providing energy and direction in research, especially as it regards to ageing.
Now Bergersen and the NO-Age organisation are looking to bring such a multidisciplinary centre to Norway and convened a meeting this Thursday, August 22nd, bringing together critics of Norwegian literature, economists, NO-Age researchers, molecular gerontologists, neuroscientists, oral surgeons, and philosophers to examine what each part could bring to the whole.
To meet the multifaceted challenges of ageing requires support from all walks of life – different branches bring different views. Together they hope to secure sentre for fremragende forskning (SFF; Centre of Excellence) funding from the Norwegian Research Council, allowing them to establish a Centre of Excellence.
The Danish centre for ageing research is able to streamline resources from public and private institutions and apply it to tackle the many different problems ageing presents in different areas: biological, societal, and economical. It is hoped the same can be done here in Norway.
Redefining old age
Arbeit und Fieber: “work and love” as Freud said – both seem to be indispensable to a healthy life and may also help in healthy ageing.
At current, many may look a told age with a feeling of dread: retirement keeps us from working as we age – but if we could extend our healthspan would it be so bad to skip retirement? Philosophy and literary criticism are well positioned to help society redefine what it means to age and be old.
Furthermore, the conception of the elderly as a burden to society may only exacerbate problems with health and lead to further isolation and deterioration. Again, recalling Freud, one cannot simply exist, life must have meaning as well. By addressing the stigma attached to ageing and the elderly perhaps we can change the narrative of ageing and change it to be something positive for society.
Expected, population growth rates predict a coming crisis from a rapidly ageing population: a “gray-wave” (eldrebølgen) if you will. At current, a larger elderly population means a larger financial burden on the healthcare industry that could be crippling if not dealt with.
In response, politicians and economists are trying to adjust pension schemes to allow for flexibility: but who should be allowed access to their pension, and who later? What if biomarkers could be used to identify individuals that would benefit from either earlier or later access to their pension. This could improve the length and quality of retirement and ensure that the elderly have enough to live on – this itself would help to reduce healthcare costs.
Old age mortality is a prime cause of this cost. Luckily, mortality does not (often) reoccur, so directing resources to improve the lives and health of the elderly can offer a solution to this financial crisis. Economists from the Frisch Centre can examine the financial viability of any proposed solutions to the problems of ageing. The Frisch Centre conducts independent applied economics research, drawing the majority of its funding from the NRC.
Neglected oral health
Expensive and scary as they are, trips to the dentist are neglected by many, and dealt with only when necessary. Yet the contribution of dentistry to the field of ageing is incredibly valuable.
Maintaining proper oral hygiene can become difficult as we age, additional prosthetics can complicate medical procedures and be hard to keep track of. The implementation of a “dental card” of sorts could ease communication between dentists and physicians and take the burden of memory off of the elderly.
In addition, mouths can become quite dry with age. This lack of saliva can make it hard to eat and keep up a healthy diet and can also lead to cavities and other dental problems, which can be linked to worsening symptoms in a range of diseases from cardiovascular disease to dementia.
Such problems will only worsen with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threaten to render many treatments obsolete. The projected costs and damages associated with antibiotic resistance could lead to economic devastation and 10 million deaths a year by 2050 – with victims especially among the elderly. Researchers from all walks of life should cooperate to find alternatives and avoid such an outcome.
Bringing it all together
Social economics, ethics, literature, and medicine – all are disciplines that can play a major role in a potential Norwegian Centre of Excellence, each offering their own, different opinion on how best to tackle the problems of ageing and working together to cover all areas.
The argument for a Norwegian Centre of Excellence for ageing is further strengthened by the international resources and connections of NO-Age members, which are involved in the creation of the Hong Kong-Nordic Research Network, in cooperation with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Oslo, with talks still continuing with the Karolinska Institute.