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The online club helping inspire a more joyful retirement



The founder of an online activity club providing inspiration for a happier and more fulfilling retirement has told Agetech World she believes a link-up with the NHS could have “huge benefits” for both older people and the UK’s publicly funded healthcare system.

Hannah Thomson was inspired by her late grandmother to launch The Joy Club in December 2020 to help tackle loneliness in retirement and empower older people to make the most of their later years by leading a more physically active and intellectually stimulating life.

The online platform that offers members the chance to connect with others who share their interests, access activities, and take part in expert-led live-streamed classes and talks, already collaborates with several private partners, including retirement villages, and is looking at the potential of working with two leading financial institutions.

But entrepreneur Ms Thomson has told the latest Agetech World podcast that a tie-in between The Joy Club and the NHS could be mutually beneficial.

Click here to listen to the latest Agetech World podcast

Ms Thomson said: “We would love to work with the NHS. At the moment we have our partnerships with the private sector, so we started off focusing on retirement living, particularly integrated retirement communities, and we work with the likes of Audley Villages, BUPA’s retirement village in Richmond Villages, and Anchor – the largest provider of retirement housing in the UK – so we work with amazing providers who really are at the forefront of delivering a health and wellness package that will support prolonged independence of their homeowners.

“Integrated retirement communities are very much focused on delivering a new model to enable people to age in place in a way that extends life expectancy, but importantly a healthy life expectancy as well, having good healthy later years.

Hannah Thomson, founder CEO of The Joy Club

“So that model works really nicely in the private sector, and we think as well it would work really well for the NHS.

“When we look at the stats, loneliness is an interesting way to frame this because I think I am very mindful of contributing to a positive dialogue around healthy ageing.

“I think sometimes loneliness as an issue amongst people in later life can perpetuate negative stereotypes, so I’m very careful when I’m talking about this.

“But it is true to say, that the research would suggest, that a third of people in later life are lonely and that if you are lonely that costs the NHS an extra £12k per person over the 15 years of later life.

“There are huge mental health issues around loneliness, as well as physical health issues. It is twice as harmful as obesity, it is just as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, so there are lots of reasons from patient well-being to system pressure, to system finance, why the NHS should support people in later life to remain active and connected and joyful through The Joy Club.

“We are starting to have a few conversations around that, and we would love that to happen. We think there would be huge benefits.”

Ms Thomson added: “But I think for us there are also enormous opportunities for us elsewhere in the private sector, and we are starting off some proof-of-concept work with Lloyds Banking Group, for example, and we are doing some work with Standard Life.

“These are organisations that have access to millions of people and are under less funding pressure than the NHS as well.

“So, we would be very excited about the NHS opportunity but we can also see huge opportunities in the private sector, including retirement villages, pensions, banking, and financial services, that enable us to have impact of scale.

“And that is what we are really thinking about; how we get The Joy Club in the hands of millions of people as quickly as possible to have that positive impact.”

The inspiration for The Joy Club dates back to 2015 when Ms Thomson witnessed the deterioration of her ‘Granny Jean,’ following a dementia diagnosis.

She sadly passed away just before the first UK Covid lockdown in March 2020. Ms Thomson said it was this experience combined with voluntary work she had been doing with Age UK, that made her realise that as a nation we are not doing enough to support people in later life.

She said that all too often we only treat age-related illness once it has taken hold when instead we should be keeping people well for as long as possible.

Ms Thomson spent months speaking to experts and listening to the concerns of older people before coming up with her idea for the online-based The Joy Club.

Currently only operating in the UK, she acknowledged it’s a concept that can be easily rolled out to other countries, with a US platform likely in the near future.

She said: “For us the UK, the home market, is our focus at the moment, and we have lots of exciting plans in place to extend our presence in the integrated retirement community sector and also then move into other sectors like finance and pensions and banking, so that’s our focus in the short term.

“But certainly, in the medium term, we would be looking to take this elsewhere. The US is likely to be our second market, but ultimately it is our ambition to build the largest and most joyful community of retirees globally.”

She added: “We are continuously involved in the cycle of experimentation, testing, iteration, and as I’ve mentioned, audio is something that we have just launched, and that is going tremendously well, so we will be looking to evolve the platform further, very much based on feedback, extend our reach and impact through partnerships, and then there are international expansions, so lots of exciting things in the pipeline.”


Europe: Improving access to early-stage lung cancer care



Europe: Improving access to early-stage lung cancer care

Researchers from Amsterdam UMC Cancer Center Amsterdam have looked at inequalities in access to early-stage lung cancer care in Europe.

Early-stage lung cancer has stark differences between European countries regarding access and reimbursement.

There are also differences in reimbursement times and indications between the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Researchers from Amsterdam UMC Cancer Center Amsterdam analysed the landscape, publishing their results in The Lancet Regional Health Europe as part of a series on the latest developments in the treatment of this lung cancer.

“Tackling inequalities in access to care must be a common European priority,” says Amsterdam UMC pulmonologist Idris Bahce. In collaboration with colleagues from seven European countries, Bahce used a literature review to map out the latest developments and analyse access to these new treatments from a European perspective.

“The existing differences in healthcare systems and reimbursement structures between European countries threaten to exacerbate healthcare inequalities at both European and national level. We therefore call for a collective European approach to reduce these inequalities,” says Bahce.

He suggests measures such as more international cooperation between the EMA and other registration authorities, harmonising cost-effectiveness procedures in European countries, a more critical evaluation of reimbursement criteria and improving multidisciplinary collaborations around the patient.

The standard treatment for fit patients with early-stage lung cancer has always been surgery, sometimes combined with pre- or post-operative chemotherapy. Recently, the EMA has approved new treatments such as immunotherapy, which appear to significantly improve survival rates after surgery. More approvals of innovative treatments are expected, potentially further exacerbating existing inequalities within Europe.

In addition to the Dutch hospitals Amsterdam UMC and Erasmus MC, colleagues from Spain, France, Germany, England, Italy and Poland also contributed to this international study as well as a Review and a Viewpoint in The Lancet Regional Health Europe.

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Study looks at link between adversity and cognitive decline



A new paper has examined the relationship between childhood adversity and psychiatric decline, as well as adult adversity and psychiatric and cognitive decline. 

The findings revealed just one instance of adversity in childhood can increase cases of mental illness later in life. It also revealed that adverse events in adults can lead to a greater chance of both mental illness and cognitive decline later in life. 

The paper has been published by Saint Louis University associate professor of health management and policy in the College for Public Health and Social Justice, SangNam Ahn, Ph.D., in Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Ahn stated: “Life is very complicated, very dynamic. I really wanted to highlight the importance of looking into the lasting health effect of adversity, not only childhood but also adulthood adversity on health outcomes, especially physical health and psychiatric and cognitive health. 

“There have been other studies before, but this is one of the first that looks into these issues comprehensively.” 

Ahn, along with his team of researchers, examined data from nearly 3500 individuals over the course of 24 years. The group took the longitudinal data and evaluated it using a list of lifetime potential traumatic events.

The research team included childhood adversity events such as moving due to financial difficulties, family requiring financial help, a parent experiencing unemployment, trouble with law enforcement before the age of 18, repeating school, physical abuse and parental abuse of drugs or alcohol. 

Adulthood adversity events included the death of a child, the death of a spouse, experiencing a natural disaster after age 17, firing a weapon in combat, a partner abusing drugs or alcohol, being a victim of a physical attack after age 17, a spouse or child battling a serious illness, receiving Medicaid or food stamps and experiencing unemployment. 

The study determined that nearly 40% of all individuals experienced a form of childhood adversity, while that number climbed to nearly 80% for adulthood adversity. Those who experienced childhood adversity were also 17% more likely to experience adulthood adversity. Only 13% of individuals sampled reported two or more forms of childhood adversity, while 52% of adults experienced two or more forms of adult adversity. 

In cases of either childhood adversity or adulthood adversity, researchers found individuals who experienced adversity were also more likely to experience anxiety and depression later in life, and in the case of adulthood adversity, were also more likely to experience cognitive decline later in life. 

Individuals with one childhood adversity experience saw a 5% higher chance of suffering from anxiety, and those with two or more childhood adversity experiences had 26% and 10% higher chances of depression and anxiety, respectively. Individuals who experienced two adulthood adversities had a 24% higher chance of depression, while also experiencing a 3% cognitive decline later in life. 

While most of the results were expected or unsurprising, one area that stood out to Ahn was education. Those individuals studied who reported higher levels of education saw a reduction in the number of adversity experiences. Ahn hopes to study this avenue more to learn how education may be able to mitigate or prevent these declines. 

“Before including education, there was a significant association between childhood adversity and cognitive impairment,” Ahn said. 

“But when including education as a covariate, that significant association disappeared. Interesting. So there were important implications here. Education and attending school, people could be better off even if they were exposed to childhood adversity. They’re likely to learn positive coping mechanisms, which may help avoid  relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking or excessive drinking or drug use.

“Education is quite important in terms of health outcomes. If I am educated, I’m likely to get a better job, have a higher income, and live in areas with less crime. I’m likely to buy gym membership or regularly exercise. I’m likely to shop at Whole Foods and get proper nutrition. All of which help combat these adversities we hinted at in the study. So the education and health outcomes are already closely related, and that is what we saw in our study.”

Ahn also encourages clinicians and everyday people alike to discuss their stress. Clinicians can learn more about their patients and have a better approach when it comes to their physical and mental health, while others could potentially relate to shared experiences. But through awareness and recognition, these adverse experiences could potentially have less serious, lasting effects. 

“Public health is very interested in stress,” Ahn said. “But we’re still examining how daily stress impacts our long term health outcomes. So to see the effects here in the study, I want people to pay attention to their stress and proactively address it. Clinicians should have deep discussions with their patients about their stress and mental state. And those topics can be approached in other areas too, like the classroom or the dining room table. The more we are aware of stress and discuss our stress, the better we can handle any adversities we find in life.”

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New tool to explore mechanisms of age-related diseases



New tool to explore mechanisms of age-related diseases

A new screening tool has been developed that will investigate the mechanisms behind conditions such as cancer, arthritis, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease.

Wellcome Sanger Institute researchers and their collaborators at Open Targets and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have developed the screening tool called scSNV-seq.

The tool has been designed to uncover how genetic changes affect gene activity that can lead to diseases such as cancer, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. 

The tool enables the investigation of thousands of DNA mutations identified by genetic studies in one experiment, and will help to guide the development of advanced diagnostics and treatments.

scSNV-seq allows the rapid assessment of the impact of thousands of genetic changes in cells that have never been screened before, directly connecting these changes to how those same cells operate. 

This technique helps researchers to pinpoint mutations that contribute to disease, which will offer crucial insights for developing targeted therapies.

In a new study, published in Genome Biology, the team applied scSNV-seq to the blood cancer gene, JAK1, accurately assessing the impact of JAK1 mutations.

The assessment revealed for the first time that certain mutations caused a “halfway house” phenotype cycling between different states which was not possible under previous approaches.

The technique is designed to demonstrate versatility across cell types, including hard-to-culture primary cells like T cells and stem-cell derived neurons, as well as various editing methods such as base editing and prime editing. 

Applied on a large scale, scSNV-seq could transform understanding of the genetic changes driving cancer and decoding genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes and other complex diseases.

Dr Sarah Cooper, first author of the study at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, stated: “In an era where the rate of genetic variant discovery outpaces our ability to interpret their effects, scSNV-seq fills a major gap for studying challenging cells like T cells and neurons. 

“We are already using it to shed light on the impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s risk variants on brain cells.”

Dr Andrew Bassett, senior author of the study at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “Our technique is able to directly connect effects of mutations to how a cell behaves, revealing downstream impacts that previous technologies alone cannot deliver. 

“The technique speeds up the identification of causal genetic mutations, which will allow better diagnosis and deepens our molecular understanding of diseases, paving the way for more targeted and effective treatments.”

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