1st Graduate Student Conference
The inaugural International Alliance of Research Universities Graduate Student Conference (IARU GSC) 2012 was successfully conducted from 28 to 30 June 2012. 19 graduate students from 6 of the 10 IARU member universities, along with 2 faculty staff members from University of Copenhagen, attended the conference which was held alongside the inaugural NUS Global Asia Institute (GAI) Signature Conference (28 - 29 June 2012).
Thematic Round Table Sessions by NUS Faculty
Aging well, research to policy?
by Professor Peter Little from the Life Sciences Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Office of Deputy President (Research & Technology).
The focus of the presentation was on the need to better engage policymakers to create an improved policy framework for ageing well. Prof Little asserted that the public goal of ageing well should be to steer away from the “red zone” of reliance upon the public purse. He felt that enhancing happiness should also be a key goal when addressing is sues related to ageing
Social Demography and Support for Aging Well
by Associate Professor Angelique Chan from the Department of Sociology and Duke - NUS Graduate Medical School.
A/Prof Chan presented on demographic changes in Singapore and their implications, particularly for caregivers. She highlighted the shrinking proportion of young people in Singapore due to higher rates of non-marriage, marriage at a later age, and increased longevity. A/Prof Chan argued that these trends put great pressure on caregivers, who experience high financial, physical, and emotional costs. Prof Chan reported that with shrinking household sizes among older persons, Singaporeans rely increasingly on
domestic workers to fill in the gap and care for the aged.
A/Prof Chan also noticed differences among the elderly according to gender. Men are more likely to remarry and live with a spouse and at least one child. Women, on
the other hand, tend to have stronger social networks outside of the household. Men who live alone have a significantly higher probability of being depressed.
Echoing Prof Little in the previous presentation, A/Prof Chan emphasized the need for evidence-based policy formation and for both quantitative and qualitative research. She believed there was a causal link between care-giving and depression.
Translational Research in Gerontology: Adding More Life to More Years
by Associate Professor Ng Tze Pin from the Gerontological Research Program, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University Health System.
A/Prof Ng spoke about bridging the gap between basic research and practical applications. As Coordinator of the Gerontology Research Program , A/Prof Ng believed that it was important to engage directly with people in the community. He shared that as the limited funds from the research grants did not allow him to lease venues in the heartlands of Singapore for research, he had to source for space that was eventually provided to the researchers through the goodwill of community organizations.
Through his research, A/Prof Ng identified demographic risk factors for dementia among Singaporeans. There tended to be higher rates of dementia among females, the elderly, Indians, and Malays, but there was no significant difference amongst the ethnic groups for those who had obtained at least secondary level of education. Notably, he found that lifelong learning and sustained mental activity played a significant role in preventing dementia.
A/Prof Ng, like Prof Little and A/Prof Chan, emphasized the need for evidence-based recommendations to address issues of ageing. He believed that with increasing rates of functional disability in countries like Singapore, Thailand, and China, more research must be done for individuals to have maximum mobility. He felt that this could be achieved by making the built environment more elderly-friendly.
A/Prof Ng then remarked that elderly people living alone tended to show more depressive symptoms but argued that the more powerful predictive of depressive symptoms was no
t living alone, but loneliness. He concluded his presentation by stating that those who were still working experienced less cognitive decline and a higher level of life satisfaction.
Site Visit to the Gerontology Research Program at the Training & Research Academy (TaRA)
Participants of the conference visited the Gerontology Research Program (GRP) at the Training & Research Academy (TaRA), where they were welcomed by Mr Laurence Wee (CEO, TaRA; Executive Director, Presbyterian Community Services) who delivered an overview of the projects and facilities at TaRA. Located inside Jurong Point Shopping Centre, TaRA provided an accessible social setting where the elderly had their check-ups.
Dr Feng Lei (Research Fellow, Department of Psychological Medicine, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine) spoke on the GRP and emphasized multidisciplinary research in addressing the issue of ageing. He highlighted the two primary goals of GRP: to increase understanding of ageing in Asia and to provide the government with important information on how to address ageing-related disability problems.
After a presentation on the organization of the GRP by Ms Khin Chaw Yu Aung (Research Assistant), Dr Feng Liang (Research Fellow) from the Department of Psychological Medicine, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, reported on GRP’s research findings. In one study, researchers found evidence of curry consumption improving cognitive performance in the elderly. In another study, they found tea intake to be significantly associated with lower cognitive impairment.
The GSC participants also had the opportunity to engage with the research staff and elderly subjects. The experience allowed them to witness firsthand how empirical research – aimed at disease prevention and health promotion – was conducted.