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Healthy ageing in Bermuda

Eve De Rosa studies the neuroscience of healthy ageing as the Mibs Martin Follett Professor of Human Ecology in the Department of Psychology and is the Dean of Faculty at Cornell University in New York

Last week I had the privilege to lead Roche Science Week at the Bermuda College. It was such a pleasure to interact with the middle and high schoolers who came to campus, and it was also wonderful to see so many people at the public lecture on “The Brain and Healthy Ageing”.

Our discussion covered why actions that we know are health-promoting, such as walking in nature, deep breathing, the Mind diet and socialising, can stave off dementia by improving communication between the heart and the brain.

Thank you to Roche Holdings and the Bermuda College for the invitation to come home and share the science from our laboratory. I look forward to any future discussions on how to use the infrastructure at Bermuda College to develop expertise on the island to increase Bermuda’s capacity for healthy ageing.

As a nation, Bermuda values older adults as core contributors to family, community and society. We show it in our strong family structures and multigenerational households. This means that we do not have to be sold on the societal value of our seniors. Nevertheless, as a small nation, we have the opportunity to focus on extending our health span, not simply our life span. As a result, we will be able to avoid diseases that increase the risk of dementia, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. By improving our health span, we can also address the projections from the 2016 census that suggest that Bermuda will have an increasingly old age-dependency ratio where a smaller working-aged population — between 24 and 64 years old — will need to support a larger retired senior population of those aged 65 and over.

Healthy ageing would also benefit Bermuda because it would give us the chance to build a four-generation workforce alongside our multigenerational households. In less than a decade, the first millennials will start turning 50 and the first Gen Xers will turn 65. If we are successful in extending people’s health span, there is no reason why the baby-boomers, and beyond, cannot continue to contribute however they see fit.

In spite of looking forward to retirement, research shows that mortality shifts dramatically after retirement. It turns out that this dramatic life change is not always healthy. Policies that support phased retirement would allow for a slower transition time from full-time to part-time to retirement and extend the contributions of seniors to the workplace. Such productive multigenerational workplaces would ultimately benefit younger workers who can acquire the wisdom and social capital of their older colleagues.

Our research shows that as we age, our brains depend more on past expertise while younger adults are more adaptive in learning new skills. Neither is better or worse, but both are essential. We can build policies that provide job or skill retraining so that older adults can maintain the existing technical standards for their present job or acquire new jobs, bridging a potential technical divide.

If employers provide more opportunities for older employees to remain on the job and have the ability to learn, then age is only a number. The other side of the coin would be our responsibility to keep physically, cognitively and mentally healthy as we age. This can only strengthen our intergenerational solidarity in both the workplace and our larger society. There is also an opportunity for the Government to address any inequalities in access to the internet and technology, and to provide training so that older adults are familiar and comfortable with using these tools to maintain their health and independence.

Longevity and health give us more time to contribute to our families and society. We not only need healthy senior citizens, but also healthy young and middle-aged adults to allow for a larger portion of the population to contribute socially and economically in a more sustained and impactful way.

• Eve De Rosa studies the neuroscience of healthy ageing as the Mibs Martin Follett Professor of Human Ecology in the Department of Psychology and is the Dean of Faculty at Cornell University in New York

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Published February 21, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated February 20, 2023 at 7:49 pm)

Healthy ageing in Bermuda

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