Nobel Week Dialogue


This week is a special week in Stockholm. The Nobel Laureates of 2014 have come to Stockholm for a week full of events. Some of the events, like the Nobel Week Dialogue, are open to the public. This year, the topic of the dialogue was aging, so I could not stay away. I would like to share some of the impressions from the Nobel Week Dialogue.

I listened to the panel “Diseases of Aging.” For information on the panelists and to view the program of the Nobel Week Dialogue, please visit the Nobel Week Dialogue website.

The panelists and the audience discussed how the burden of disease changes as our population ages. More people suffer from stroke, from cancer, and from cardiovascular diseases. Many older people suffer from several diseases at the same time. One disease, such as obesity, is a risk factor for other diseases. Can we afford to treat these diseases in the future? Are there effective ways to prevent these diseases?

You can watch the panel discussion here. The discussion yielded some useful insights: We have not slowed the development of age related diseases like dementia. We have postponed the onset of age related diseases. We do not age more slowly. We age later in life.

When we stay physically active, we help our bodies and our minds to stay young. When we remain socially connected, we slow down the aging processes. When we learn, we activate parts of the brain that prevent us from aging. We ought to remain students throughout our lives.

Some age related diseases have common causes. If we can identify the common causes, we can prevent or delay several diseases at the same time. Once a person develops diseases, we must treat each disease separately. Professor Miia Kivipelto, a geriatric epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute, argued that prevention is partly a political issue. We must make it easier for people to lead healthy lifestyles. Linda Partridge, Director of the University College London Institute of Health Aging, disagreed. She argued that raising taxes on unhealthy food would not prevent people from consuming sugary and fatty foods. We must persuade people to lead healthy lifestyles. We must educate people.

Professor Ingmar Skoog of the University of Gothenburgh highlighted another important point. He talked about early diagnosis. Most studies of dementia follow patients for a period of twenty years. What if the early signs of dementia are visible earlier than twenty years prior to the development of dementia? What if prevention as we see it today, such as exercise and cognitive training, are retarders of the disease? What if what we call prevention is not prevention? Perhaps we must understand the fundamental mechanics of the disease better. Perhaps we must learn how to diagnose dementia earlier than twenty years before the onset of the disease. Perhaps we must rethink prevention.

Sweden spends below five percent of healthcare costs on prevention, according to a recent report from the Forum for Welfare (Forum för välfärd). It is costly to screen people for diseases. We may need to screen one hundred thousand individuals to find the disease in one person who can benefit from an early treatment. The panelists and the audience talked about the importance of preventing diseases. What I missed from the lecture today was a discussion on cost effective prevention. The gains of prevention seem to be large. If we can reduce the costs of prevention, we could lower healthcare costs. We could offer early treatment.

The moderator, Göran Hansson, Professor at Karolinska Institutet asked the panelists if they believe we could repeat the success story of the reduction in smoking. Can we reduce obesity like we reduced smoking? Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel offered a positive view. We made it trendy not to smoke. Many people stopped smoking because it was no longer trendy to smoke. But Ms. Partridge countered with a pessimistic view. We were never made to smoke, but we were made to eat. Historically, the more we ate, the greater our chance of survival was. Evolution has equipped us with few tools to resist fatty foods. We have lived in abundance for a short period of time. Repeating the success story of smoking will be a challenge. Are you an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to reducing obesity in the world?

The discussions stimulated my curiosity. I want to learn about common causes of diseases related to old age. I want to know more about prevention of diabetes and early detection of dementia. The topics at Nobel Week Dialogue were relevant because the panelists discussed diseases that affect large groups of people. In Sweden, one hundred and fifty thousand individuals suffer from dementia, and two thirds of these people also suffer from Alzheimer´s Disease, according to the Swedish Dementia Register. There are over four hundred thousand individuals who suffer from diabetes in Sweden. And almost four hundred million people in the world suffer from diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. These figures are growing.

I was happy to note that many young people attended the Nobel Week Dialogue. I am also grateful that Nobel Week Dialogue chose to focus on aging this year. ACCESS Health works actively to support young entrepreneurs who are interested in aging. Entrepreneurs in different countries participate in ACCESS Health incubator programs.

As previous authors of this blog have described, Modern Aging is an ACCESS Health project designed to encourage entrepreneurs to create new businesses to serve the needs of the elderly and the chronically ill. The Modern Aging project was first conceived and implemented in Sweden. Young entrepreneurs were selected to participate in a fourteen week educational program. The winner received money to start a company. ACCESS Health plans to replicate and expand the Modern Aging project in Europe, the United States, and Asia. Check out for updates on the program and the Modern Aging Innovation Laboratory.

Warm greetings from Sweden!






Hello everyone,

My name is Sofia Widén. I am the new coordinator of this blog. I joined ACCESS Health International earlier this month as a program manager. I am studying integrated elder care and healthcare. I will identify global examples of good practice in integrated elder care, together with other members of the ACCESS Health team working on elder and long term care. Some of the ACCESS Health team members will be blogging with me here. We have projects in countries as diverse as India, mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sweden. We will tell you about our work on this blog.

Right now, I am based in Sweden, and I plan on working in the United States next year. I graduated from the University of Edinburgh in June 2014, where I studied economics, politics, and languages. In my role at ACCESS Health, I will be blogging about my research, about articles that I read, and about topics such as elder care and healthcare. From time to time, I will write about related topics. I love writing and I love reading. I will tell you about inspiring people that I meet. I will tell you about the exiting things that I learn through my research. Please send me comments and interact with me. Please follow me on Twitter @SofiaWiden, and check out our website

I wish you all the best and I hope that you will enjoy our blog!

Retirees on Speaking Exchange with Brazilian English students

Ideas sometimes seem so simple and obviously great, so you ask yourself ”Why has nobody come up with that before?!”

I came across the innovative Speaking Exchange project, which is about lightening up the lives of elderly, while at the same time giving Brazilian students the opportunity to practice their English skills. Reports about this case seem to go viral on the web these very days (see links below).

The idea was established by FCB Brazil, and put into practice together with the CNA language school in Liberdade, Brazil and the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago.

I was so surprised and fascinated when I watched this clip about the Speaking Exchange:

The man shows the boy an old photo. “Is this your dad?” the boy asks. “No, It’s me and my wife when we were young”, he answers. “Oh you were good-looking when you were young”, the boy says – pause – “and you are still good-looking!”. Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 18.30.04

“I look like I’m only 25″, another man says. He and the boy a are laughing, “but I’m 88″. The two are having a nice conversation. In the end, they share a big, virtual hug.

The school uses its own digital tool for video chatting where conversations are recorded and uploaded privately for teachers to evaluate the talk language-wise.

But there is much more to this than just the language…

It’s fun and warms my heart to listen to their conversations about all the World and his brother.

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Read more:

Sensor Technology May Enable Successful Ageing-in-Place and, Concomitantly, Increase Value in The Process

As life expectancy and the proportion of people aged 65 and over increase, and integrated care and cost containment become a concern to many health organizations and policy-makers, technologies that utilize sensors to come up with new and innovative ways to support the elderly successfully age-in-place are increasingly becoming commonplace.

A flurry of new start-up health tech companies, mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships are entering the data analytics and sensor space to support seniors well-being.  What once started as sensor networks in facilitated facilities and nursing homes are now moving into to every imaginable inanimate object in seniors private homes or apartments.

A recent partnership between Caremerge and Lively to create a platform to provide caregivers or family members with real-time alerts if something is wrong is one example.

Caremerge has a database of patient data from diagnoses, medications and allergies, and Lively develops passive movement sensors that can be placed in various spots in an elderly person’s home (i.e. the refrigerator, a pillbox, keychain, etc). So the cloud will be able notify caregivers when meals are eaten, medications are taken, if anyone leaves the house. More importantly, the platform can also notify caregivers if any disruption from a daily routine occurs. Although the partnership was announced relatively recently, they are in the process of taking in a few initial customers to test out their platform.

This business model is not unique for the vital sign monitoring and emergency detection space. Other similar ventures include: beclose, healthsense, and GrandCareSystems, among others.

Sensors to monitor vital signs need not be limited to being placed in inanimate objects. Research is underway to examine how to impant miniature sensors that can continuously monitor and report on a person’s health status.

Sensors introduce a whole wealth of data on patient behaviours that can be used to coordinate and integrate the management of care. So its no surprise that this space is seeing a lot of investment growth from traditional investors, but also from a growing number of large hospital networks and non-health IT companies.

The increasing trend in sensors and smart technology suggests that being monitored-all-the-time may soon become the norm for the elderly as they age. It may even spread to the non-elderly  after, as “Smart homes” may become standard.

The applications for sensors to enable successful ageing-in-place seem limitless!

With more than $7.4 billion for over 1,393 deals occurring in the Health IT space since 2010, according to Startup Health, it would not be far-fetched to expect more excitement and innovations in this area very soon.


Portraits of elders

Elder portrait

Beautiful photos of elders. It’s rare that we see these. We spend a lot of time talking about ageing and elders, but we rarely highlight the beauty of years of laugh lines, eyes that have seen generations grow, and skin that has truly weathered the storms. Ageing is beautiful, and the photographer Danny Santos II depicted it when he photographed seniors for Project Silverline, an initiative by SingTel to put refurbished iPhones in the hands of seniors, to enhance their interactions, their health, and ease the sense of isolation many elders feel. To see the photos that Danny took of seniors in Singapore, click here.

Modern Aging: inBelly

inBelly picture copy

Today’s blog post is written by Kristina Saudargaite who is the founder of inBelly. This organization is already helping children at schools to have better food by identifying and classifying additives. Now, inBelly wants to branch out to another sensitive target group, the elderly. Read Kristina’s story here:

My name is Kristina Saudergaite and I love food. I love eating, cooking, going to the grocery store etc.  I also love knowing what I eat. For this purpose, my friends and I once looked at the ingredient list. We saw many chemical names that we could not understand or tell how they affect our health. Thus, we checked.

The results shocked us! Commonly used E250 is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as probably carcinogenic to humans or in simple words it is likely to cause cancer. E211 or sodium benzoate is not harmful on its own; however, it reacts with vitamin C and releases benzene – a known toxin. And who does not eat products often containing E211 such as shrimps together with a slice of lemon or maybe drinking Must with a salad

These are only a few examples; but food is increasingly stuffed with chemicals and this puts our health at risk.

The amounts of additives that may cause adverse effects are regulated by the EU. The problem lies in the fact that tests are made on healthy individuals (or animals). However, sensitive subgroups such as the elderly may be much more susceptive to the additives and adverse health effects related to them. Nursing homes do not have enough information to make sure that the food they buy do not contain harmful ingredients.

inBelly has the expertise and a rigorous database on food additives. Moreover, we have a technological solution that enables to quickly check if a product contains anything harmful.

In Sweden we have found many food products containing additives banned in other countries, such as Canada and/or linked to diseases. This knowledge exists in academia and in public documents but since the information is presented in a complicated and scattered manner, it rarely reaches the wider public. inBelly is unique since it uses official and scientific information about food additives and depicts it in a non-scientific “easy-to-understand” kind of way. The app simply shows a sign indicating that the scanned product contains additives banned in other countries. Our service innovation lies in using a mobile solution to translate knowledge from academia into simple visual signs in order to make the information quickly and easily available to everyone. With our mobile app people can scan barcodes and get information whether this particular product contains any ingredients that may be linked to diseases. The initiative won the Stockholm Innovation award in the service category 2012.

We are currently using this knowledge to help pre-schools to choose better food. We are cooperating with the chef at Globala Gymnasium to go through the products they purchase and analyse if any of them contain additives that may be harmful. This helps the institutions to ensure better food.

Since the elderly, similarly to children, is a sensitive group, we plan to offer our services to help nursing homes to go through the food they serve the elderly and check if they contain harmful additives. This would ensure good quality food and best possible health and wellbeing for the elderly.

Follow inBelly on or on Twitter @inbelly_guide


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