What do Astronauts and Older Adults Have in Common?: Highlights of the 2018 CAG

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Gilbrea student, Kelsey Harvey, shares her experiences at CAG2018.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s 47th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting, “Making It Matter: Mobilizing Aging Research, Practice & Policy” in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not only did I present a paper on my research in progress “Group Fitness for Older Persons: The Role of the Exercise Instructor,” but a poster as well, “Exercise Instructors for Older Adult Fitness: A Content Analysis of Training Curricula.” Both of these opportunities were deeply enriching as I was able to network with other researchers and students in gerontology, receive feedback on my research in progress, and even recruit research participants.

One of the main highlights for me at CAG2018 was attending a Symposia Session titled: “Space Health and Aging: What do Astronauts and Older Adults Have in Common?” sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency. The panel described the many stressors that lead to a myriad of physiological changes that one might observe in older adults. For instance, they contend that six months in space can result in vascular stiffening that would take 10 to 20 years to occur on Earth. The underlying reason for this is that being in space is akin to being on bed rest, and 2 months of bed rest can age a person physiologically upwards of 30 years.

Not only did the panel discuss the physiological changes, and what that might mean for interventions for those of us aging on Earth, but also the psychological and social impacts of living in space. One panelist described space as an Isolated and Confined Environment [ICE], drawing a parallel to nursing homes on Earth. Between stress, sleep disruption, and isolation, the psychological toll on both astronauts and residents in long-term care is concerning. This is compounded by the anxiety surrounding death that both of these populations face. This panelist argued for further research, on both astronauts and older adults in ICEs, that addresses two taboo topics: death anxiety and intimacy (close proximity with others, engagement in sex and/or cuddling, and so forth).

I would like to thank the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s Michael T. Sharratt Scholarship and the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging for their financial support that made it possible for me to attend CAG2018.

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Kelsey was awarded a Gilbrea Travel Award to facilitate her travel to the Canadian Association on Gerontology 2018 conference – 'Making It Matter: Mobilizing Aging Research, Practice & Policy' - held in Vancouver, BC (October 18-20, 2018).