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International Conference on Cognitive Decline and its Economic Consequences Cohosted by Keio University and the World Economic Forum

The International Conference on Cognitive Decline and its Economic Consequences was held on Keio University’s Mita Campus on 5-6 October 2015, bringing together world-leading researchers and experts to discuss issues related to a super-ageing population and cognitive decline. Cohosted by Keio University and the World Economic Forum (WEF), this was the main event for KEIO AGEING WEEK–a series of events in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe focused on healthy ageing, or more specifically, exploring solutions to challenges related to an ageing society.

In his opening address for the conference, Keio University President Atsushi Seike noted the significance of this conference by saying, “I believe such an interdisciplinary conference on cognitive decline and its economic consequences is the first of its kind. It may be a small step, but hopefully a good start.” Derek Yach, the Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Ageing, then reminded everyone that despite the sobering statistics concerning age-related health risks and cognitive decline, increased longevity can also be seen as a return on medical advances over the past century. He then invited others to reframe the issue in a positive light as an opportunity to benefit generations of older people. Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare also gave an address detailing the recent efforts the Japanese government has made in response to population ageing, noting that Japan is the first country to have to deal with this issue.

The conference included three sessions that looked at cognitive decline from different perspectives; the first being the medical perspective. As one of the panelists, Dr. Yasumichi Arai of the Keio University School of Medicine, presented results from the Center for Supercentenarian Medical Research, in which data is gathered on those who reach 110 years of age in order to gain a deeper understanding of healthy ageing.

The second session explored cognitive decline from an economic and public perspective, which changed the focus from advances in medicine that may help people in the future, to concrete policies that can make huge positive contributions to people’s lives right now. One of the panelists, Dr. John Beard of the World Health Organization, challenged the notion that being ‘old’ entails frailty and a constant need for care, and described the many ways that older persons are able—and more often than not willing—to contribute to society, provided they have access to resources that enable them to use their abilities.

The last session looked at the issue from the perspective of financial business, and the panel included representatives from the private sectors of banking and insurance, which are often on the frontlines in dealing with people with cognitive decline. Dr. Alexandre Kalache, the Co-President of the Global Alliance of International Longevity Centres, emphasized the global aspect of this issue—Japan and other developed nations may be dealing with this issue now, but the demographics of developing countries including his native Brazil show that they will soon follow suit, and maintaining the welfare and dignity of the aged and those with cognitive decline is of paramount importance.

Both the panelists and the audience of this interdisciplinary conference were highly engaged in this unique opportunity to learn about the state of cognitive decline and ageing from perspectives usually outside of their sphere, and the conference ended with a sense of optimism that we are now hitting a turning point in addressing this important global issue.

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