NEWS | October 15, 1997



Research into the prevention of age-related disease and the government's response to these issues is the focus of a symposium at UC Davis on Nov. 3, 1997. The symposium begins at 8:30 a.m. and will be held at the Buehler Alumni & Visitor's Center located on the UC Davis campus.

The symposium is sponsored by the Center for Environmental Health Sciences in cooperation with the Center for Aging and Health. It will bring together leading researchers in epidemiology, nutrition, cardiology, neurology and other disciplines.

“We want to emphasize that such things as diet, exercise and environmental exposure greatly influence the aging process and the development of chronic disease,” says Fumio Matsumura, director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences. “Quality of life is the main issue. Older people do not always have to be afflicted with debilitating health problems. Educating the public to those factors that may affect an individual’s health is the main purpose of this symposium.”

"The vast majority of chronic diseases occur in people over aged 65,” says Mary Haan, director of the Center for Aging and Health at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center. “With life expectancy steadily increasing, prevention of these diseases will become increasingly important in the future to reduce health care costs and to reduce disease, to prevent disability and to maintain function in the elderly."

After the welcome and introductions, Roger McDonald, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis, will speak on "Demographics of An Aging Population." McDonald's research focus is primarily on mechanisms of cellular aging and the interaction between nutrition and aging.
 Haan will then discuss the "Epidemiology of Aging," citing our increased life expectancy and discussing issues surrounding strategies for prevention. 

"Life expectancy at birth has increased from 50 years in women in 1900 to nearly 80 years in 1997,” says Haan. “While living longer is a blessing for many senior citizens, the incidence of chronic diseases also occurs most frequently in older people. For example, 70 percent of heart disease occurs in people aged 65 and older, and cancer, osteoporosis, cerebrovascular diseases and dementia also are more common.”

Moreover, the effectiveness of preventing chronic diseases in older people through changes in diet and lifestyle has been questioned. For example, the benefits of lowering cholesterol to reduce heart disease risk may disappear after age 65, and smoking cessation may be less effective in preventing lung cancer in those who have smoked for 40 years. As a result, Haan believes prevention strategies in the elderly may need to focus on reducing declines in physical and mental abilities and on preventing potentially life-threatening infectious diseases such as pneumonia."

At 10:30 a.m., Edward L. Schneider, director of Andrus Gerontology Center, USC, will discuss "Government Response to the Problem of an Aging Population." Schneider, a former Deputy Director of the National Institute of Aging, believes that unproven medical treatments are "bilking" the elderly of about $20 million per year in the United States.

"Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in the Aged" is the topic for the 11 a.m. lecture by William Haskell from the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford. Haskell will present data demonstrating that promotion of a healthy lifestyle along with medication, when indicated, can prevent or substantially delay heart attacks and stroke in older persons. 

Carl Cotman, director of the Neurological Imaging Center at UC Irvine, will then address the subject of "Aging and Diseases of the Central Nervous System." Cotman currently studies exercise and its effect on Alzheimer's disease and is designing exercise studies using rats. He is also proposing studies in which doctors prescribe exercise for their Alzheimer's disease patients and track the rate of progress of their disease.

Jan Vijg of Harvard University will speak at 1:45 on "Prevention of Cancer in the Aged.” Vijg says that mutations in genes, the body’s blueprint for life, are responsible for the dramatic increased incidence of cancer in the elderly. These mutations occur over a lifetime and increase the cancer risk. Heritable mutations in a variety of genes also can significantly increase or decrease cancer risk. New techniques for detecting mutations should increase insight into these two sources of mutations and may provide the means for prevention and therapy. 

A presentation on "Nutrition and the Aged" will follow with Richard Weindruch of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Weindruch studies calorie restriction in primates and other animals and has found that eating fewer calories while still maintaining good nutrition retards aging and dramatically extends life span. These benefits were evident even when such a regimen is started in adulthood.

The final event of the day will be a panel discussion featuring representatives from the California Department of Health Services, the American Association of Retired Persons, the California State Senate Committee on Aging and the American Cancer Society. The topic of the forum will be "Policies to Meet the Health Challenges of an Aging Population."

Registration for the symposium is $25, plus an additional $20 for those who wish to receive seven hours of continuing nursing education credit. Lunch and refreshments are included.

For a detailed agenda and registration materials for the symposium, call Beth Wettergreen at (916) 752-4251 or e-mail her at