“The older migrant does not exist”

“The older migrant does not exist”

Leiden, The Netherlands – What are the views of older adults with a migration background on successful ageing in the Netherlands? There are major differences between and within older migrant groups and these differences cannot simply be explained with their ethnic background, researchers of Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing conclude based on qualitative research. For this reason, a person centered, culturally sensitive approach is recommended. The findings are published in the article ‘The Experience of Aging and Perceptions of “Aging Well” Among Older Migrants in the Netherlands’ in this month’s special edition ‘Immigration and Aging’ of the scientific journal The Gerontologist.

Eight focus-group discussions
Scientific research on older migrants often focuses on topics like morbidity and health care (under)use. Older migrants’ overall well-being is largely overlooked, the authors concluded last year in a narrative literature review (in Dutch). How do older migrants experience ageing in the Netherlands? To answer this question, eight focus-group discussions were conducted in early 2018 with the six largest migrant groups in the Netherlands, namely Indo-Dutch and Moluccans, and migrants with European, Surinamese, Antillean, Turkish, and Moroccan background. For the last two groups, we organised separate group discussions for men and women. The participants were relatively healthy older adults living independently, ranging in age from 54 to 88 years old. The discussions were open but the following themes were addressed in all focus groups: becoming older, daily activities, social contacts, living environment, and own initiative and responsibility.

High levels of life satisfaction
The study findings show that in general, older migrants experience ageing more positively than is commonly assumed in the (scientific) literature. Overall, the participants revealed rather high levels of life satisfaction, especially when it comes to their living environment – both in its physical and social manifestation – and social services, such as the quality of health care. Two older Moroccan gentlemen explained that in the Netherlands, “the doctor is better”, “it is safe” and “it is a free country where you can make your own choices”. Key aspects of successful ageing throughout all groups include remaining healthy, independent, and engaged. Nevertheless, some negative aspects of ageing were also mentioned, with differences between groups. The Turkish older adults were more than others concerned with future care arrangements and the role of the government in this regard. Surinamese participants, Indo-Dutch, and Moluccans shared to be highly concerned with their slowly decaying health.

Researcher Nina Conkova PhD: “The predominantly negative image of older adults with a migration background is likely affected by the problematisation of the first generation non-Western migrants. It is time to move beyond categorisations and generalisations and acknowledge the diversity between and within ethnic groups. Let us recognise and make better use of the wisdom and talents of these people.”

Towards a culturally sensitive approach
The research shows that there are major differences in how ageing is experienced between and within groups of older migrants, and that these differences cannot simply be explained with their ethnic background. By generalising problems and their possible solutions, we fail to recognise this diversity, Conkova argues: “The stereotypical ‘older adult’ does not exist, and neither does the ‘older migrant’. Similarly to older adults without a migration background, older migrants  differ greatly in terms of education, income level, knowledge of the Dutch system and policy. Specific to older migrants are their personal migration history and varying levels of Dutch language proficiency.”

Given these findings and the increasing heterogeneity of older adults in general, it is important to move from measuring groups by the same standards to working towards a person-centered, culturally sensitive approach. Conkova: “This approach leaves space for the wishes and desires of each individual and for an individual experience of one’s (migration) background, without assuming automatically that this determines one’s identity.”

The article ‘The Experience of Aging and Perceptions of “Aging Well” Among Older Migrants in the Netherlands’ by Nina Conkova and Jolanda Lindenberg was published online on 30 September 2019 and will appear in the special edition ‘Immigration and Aging’ of scientific journal The Gerontologist: https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/advance-article/doi/10.1093/geront/gnz125/5576057?guestAccessKey=6b9c53b7-84a0-4b2f-a122-cb2b0c7bbff5

For more information, please contact Niels Bartels (communications manager) by phone +31 (0)71 524 0960 or by email.

Tineke Abma new director of Leyden Academy

Tineke Abma new director of Leyden Academy

Leiden, The Netherlands, 11 September 2019 – Tineke Abma, professor of Participation & Diversity at Amsterdam UMC will become director of the knowledge institute Leyden Academy of Vitality and Ageing as of 1 December 2019. She will succeed Professor Joris Slaets, who is retiring on the same date.

For over twenty-five years, Tineke Abma has been researching themes closely related to ageing, such as patient and citizen participation, long-term care, ethics and diversity. She has been working at Amsterdam UMC (formerly VUmc) since 2009; first as special professor of Client Participation in Elderly Care and later as full-time professor of Participation & Diversity. Abma is looking forward to working at Leyden Academy: “In striving to improve the quality of life of older people, Leyden Academy covers the entire spectrum from vitality to elderly care and images of ageing. The perspective of the older individual is always the starting point, with respect for every person’s uniqueness. This is also what drives me.” Abma will remain a professor in Amsterdam for one day a week.

Joris Slaets has been director of Leyden Academy since 1 January 2015. He remains connected to the institute as a researcher in the Enjoying life project. Slaets is pleased with his successor: “I see many similarities in our scientific interests and personal motivations. Valuing the differences between people, taking their point of view seriously and, if necessary, being prepared to challenge the status quo. We also share the conviction that quality lies in personal narratives and experiences. I wish Tineke all the best.”

Dr. Wim van den Goorbergh, Chairman of Leyden Academy’s Supervisory Board: “In the past five years, Joris Slaets has made an important contribution to the further development of Leyden Academy, through ambitious studies and projects focused on the well-being of older people in nursing home care. We thank Joris for his vision and leadership. We are convinced that Tineke Abma will add her own accents to Leyden Academy, based on her rich experience in participative action research in care and well-being.”

For more information, please contact Niels Bartels (communications manager) by phone: +31 (0)71 524 0960 or by email.


Looking for the new Leyden Academy portrait

Looking for the new Leyden Academy portrait

Each year, alternatingly the portrait of a vital older man or woman is chosen to represent our institute on communication outings (e.g. for website, brochures, banners etc.).
For this year, from 11-11-2019 through 11-11-2020, we are looking for a man (from 75 years or older) who radiates a lust for life.


  • Several photos of multiple persons may be submitted.
  • The management and communication department at Leyden Academy will choose the ‘winning’ portrait.
  • The picture is royalty-free and will be used by Leyden Academy.
  • Photos can be submitted up to 7 Otcober 2019 to Yvonne Schinkel-Koemans at koemans@leydenacademy.nl.
Summer School: innovative interventions for chronic diseases

Summer School: innovative interventions for chronic diseases

To change the future of healthcare: this was the ambitious challenge for the 35 PhDs, Master students and young professionals who joined the euVENTION Summer School from July 21st till August 2nd in Heidelberg, Germany. After a successful edition in Leiden in 2018, this year’s EIT Health Summer School was aimed at developing innovative interventions for chronic diseases. In a challenging 2-week course, teams of students learned to shape their rough idea into viable business models, in close cooperation with their (older) target audiences.

Creating music with eyetracking glasses
On Friday August 2nd, the teams pitched their ideas to an expert jury. The innovations ranged from creating music with smart eyetracking glasses to apps that enable the smart use of electronic patient records. One team presented an intervention using artificial intelligence to prevent mental health issues, another team chose to develop software and wearables that assist older people and their families with independent ageing.

Participants from all over the globe
The 35 participants formed a very diverse group. Their academic backgrounds ranged from Computer Science to Medicine, and from Biomedical engineering to Rheumatology. The students joined the Summer School from all over the world: from various EU-countries, and from counties like Brazil, China, Ecuador, Lebanon and India. What all participants had in common was an incredible drive to learn and succeed.

euVENTION 2019 was an EIT Health Summer School, organised by Universität Heidelberg, Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg, Leyden Academy, SAP and Universidade de Coimbra. 

American nursing students visit Leyden Academy

American nursing students visit Leyden Academy

Today, we welcomed 22 juniors and seniors in the nursing program of Lewis University in Chicago. The group is touring the Netherlands this week to explore the Dutch healthcare system and compare it to what they are familiar with in the United States. Their schedule includes visits to Bronovo Hospital and Ipse de Bruggen in The Hague, science and medicine museum Boerhaave in Leiden, and various visits in Amsterdam including meeting an expert in addiction care. One student already noticed a difference with her home country: “The Dutch care seems more compassionate.”

Ageing as a treatable disease
At the Leyden Academy, the students attended two lectures. First, social anthropologist Jolanda Lindenberg raised interesting questions about our images of growing older. Jolanda explained that older people are actually more diverse in their wishes and desires, than younger people. In general, the image of older people is worsening, partly due to (bio)medicalization: the tendency to see ageing as something that needs to be prevented and controlled, as a treatable disease. Jolanda’s advice for the nursing students is to end the emphasis on limitations and decline. “Don’t look at how old someone is, but at who someone is and what someone can still do.”

Experiencing growing old
Medical doctor David van Bodegom then explained that many of the diseases we associate with old age, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are actually related to our lifestyle and can often be delayed or prevented. Our modern environment, that constantly seduces us to eat unhealthy snacks and limit our physical activity, is making us sick. By making smart changes to our daily work and living environments and routines, we can make healthier choices unconsciously. To illustrate how the body and senses can change as we grow older, PhD-student Paul van de Vijver demonstrated the “old age suit”. Truly experiencing the simulation of old age impairments was insightful for the students.

Whitepaper: Health is as important as wealth in retirement

Whitepaper: Health is as important as wealth in retirement

People should be encouraged to think about their health rather than concentrate solely on financial matters as part of realistic planning for retirement, according to the new whitepaper Broadening the view on retirement: Health and Retirement. The paper was published today by the Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement and Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing. Health can enable or impede aspirations for retirement and quickly dash long-held dreams of how people would fill their retirement days, say whitepaper authors David van Bodegom, Frank Schalkwijk and Mike Mansfield.

Health requires long-term planning and commitment
Gerontologists and medical doctors Van Bodegom and Schalkwijk of Leyden Academy argue that although many age-related diseases and disabilities only become apparent in retirement, preventive strategies aimed at healthy behavior are most effective when they are started earlier in life and during working lives. Preventive strategies can be applied within the working environment, but naturally extend to the home environment and public spaces. Mike Mansfield, Program Director of Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement adds: ‘The data of the Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2019 show that, in addition to the preventive benefits for health in older age, healthy behaviors during working lives have a positive effect on the retirement readiness of employees.’

Retirement as a teachable moment
However, it is never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and even retirement itself may trigger people to change their unhealthy routines. When a life event or circumstance leads to a higher probability of adopting behavioral change, this is called a “teachable moment”. Since the moment of retirement itself could be a teachable moment for health behavioral change, medical professionals, welfare workers, local governments, employers and pension providers should work together and seize the opportunity to guide people to effective healthy lifestyle interventions.

Beyond the traditional financial scope
The authors urge employers and pension providers to explore the opportunities for offering guidance to successful retirement beyond the traditional financial scope. Focusing on the health of employees and retirees should be part of any retirement planning scenario.

About the whitepaper series
The Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement has invited the researchers of Leyden Academy to help reflect on retirement from different academic angles, and inspire Aegon to encourage the debate on retirement beyond the traditional financial scope. This has resulted in the whitepapers Why do we retire? (December 2018) and the edition on Health and retirement published today. In the two papers that will follow, we will further broaden the view on retirement from the perspectives of well-being and the image of retirement.

euVENTION Summer School: innovations for people with chronic diseases

euVENTION Summer School: innovations for people with chronic diseases

From July 21 – August 2 in Heidelberg, Germany, we present euVENTION, the Summer School for Innovation in Chronic Disease Intervention. After a successful edition last year in Leiden, this EIT Health Summer School is organized by Heidelberg University with Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing and Universidade de Coimbra (Portugal). During the two-week programme, multidisciplinary teams of students will develop ideas into business models that can address challenges provided by industry partners, academia, and non-profit organisations. The innovations they work on should contribute to healthy living and active aging for people with chronic diseases.

Innovation to address chronic diseases
Participants in the euVENTION Summer School are challenged to come up with healthcare solutions using co-creation, design thinking, rapid prototyping and business modelling. Participants are prepared for this activity with inspirational lectures about the basics of innovation to address chronic diseases. This is followed by guided working groups to help students develop their innovation skills. Participants co-design, validate and test ideas at each stage, with all target audiences concerned. By the end of euVENTION, participants will have gone through all phases of a real-world innovation trajectory, and they will have acquired the necessary set of skills and knowledge to start entrepreneurial activities.

Open-minded people invited to apply
euVENTION welcomes applications from all open-minded people who want to change the future of health. The Summer School is designed for PhD students, but all dedicated master students, young professionals or motivated individuals are welcome to apply, as we believe multi-disciplinary teams can come up with the best and most innovative solutions.

Please visit the euVENTION website for more information, the full programme and the registration form. For an overview of Summer Schools in 2019, visit the EIT Health website.

8.5 million euros for healthy ageing and vitality research

8.5 million euros for healthy ageing and vitality research

Leiden, The Netherlands, 24 April 2019 – A wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary Dutch team of experts of research into ageing has obtained a grant in excess of 8.5 million euros for a comprehensive research programme of both factors and practical solutions which can contribute to ageing healthily as well as improving personal vitality. The ambition of the team is to identify early signs of functional decline in seniors, attenuate decline and restore body functions to allow seniors to increase the number of healthy years. In this research programme, which starts in October 2019, nine institutions and eight private partners participate, including Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing.

The Principal Investigator of the programme is Prof. dr. Eline Slagboom, chair of the Dutch Society of Research on Ageing (DuSRA) and researcher at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). “The life expectancy of Dutch citizens is still increasing. However together with greying of the population, the number of seniors with one or more age-related disease conditions is also increasing. Consequently, we want to generate a platform for enduring relationships between researchers and citizens to achieve healthier ageing outcomes. This represents the largest ever public-private collaboration in The Netherlands in the area of ‘healthy ageing’.

Attenuation of the Ageing Process
Under the DuSRA-VOILA umbrella, three joined projects exist: VOILA (Vitality Oriented Innovations for the Life course of the Ageing Society), SMARTage (Senescence Models, Aging Research and Therapeutics, led by Cleara Biotech) and  Neuromet (Neuroinflammation and metabolomics). Our unique proposition is that, instead of working on a single disease condition, we want to tackle a number of conditions associated with aging. For instance, one of the teams is discovering new ‘biomarkers’ (diagnostic signal compounds), which allows assessment as to which seniors have the highest risk of accelerated ageing as well as elevated frailty during medical interventions. Another angle of research is how combinations of  life style interventions influence the health status of their metabolism, the immune system, the intestinal microbiota and the musculature.

A complementary research theme is ageing at the cellular level. In this case the research teams focus on senescent (‘rusty’) cells, their identification and their specific removal. Applying timely interventions using largely known mechanistic understanding, the researchers anticipate to attenuate disease such as heart failure, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Largest collaboration on  Healthy Ageing in The Netherlands
The VOILA consortium is a collaboration of the Medical Centers of Leiden (LUMC), Utrecht (UMC Utrecht), Groningen (notably the ERIBA Institute), Rotterdam (Erasmus MC) and Maastricht. Also Wageningen University, the Dutch Institute of Public Health (RIVM), the Leiden-Amsterdam Centre for Drug Research and the Delft University of Technology are public partners. The private partners are Royal FrieslandCampina, Cleara Biotech, Sciex, Interscience/Sample Q, &niped, Diabetes Fonds, health insurer Zorg & Zekerheid and Leyden Academy. The VOILA programme is co-financed by a grant of 6 million euros from ZonMw and Health~Holland, Topsector Life Sciences & Health. The remainder is contributed by private partners.

Read more about the programme VOILA and the Dutch Society of Research on Ageing DuSRA.

For more information or interview requests, please contact Danique van der Gaauw (ZonMw) via email / phone +31 (0)70 349 5311 or Tessa van Leeuwen (LUMC) via email / phone +31 (0)6 1137 1146.

JAMA Cardiology: focus on population level societal determinants of a healthy lifestyle

JAMA Cardiology: focus on population level societal determinants of a healthy lifestyle

In April 2019, Leyden Academy researchers Frank Schalkwijk and David van Bodegom published a Letter to the Editor in the high-impact journal JAMA Cardiology, in response to a study that showed that the gradual increase of blood pressure with age is inappropriately considered a normal characteristic of ageing. Schalkwijk and Van Bodegom argue that the finding that in Western populations the increase of blood pressure starts at early ages indicates that entire Western populations are at high risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, in current high-risk strategies that prevail in medical practice, we wait until an individual exceeds a certain cutoff point to consider them to be at risk. This strategy has been proven effective, but for further reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, treating high-risk individuals even more intensively might not be the most fruitful strategy. Therefore, health care professionals should focus more on the population level societal determinants of a healthy lifestyle in addition to prevailing prevention policies that primarily rely on high-risk strategies.

Read the full article here: Absence of the Association of Blood Pressure With Age in a Remote Venezuelan Population Renews the Call for Population-Wide Interventions.

AARP special feature: Ageing in the Netherlands

AARP special feature: Ageing in the Netherlands

People across the globe share many of the same wants and needs as they grow older. This is why the AARP, America’s largest organization dedicated to empowering seniors to choose how they live as they age, also looks abroad for inspiration, innovations and insights. In the annual publication The Journal, the AARP showcases thought leadership around the globe concerning all issues related to ageing, to share promising ideas so that others might be inspired and even build off them. Each year, a specific country is explored in-depth to better understand its approach to the ageing challenge. After Japan in 2018, the AARP now decided to focus on The Netherlands, one of the small, innovative economies featured last year in the AARP’s Ageing Readiness and Competitiveness Report.

Cycling, volunteering and pickled herring
The special feature in The Journal offers a multifaceted image of ageing in the Netherlands. In a prologue, Hugo de Jonge, the Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare, and Sports, discusses how ageing in place, nursing care, and social isolation are all connected, and explains how the government aims to empower civil society, social enterprise, and companies to work together to improve care and support to seniors. Professor Joris Slaets of Leyden Academy introduces a typical Dutch older couple, Wim and Ineke, to paint a picture of what growing older in the Netherlands looks like. The Journal also includes profiles of intergenerational care community Humanitas Deventer, nursing farm De Reigershoeve, the iZi Living Lab, the Dutch cycling and volunteering culture, the age-friendly and ‘super-diverse’ city of The Hague, and many more. The Journal also introduces some older Dutch persons, like 79-year old Hans Ulrich from Oegstgeest. A picture gallery depicts ‘a day in the life’ of Hans, who represented the Leyden Academy in 2018. You can see him smoking his pipe in his garden, walking to the mall with his grandson and enjoying a pickled herring as a savory snack.

Listening to older individuals
One of the lessons Debra Whitman, Executive Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at the AARP, took from her visit to The Netherlands is that not all of the most forward-thinking approaches to ageing had a high-tech feel. Sometimes low-tech turns out to be exactly what the older adults in the community found most valuable. Whitman was also impressed by the prominent focus placed on human touch and caring in the Netherlands. Technology is used as an assistant to enhance the quality of life of older people, not as a substitute for human contact. “In all our work to improve the lives of older adults, we must never forget that we’re not talking about an abstract ‘population’. These are noble individuals with contributions to make and wishes to be honored. The best solutions come from listening to the people we aim to serve, and learning from them what they need, and, even more important, what they want,” she concludes. As Professor Slaets puts it in his contribution to The Journal: “From the perspective of the elderly, there is a clear demand for more individually tailored and person-centered care. Assertive baby boomers will expect and accept nothing less.”

You can find the 2019 edition of The Journal on the AARP website or download the full report here (pdf file). For a direct link to the contribution of Professor Slaets, please click here.