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Group of experts on longevity standing in courtyard.
Experts on longevity, health, and the arts, who participated in a discussion titled "Putting Together the Puzzle Pieces of Longevity" at the Library of Congress on February 7, 2024. (left to right, back row) Jon Kay, Lisa Ireland, John Fenn (Head of Research and Programs, American Folklife Center), and Susan Magsamen. (front row) Kelly O'Brien. Photo taken on February 7, 2024, by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Now Available: Webcast of Longevity Panel Discussion and New Responses to Audience Questions

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On February 7, 2024, the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress’ Health Services Division hosted a panel discussion on longevity, health, and the arts in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion. The discussion was inspired by the wealth of public discourse around longevity and the arts, and the desire to deepen understandings of what longevity means to various communities. See this Folklife Today blog post for more about the panel’s impetus.

The discussion, which was moderated by John Fenn (Head of Research/Programs at the AFC), featured experts in aging, health, and the traditional arts, including:

  • Lisa Ireland, President and CEO for the Longevity Science Foundation
  • Kelly O’Brien, Vice President of Prevention for UsAgainstAlzheimer’s
  • Susan Magsamen, Executive Director of the International Arts and Mind Lab at the Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University
  • Jon Kay, director of Traditional Arts Indiana, Associate Professor at Indiana University, and author of Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and Their Makers

These professionals were well-positioned to address the panel’s key topics. Their fascinating discussion ranged from definitions of longevity, to research discoveries about the role of the arts in addressing cognitive decline. See the full discussion at the video below.

The panel discussion drew great interest. Approximately 70 people attended the event and over 90 people viewed the program live on Zoom. Due to time restrictions, the panelists were unable to answer all of the online viewers’ questions. Below, Lisa Ireland, CEO of the Longevity Science Foundation (LSF), responds to questions from online viewers that were unaddressed in the video above.

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You spoke of the “biological age” concept. So much of the products and services I’ve seen are targeted at wealthier consumers. Do you see a future where that technology might be available to everyone? What will it take to achieve this more equitable access?

Definitely. We need to support fundamental science to accelerate innovation and democratize access to longevity treatments. This is precisely our mission at the LSF. With the help of our stellar scientific advisory and grant review teams, we identify projects offering actionable interventions and significant findings that can propel longevity science forward. Fundamental research is the bedrock of innovation, but it does not get the funding it deserves. We are here to rectify this disparity.

Brain Investment: Are there any plans for the medical profession to proactively integrate MRI baselining one’s brain at a young age and periodically map its evolution over time much like one’s 401K performance? Is it just too cost prohibitive?

My assumption would be the same – MRI techniques are expensive. We are, however, aware of studies investigating the utility of imaging techniques to assess changes associated with biological aging. Regular screenings are imperative for healthy aging, and through our support of aging research, we aim to facilitate the development of scalable solutions that will allow for the broad adoption of personalized and preventive medical care.

Lisa Ireland speaking into microphone
Lisa Ireland speaking at the Library of Congress. Photo taken on February 7, 2024, by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas Peach.

You mentioned that a cognitive assessment is available for those covered by Medicare but that many providers do not perform it – is there any effort to make that a “required” part of the annual Medicare exam?

One approach to tackling this issue is through collective advocacy. While it requires time and effort, it’s crucial to push for larger adoption of cognitive screening and predictive diagnostics by exerting pressure on healthcare providers and policymakers.

Emphasizing the importance of early detection of dementia can serve as a key argument in our discussions with policymakers, urging them to allocate more federal funds towards aging research and ultimately reducing healthcare costs.

How do we get local towns to improve community education programs? AKA adult ed.

Again, I would highlight collective advocacy and awareness campaigns as solutions. A well-crafted advocacy campaign has the potential to mobilize widespread support and engage various stakeholders in improving education programs.

I am a big believer in leveraging networks and collaborating with different actors, so I would naturally gravitate towards forging partnerships with education providers to enhance the current state of community education programs.

Dr. Jon Kay speaking at the Library of Congress
Dr. Jon Kay speaking at the Library of Congress. Photo taken on February 7, 2024, by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Are any of the speakers Vegan (Diet-Brain)?

Not that I am aware of. However, our scientific advisor, Dr. Andrea Maier, is one of the leading voices in longevity medicine. I encourage you to follow her work to explore healthy longevity through a vegan dietary approach. I would also suggest joining the Healthy Longevity Medicine Society (HLMS), the president of which is Dr. Maier. The HLMS are our partners, and they host monthly clinical sharing sessions, where the impacts of dietary interventions are among the topics discussed in-depth.

What do you have to say about our business world’s reliance on life expectancy tables? Every time we deal with financial wellbeing and security (insurance , RMDs, retirement planning, etc.) we are told what constitutes old age.

Part of our work involves redefining what constitutes “old age.” Supporting early-stage science on biological aging will help improve healthy human longevity, or if we look at it from the financial perspective, increasing our economic productivity. We want to remain productive beyond our 60s, and while this is already a reality for a fortunate few who have benefited from healthy lifestyles and favorable genetics, the majority of our population will see a decline past that point.

Advancements in aging science are essential to achieving widespread adoption of longevity therapies and medical interventions, thus extending ‘working life expectancy’ on a mass scale, offsetting cognitive and physical decline, and thereby challenging existing notions of what “old” is.

Susan Magsamen speaking at the Library of Congress
Susan Magsamen speaking at the Library of Congress. Photo taken on February 7, 2024, by AFC Folklife Specialist, Douglas D. Peach.

Any thoughts on caregivers for family members with dementia and/or physical limitations?

I deeply admire the dedication and empathy shown by caregivers. Witnessing the care my parents received at the Hospice of Orleans during their final days made a profound impact on me. It was one of the factors that motivated my transition into the nonprofit sector and ignited my passion for philanthropy as a means of assisting others.

We all know someone: a friend, a family member, or an acquaintance facing the trials of debilitating age-related diseases. I salute the caregivers and hope that with the LSF’s help, we will alleviate unnecessary suffering from our population.

What do you suggest for people who live in areas that don’t have healthier food options readily available to them? For example, I feel like I am surrounded by fast junk food options and it is difficult to find plant-based options, especially on those days when you need to grab something on the go. How can I incorporate a healthier diet, for a healthier brain, into mine and my family’s life when we see so many unhealthy options?

Considering the common thread among various research findings, we can infer some suggestions:

  • Prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables. Snacking often leads to consuming processed foods but opting for fruits and vegetables can be a quick, healthier option, especially when time is limited.
  • Aim for a satiating breakfast that’s rich in protein. This can help curb calorie intake throughout the day and avoid inadvertently exposing yourself to processed snacks. Plus, it’s an opportunity to bond with family. A growing body of evidence suggests that sharing meals fosters better eating habits and enhances brain health.
  • Keep your meal choices simple and prepare ahead. This entails sacrificing time from work or leisure, but it’s a worthwhile investment in your and your family’s health.

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