The Silver Santé Study is a 5-year EU-funded project investigating mental health and well-being in Europe’s ageing population. So our experts have come up with a few tips and links that may help older adults maintain good mental health and well-being during this challenging time.
While we all stay at home to protect ourselves and others, it’s more important than ever that we find ways to stay in regular contact with friends and family. Online platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype or Houseparty can be great for video calling but if that’s new to you, Age UK has produced this handy guide to help get you started: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/work-learning/technology-internet/video-calling/ . If you don’t have access to a computer, make sure you phone friends, family and neighbours regularly to chat and keep in touch.
Social contact is essential for maintaining good mental health, particularly if you live alone. But there are other things you can do to support good mental health. Take the time to get outside in the fresh air and enjoy your garden, if you have one, and make the most of the arrival of spring to tidy up and get planting. You can even start growing your own fruit and veg in the smallest of gardens. Meditation, yoga/stretching, or just sitting and listening to nature can also help you take time out for yourself. You could also take advantage of this time to learn a new foreign language with a free app like Duolingo ( https://www.duolingo.com/).
Even though outings are limited, it’s important to build some regular exercise into your new routine. Try doing exercises at home each day by following Joe Wicks’ free online workouts for seniors (https://youtu.be/A2wp8Ipxn9s) or if your mobility is limited, try this chair-based workout from Age UK https://youtu.be/4Qx2vPetMRQ .
It’s always beneficial to do the things you enjoy like reading a good book, playing a musical instrument, playing card games, board games, chess, or doing arts and crafts. You could also take the time to browse your photo albums or start making a new one with the stack of photos you never had time to organise. If you live alone, there are apps for scrabble, card games, crosswords, or Sudoku, to keep your brain active, to name but a few.
Below are some further links from the Silver Santé Study team with ideas to help you stay in good physical and mental health during this challenging time:
Free mindfulness audio resources from the Mindful website
Free online gardening advice from expert Christine Walkden on the Age UK website
Download the free MindMate app which offers free brain games and personalised daily workouts that help sharpen cognitive skills for seniors and baby boomers.
To sum up, try to keep yourself busy both mentally and physically in order to stay healthy and happy and remember that these restrictions won’t last forever, so keep smiling and stay positive!
New study identifies brain changes which explain why sleep apnea increases risk for developing Alzheimer’s
Researchers working on the EU-funded Silver Santé Study have identified brain changes which explain for the first time why sleep apnea increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The research, led by Dr Géraldine Rauchs , of Inserm, in Caen, France, was published in JAMA Neurology (https://bit.ly/33HxOIB )
Dr Rauchs and her team studied the effects of sleep apnea on 127 older adults who were taking part in the Age Well clinical trial of the Silver Santé Study. The volunteers, with a mean age of 69, completed neuropsychological assessments (tests to assess how the brain is working), polysomnography (to assess sleep quality and potential sleep disorders) tests and neuroimaging scans.
Those participants with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB or types of sleep apnea) showed greater amyloid burden (protein deposits in the brain), GM volume (number of brain cells) and metabolism (how these cells use glucose for their activity) in brain areas particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s – increasing their risk of developing the disease in coming years. No association was found with cognition, self-reported cognitive and sleep difficulties or excessive daytime sleepiness symptoms.
Dr Rauchs, the paper’s author, says: “The results are very significant as although there was increased evidence suggesting sleep-disordered breathing (SBD) increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the brain mechanisms underlying the link were unclear.
“This study shows for the first time that SBD, or sleep apnea, increases amyloid burden, GM volume and metabolism in brain areas particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, increasing the risk of these individuals developing the disease in the future. This doesn’t mean, of course, that these participants will necessarily develop Alzheimer’s – just that their risk of developing the disease in future is increased.
“Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for SDB but the results of this study re-emphasize the importance of preserving good sleep quality throughout life in order to safeguard good mental health in later life.”
The results of the Silver Santé Study’s two clinical trials are due to be released later this year.
Silver Santé Study researchers are exploring funding opportunities to allow them to add a 21-month post intervention analysis to the Age Well clinical trial.
All 137 volunteers, bar two, have agreed to take part in additional follow-up tests at 21 months to further strengthen validation of the trial by studying whether the effects of mental training techniques persist over time.
After taking part in a series of baseline tests at the beginning of each wave, the volunteers were randomly assigned to one of three groups – an English language course, a meditation course, or a control group that had no intervention.
Blood tests, neuroimaging scans and questionnaires have been used by our expert researchers to assess the impact of the mental training techniques on the brain. The volunteers’ lifestyle habits – such as sleep, diet, physical exercise and emotions – have also been monitored.
The results of the Age-Well trial are expected to be released later this year.
Senior researchers from the Silver Santé Study will be presenting the key findings of the project at the prestigious Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in July.
The teams will gather in Amsterdam from 26-30 July to present their analyses of the data collected from the project’s two major clinical trials – Age Well and SCD Well. Each year, the AAIC convenes the world’s leading basic science and clinical researchers, next-generation investigators, clinicians and the care research community to share research discoveries that’ll lead to methods of prevention and treatment and improvements in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Age Well is examining the impact of an 18-month intervention on healthy older adults aged 65+ in the Caen area of France and expert meditators. The volunteers were randomly assigned to one of three groups – meditation practice, foreign language learning, or a control group that had no intervention.
The SCD Well trial is assessing the impact of a short (8 week) course of either meditation or health education on patients from memory clinics in the UK, France, Spain and Germany.
Project Coordinator, Dr Gaël Chételat, who will be among those attending the conference, says: “As the world’s leading Alzheimer’s conference, the AAIC provides an invaluable opportunity for us to share our findings with the international scientific community.
“We look forward to doing so and to hearing from other scientists about their most recent findings in this important field of research.”
The AAIC conference takes place at the RAI Amsterdam, Europaplein 24, 1078 GZ Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
By Martine Batchelor
(posted 12th December 2019)
Meditation – along with language-learning and health education – is one of the mental training activities being trialled in the Silver Santé Study to assess its impact on mental health and well-being in the ageing population.
Although meditation – or mindfulness – is now commonly referred to in everyday life, there are many misconceptions about what it is. One, for example, is that meditation is about clearing the mind of all thought. Another is that meditation is a religious practice. While most religions involved some kind of contemplative study, like meditation, the meditation studied in the Silver Santé Study is entirely secular and, while based on Buddhist meditation, it has been adapted especially for potential use for medical purposes.
Rather than clearing the mind of thought, meditation is about cultivating certain qualities that we already have but to a greater degree. One of the bases of meditation is to cultivate focusing, concentration, and anchoring and this means that you are given something to focus on – such as the breath, the body, a sound, or a question. Should your mind wander and start thinking about other things, you simply bring your thoughts back to what you were focusing on and you do this with a positive, friendly attitude. Each time your thoughts wander, you bring them back to what you were focusing on. So both elements are important – the technique, i.e. the focusing, and the attitude with which you do it, i.e. in a friendly way. Once you cultivate the focusing element, it helps you to become calmer.
It’s also important to remember that the aim is not to become the greatest meditator, it’s about helping us become calmer, clearer and more compassionate in daily life.
There are different types of meditation. Mindfulness, for example, is where you focus on something like the breath, the body, a sound, feeling or mental state and then you keep coming back to it in a friendly way. With that technique, it’s about being aware of the change of the breath, the change of sensation, etc. There are other types of meditation too – some focus on a question, while others, like loving kindness meditation, focus on being compassionate to oneself and to others. There are types that are reflective and others that focus on repeating phrases.
Meditation is suitable for most people to some degree. It’s just like sport – it’s generally good for most people but not suitable for everyone. There are very few negative effects associated with meditation as long as it’s in light conditions. For example, a 7-day silent retreat is not suitable for everyone, but a weekly two-hour mindfulness session every week should be fine for most people.
My advice to anyone wanting to try out meditation would be to find a local course to get some guidance, and then to practice it regularly to see some benefit. Some people find that meditating 10 minutes each day works for them but others meditate for longer – whatever suits you best. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t need to be sitting down to meditate, you can do it walking, standing, sitting or lying down.
Watch Martine explain meditation in our short video:
By Dr Perla Kaliman
(Posted 27th June 2019)
In an experiment involving identical twins, who would age faster: the twin who is placed in a high-speed rocket and travels near the speed of light or the twin who remains earthbound?
While studying this dilemma known as “the twin paradox,” Albert Einstein guessed that the date of birth is not enough to know the biological age of a person. In 1918, within the framework of his theory of relativity, Einstein showed that when returning from his trip to the stars, the galactic twin would be younger than his sibling born on the same date and with the same DNA. What was unknown 100 years ago is that we don’t need a trip on a space shuttle to modulate our cell ageing. Current research shows that less than 25% of the variations in human longevity can be attributed to our inherited genetic information. It is now clear that the quality of ageing and longevity result from powerful interactions between genes, environment, lifestyle and experiences.
Objectively we can talk about chronological age and biological age. The chronological age is calculated from our date of birth, while the biological age can be measured on our chromosomes. And they do not always match. There are repetitive DNA structures at the end of the chromosomes, called telomeres, whose function is to protect the genetic material. They fulfill a similar task to that of the ends of the shoe laces, that is, to prevent the DNA from fraying and damaging. With age, as part of a natural process, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres are already too short to efficiently carry out their protective functions, the cells lose their capacity for division, a phenomenon that increases the risk of most chronic age-related diseases i.e. cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome. Conversely, numerous studies indicate that longer telomeres predict long-term health. It has also been proven that the cells of centenarian people who are in good health have telomere lengths that correspond to younger chronological ages.
Recent research suggests that lifestyle-related factors influence the rate of biological ageing (i.e. nutrition, stress, quality of sleep, physical activity, education, social environment). In the Silver Santé Study, part of our work aims to identify lifestyle factors that may influence the rate of biological ageing. In order to do this, we collected blood samples from all the participants at the beginning of the Age-Well clinical trial and we are now obtaining a second sample from all of them at the end of mental training interventions. Our hypothesis is that brain training activities such as meditation and foreign language-learning may help to slow down the pace of the biological ageing. We very much look forward to learning and sharing the results of our study that may contribute to revealing the molecular mechanisms of long-term brain training on healthy ageing and may help in the design of preventive strategies for age-related chronic diseases.
By Caitlin Ware
(posted 1st October 2019)
It is thought that learning a second language could be a very promising and dynamic way of improving cognitive capacities and maintaining the brain’s functions, as both structural and functional neurological differences have been observed in bilinguals compared to people who only speak one language (monolinguals).
These brain differences may determine how the brain ages and compensates for pathology. What is more, bilingualism and multilingualism have been shown to contribute to a delay in the onset of dementia in seniors.
Although remaining a subject of hot debate, research has shown that bilingualism seems to strengthen certain cognitive processes, constituting a ‘bilingual advantage.’ Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals have demonstrated higher scores on cognitive tests, especially those measuring attention and mental control.
Some neuroanatomical and functional changes have been associated with foreign language learning, such as the growth of certain brain regions, and a better connectivity between them. This is promising in the context of ageing, as the brain tends to lose its volume and connectivity with time.
Although research in language learning has focused mainly on children and young adults, a few studies have concentrated on the effects of second language learning in seniors. Not only has it been shown to be feasible and beneficial from a subjective point of view, research has shown that it can strengthen cognitive functioning, as well as psychological well-being and quality of life. Moreover, a recent study has evidenced increased connectivity between certain brain regions of Italian older adults learning English after only four months of training. Indeed, learning a foreign language is an intense intellectual activity, which involves memory and attention.
Learning a second language can also engage communication, travel, and involvement in the community, providing seniors with an outlet to improve their overall well-being and sense of confidence. More studies are needed involving larger groups and a longitudinal design and the Silver Santé study is the first to carry out such research. With a language-learning intervention of 18 months, Silver Santé is the longest ever study of its kind and it will be fascinating to see what impact the course has on the mental health and well-being of its participants.
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By Stefano Poletti
(posted 1st March 2019)
Both quantitative and qualitative measures and outcomes are being used to evaluate the impact of the mental training techniques trialled in the Silver Santé Study.
While quantitative (e.g. behavioural, psychological, neurophysiological) research is important and gathers data within a pre-determined framework, it doesn’t always allow us to capture the richness and complexity of a participant’s own experiences of taking part in research of this kind. The addition of qualitative measures provides us with a much deeper understanding of the impact that learning a new language or practicing meditation may have on an individual’s life and can help provide answers as to why that might be the case.
In order to gather this qualitative data, one-to-one interviews are taking place with the volunteers at the end of each wave of the Age Well clinical trial. This qualitative evaluation adds important information about the subjective impact of the relevant intervention on participants. It includes, for example, their experiences of being randomly assigned to one of the intervention groups and provides valuable feedback on their own unique experiences of taking part in the group sessions and of the data collection process. They are also asked about the researchers, the intervention leaders, and the materials provided in the study as well as how they interact with the other volunteers and what they thought of the information shared during the classes.
To avoid any conflicts of interest, I have been recruited as an external researcher to the project to conduct the interviews as impartially as possible. To explore areas of interest, I gather information about the effectiveness and the impact of the Study, starting from a participant’s personal integration of it. These individual interviews enable us to access and document this broad variety of experiences (Clarke and Dawson, 1999: 39) and to enrich our knowledge of the project’s design, including its strengths and weaknesses.
During the first wave of the Study’s Age Well trial, our volunteers were highly engaged with the intervention and the interviews have allowed us to explore what contributed to this high level of interest as well as any lack of enthusiasm that may have existed. The biggest advantage of this qualitative data is the information it provides with regard to the motivation and engagement of participants throughout the project. It also helps us identify any safety and security issues (adverse effects) as well as any changes in outlook associated with their participation (e.g. social identity, belief and value systems.) – all of which are vital to truly understanding the impact of the interventions being studied.
Clarke and Dawson, 1999. Evaluation Research: An Introduction to Principles, Methods and Practice. SAGE Publications, Social Science, London