It would be difficult to imagine a topic more interesting and relevant to Rotarians, especially with the pandemic hanging over us.
Last evening our guest speaker joined us by Zoom from Melbourne. Dr Kate Gregorevic is a clinician and researcher at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and highly qualified in her field of geriatric medicine and the science of longevity.
Kate began by noting the extra burden of the pandemic falling on the older age groups, because of their vulnerability. Even without contracting Covid-19 flu, older people saw the virus as a threat and thus were more stressed, which could have both psychological and physiological effects.
These could be mitigated in several ways, the most important being to establish good sleep patterns. As we age we get less deep sleep and tend to wake more often at night. Our circadian rhythms are disrupted. The best remedy is a 24-hour routine including daylight exposure, exercise, and limiting worrying news and social media inputs. Alcohol and caffeine are not helpful.
Dr Kate then turned to more general guidelines for healthy aging.
Exercise builds muscle at any age and improves one’s heart function, blood pressure, and mood. It can help lift depression.
Nutrition is more important than ever because the food industry acts to subvert a proper diet in many ways. We should eat unprocessed foods low in salt and sugar, and plenty of fibre. Whole foods and fish are good. A good diet improves mood and memory.
Cognitive Challenge is important. This means keeping the brain active. Learning is continuous and there is no reason an older person cannot learn a new language, or how to use a computer, for example.
Lastly, Dr Kate stressed Social Connection. Humans are not programmed to live alone, and if they do they may well decline. We should find ways to connect, and ideally help and support others. This creates meaning in our lives.
In answer to questions, Kate explained why older people are more vulnerable to Covid-19. They have fewer T-cells and therefore fewer antibodies to fight a virus, and immune regulation is weaker. Paradoxically, this virus may overstimulate our immune response which is bad for the lungs.
Dementia is not well understood but we do know that sleep, exercise, and nutrition are important mitigating factors.
More and more people are living to an extreme age, which is a quite recent phenomenon. This is 25% due to one’s genes, the other factors being lifestyle, and improved public health.