Published: 20-06-2024 13:10 | Updated: 01-07-2024 11:03

KI gathers 800 delegates to international conference on ageing research

In her opening speech, Queen Silvia reflected on the challenges and opportunities of ageing. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

“Ageing in a transforming world” was the theme of the 27th Nordic Congress of Gerontology (ageing research), hosted by Karolinska Institutet on 12–14 June. Drawing over 800 delegates from 44 countries to Aula Medica, the now international conference was opened by Queen Silvia, who talked about the importance of the research to dignity in ageing.

The congress, the 27th in succession, was arranged by Karolinska Institutet’s Ageing Research Centre under the direction of Carin Lennartsson, Amaia Calderon-Larrañaga, Isabelle von Saenger and Dorota Religa, professor at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, in association with the NGF (Nordic Gerontological Federation), the Swedish Gerontological Society and Geriatric Medicine in Sweden

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first congress, which has been held at different locations in the Nordic region every other year since its inception.

A collective challenge

The programme kicked off to a packed Aula Medica with Dance for Parkinson’s, an evocative dance performance by people living with Parkinson’s disease. 

The event started with an evocative dance performance by Dance for Parkinson's. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

In her opening address, Queen Silvia referred back to the performance as an example of the challenges and opportunities that come with ageing. 

“Ageing is a unique journey for every individual. I myself like the experience and, hopefully, wisdom that ageing brings.” 

The Queen also pressed home the importance of research to making the later phase of life a meaningful and dignified time for the world’s burgeoning ageing population. 

“We’re facing a collective challenge comprising millions of people for generations, and we need to be creative and proactive,” she said. “The aim is for ageing to be seen as a natural and enjoyable phase of life.” 

Healthy ageing starts early

This theme cropped up again and again at the congress. For example, one of the keynote speakers, Professor Luigi Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging in Washington, presented the work his research group is doing to increase the number of healthy years associated with the lengthening average lifespan. 

Luigi Ferrucci explained how his research team is working to increase life expectancy to offer more healthy years. Photo: Maria Yohuang

“We need to intervene earlier in life and treat the physiological consequences of ageing before any diseases emerge, so we have to find ways of measuring biological ageing at an individual level,” he said. 

He demonstrated a number of markers that show how biological ageing can be measured even at a younger age, for instance through changes in the DNA or how the network of energy-generating mitochondria breaks down. 

Another important aspect of gerontological research is the study of social issues that arise when the social costs of elderly care increase as the elderly demographic grows.

Risk of socioeconomic differences

Martijn Huisman from Amsterdam’s Vrije University has been studying what happens to equality of care between disparate social groups when society transfers more care to the home and family. As has been seen in the Netherlands and other countries, such practice skews access to healthcare. 

According to Huismann’s research group, this can cause groups of elderly with a lower level of education or income to feel that they have less control over their lives and less influence over the care they receive than those with a higher level of education or income. 

A new feature of the congress designed to promote interaction among the delegates was the “poster tour”, a presentation of groups of four to eight scientific posters on ageing, during which each author talked and answered questions about their work. 

The poster tour, where researchers presented their projects and answered questions, were very popular. Photo: Maria Yohuang

All in all, over 400 posters were presented to a very appreciative reception.  

Teppo Kröger. Photo: Kristiina Kontoniemi

The prestigious Sohlberg Prize was awarded to Professor Teppo Kröger of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, in part for his research on the conditions for effective eldercare services.

The 800 participants at the conference had several opportunities to meet and talk. Photo: Charlotte Brandt

Dance for Parkinson’s

Dance for Parkinson’s is a dance programme for people living with Parkinson’s disease. For the past eight years, Stockholm’s Balettakademien has been offering dance courses specially designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. 

The programme focuses on the creative, pleasurable and collective experience of dance, which serves as a healing process. Dance for Parkinson’s has demonstrable benefits on the participants’ stamina, motor control and balance.