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Doctors have been saying all along that physical exercise is essential for healthy ageing, better moods and fewer accidents.  But it’s not just aerobic exercise like walking – the exercise of choice for the majority of seniors – that keeps the doctors away.  While walking is “beneficial to heart fitness [it] does little to protect the exerciser against falls or loss of bone mass” says the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian Journal of Science and Medicine featured a study “Walking not enough for older Aussies” that looked at Australians over 65 years of age using the Exercise Recreation and Sport Survey.  Not only applicable to Aussies, this study gets at the heart of the overload of information out there on what’s healthiest, what seniors should be doing, and how best to do it.  Every person holds different interests, ability and fitness level that might work best for them.  What is important is that seniors seek out the regiment that works best for them while integrating various forms of exercise.

Key findings from the study are applicable no matter what the choice of fitness may be:

  • Varying exercise routinely increases your health
  • Combining aerobic, strength and balance exercises is key to maximizing health benefits
  • Exercising in groups increases motivation and reduces loneliness
  • Combining exercise with healthier eating habits optimizes your health
  • Some physical exercise is better than none at all

“Raising awareness on the types of activities that can most benefit the elderly, including those that achieve several fitness dimensions all at once, given that few older adults choose to participate in multiple activities is certainly warranted,” says Dr Dafna Merom, lead author of the study.

Old Runner A3

[Photo Credit: Maxwell GS, Flickr]

With a life expectancy of 82.9 years for women and 79.4 years for men, one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive health-care system, Icelanders are setting a good example for the rest of us.  Icelanders credit their many geothermal pools and spas with longevity and swimming is even given as a mandatory course in many primary schools to help embed this practice in their culture.

I recently visited Iceland and its many natural baths and health spas.  In a country where everything is fueled by geothermal gas, Iceland boasts countless geothermal pools and hot-pots.  The most famous of these, the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, allows you to sample mud masks, creams and skin care products while you lounge in the bright blue glacier water.

Many visitors to the Blue Lagoon are pensioner tourists who come to take advantage of the medicinal benefits and relax in the pool.

It’s hard to say whether the baths are the answer to living longer in Iceland, but many of the Day Care facilities for seniors continue to encourage the use of pools and even offer free entry for residents aged 67 and above. Aside from offering health benefits, the pools also serve as a place of socializing and help prevent loneliness among seniors.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland

This tradition of bath houses as medicine is not a new phenomenon.  Other cultures share in these traditions. In Russian tradition, it is widely believed that the steam bath has positive effects on the skin, lungs, nasal passages, joints and metabolism.  Veniki (brooms made out of leaves) are used in the baths to improve circulation.

In Arab communities, the hammam has been hailed as a source for relieving stress, relaxing muscles, easing respiratory problems and improving the skin.

In February 2012, Student British Medical Journal revealed a study on rising STI and STD rates, including HIV, in seniors. “Sexual Health and the Older Adult” estimated that in the US, UK and Europe rates of transmission doubled in the last 10 years.  

For instance, in Britian, HIV among the 50-90 age group comprised 20% of the reported infected population.

Some may shy away from this taboo subject, or turn a blind eye so as not to get involved. But if the health of the aging community is a primary concern of providers and care givers, sexual health is equally important.

One organization, Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University in Pennsylvania, USA, has taken matters into their own hands and is providing education, safety instruction and guidance for professionals.  They have released numerous ads in public places to increase awareness and have caused a stir with their risqué YouTube videos.

In the media, the issue has come to attention in a more-light hearted article in June’s issue of The Atlantic about the re-release of the classic film Harold and Maude (1971), a film in which a woman pushing her 80’s is shown enthusiastically kissing and caressing a younger man.  The article explores senior sexuality through the eyes of pop-culture and the stereotypes of aging.

This week, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a report dealing with the subject of sex and seniors in a more serious tone. The report exposes lack of safety and discretion in nursing homes in protecting sex among seniors.  It discusses the difficulties in grappling with consensual sex, primarily in elderly with dementia, and the complexities providers must deal with regarding the subject.

How are care givers around the world responding to the sensitivity of this issue?
Hand in Hand

[credit: garryknight, flickr]

It is not surprising that the land of the crescent moon is drawing many of Europe’s elderly to health tourism.  A land of mysticism, ancient history and beautiful landscape has much to offer in retirement services. 

According to the Anatolia News Agency, Turkey is leading an industry growth generating 130,000 visitors per year in the areas of rehabilitation, retirement homes and elderly care treatment at affordable rates for high quality of services.  Not far behind the leaders in Asia, it averages approximately $100 billion in global health tourism per year.

Credit: Dennis Jarvis

Turkey Health Tourism.Org gives the world a look into why Turkey is a leader in global health travel:

–  The country has the highest number of JCI accredited healthcare institutions in the world

–  It houses many regional headquarters of major international pharmaceutical companies

–  Nearly 60 internationally competitive medical faculties train thousands of Turkish and foreign medical students

Dr. Filiz Cevirme, General Coordinator of Private Hospitals and Healthcare Organizations Association (OHSAD) in Turkey says that people travel because of “exorbitant costs of healthcare in industrialized nations, ease and affordability of international travel, favorable currency exchange rates in the global economy, and rapidly improving technology and standards of care”.


The Woodstock care home in the Hague has recently made headlines for housing residents that are chemically dependent and have been termed “long term addicted with untreatable addiction”.  One of the goals of the facility is to alleviate homelessness in the elderly, as well as to promote social order and safety. The facility is managed under the direction of the municipal government as well as local health care manager Parnassia. The facility uses multiple parameters as admission criteria, and provides treatment for multiple co-morbidities. While residents must enter a behavioral agreement to ensure safety, they are permitted to continue to consume chemical substances in the program. “Our criteria state you can only get into Woodstock if you’re over 45 and after a medical examination declares you are beyond rehabilitation,” said psychiatrist Nils Hollenborg. (For beautifully haunting photos of residents, see these photos from Peter Van Beek). Municipal authorities argue that providing stability for this population helps reduce petty theft.

While “hard” drugs may not be on the menu, chemical dependency may be an emerging issue in elder care. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a report in 2009 that documented an increase in drug use among persons ages 50 – 64. As the “baby boomers” age, it is probable that elderly service providers will have to confront the issue of substance abuse among elders, as people who have consumed cannabis across their lifespan need services and supports. Complicating the issue from a provider policy standpoint, some states in the U.S. now allow for medical use of cannabis. Therefore, homes and care providers in California or Colorado might legally allow residents to consume cannabis while in their care. Such a home would be in compliance with state law but in violation of federal law. Residents of an advanced age may feel that rehabilitation in no longer a viable option and may prefer to continue their consumption. What do you think? Will “baby boomers” demand acceptance of chemical dependence as they age? What impact do you see this having on the aged care industry?


Woodstock Residence- Photo Courtesy Parnassia





According to a research team in Denmark it makes sense that people living to their late 90s and beyond and healthy.  The study leader Dr Kaare Christiansen and his team conducted four surveys of the mental and physical health of 2,300 Danish men and women born in 1905, with 166 still alive for the last survey eight years later.

Another finding of the study was that the super-old were also independent and able to take care of themselves. The percentage of elderly still able to maintain a functionally independent lifestyle stayed nearly constant, declining only modestly from 39 percent at age 92 to 33 per cent at age 100. Encouraging news for people who have hit that milestone.

It is also worth noting that Denmark is considered to have the happiest people on earth. So maybe there is a correlation between health and happiness – anyone want to do the research???

Every day my grandfather gets up and goes to the office. We often wonder what he does there all day long considering he “retired” more then 20 years ago. While my grandmother might think its better for him to stay at home and relax, a recent analysis by the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that working is actually helping him stay healthy! The 2004-2005 National Health Survey found that older workers have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and arthritis than their non working peers. I don’t know if those results hold up across countries (my grandfather lives in the U.S.) but regardless of where you are geographically it’s still an encouraging reason to stay active as you age.

You can read more results of the analysis by downloading the report Health of Mature Age Workers in Australia: A Snapshot at

IAHSA Chapter Member ACSA revealed a new study at their 2008 Community Care Conference which found that amongst community care package recipients, there was:

  • No deterioration in physical and mental health
  • An increase in cognitive function, social networks were sustained
  • A reduction in carer strain for the study’s rural participants as a result of receiving community care.

The study took place over a one-year period and included 550 randomly selected clients in Victoria.

You can read the full report here

I’ve known Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging for a number of years. He is one of the most enthusiastic promoters of active ageing and his organization has amazing resources for everyone interested in wellness.

Colin travels constantly. And during his travels he collects information, ideas and facts. As a result he recently identified 8 trends that he thinks will impact the elderly and organizations that serve them, either through direct care or by supplying them with needed products and services.

Here are his trends to watch out for:

  1. The Internet is becoming the new link to health, social networking and travel
  2. Retirement communities are reinventing themselves
  3. Maintaining intellectual skills and brain health is top of mind
  4. Technology is inspiring activity
  5. Retirement means Boomers will continue to work – but on their own terms
  6. Lifelong learning opportunities and interests keep growing
  7. Age-friendly fitness opportunities are essential
  8. Health plans will pay for prevention

As Colin says in his report, ‘The ability to function and engage in life is what is important, not chronological age’.

China’s Health Minister Chen Zhu recently announced a plan to reform the health system and provide a national service for all citizens, including the rural population.

According to a BBC report, Healthy China 2020 will be similar to the UK’s National Health Service providing universal health service and promote equal access to public services.

Finding the right mix of government support and consumer responsibility is a challenge, even for countries that have had universal coverage for a while. A number of European countries who heretofore have had comprehensive coverage are making changes to their systems as they face a large ageing population growth.

The report doesn’t give much detail on how China expects to organize this massive undertaking but as we learn more we’ll let you know. We can only hope that the Chinese learn from the mistakes of others.

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IAHSA’s Global Ageing Network Blog was created because of you!! We got your message loud and clear – “Provide us with a quick and nimble communications vehicle so we can stay connected and create community across borders".

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Virginia Nuessle, Study Tour Director

Majd Alwan, Director, CAST

Alla Rubinstein, Program Administrator, IAHSA

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