On October 7, 2018, a meeting was held to mark the expansion of the staff in the Herczeg Institute on Aging. The title of the meeting was: “Paradoxes of Old Age: Wilting versus Growth.” The meeting was intended to highlight the addition of researchers from Tel Aviv University to the Herczeg Institute’s staff in three categories: members of the Institute’s own staff, members of the Scientific Committee, and members of the Institute’s forum of affiliates (an updated list of all Herczeg’s staff has been prepared in a separate file). The Institute now numbers, in different forms of affiliation and activity, about 50 people, who include excellent and distinguished faculty members that are interested in the study of aging and its ramifications from the standpoint of very diverse disciplines.

The first part of the meeting featured an opening lecture by Prof. Daphna Hacker (Faculty of Law, Women and Gender Studies Program) on the subject: “Is There a Place for Old-Age Laws?” Prof. Hacker noted that the field of old-age law is relatively new in Israel, and academic activity in this field is still in its initial stages. She described how elderly people are subject to abuse and to social and economic dependency, thus justifying, in her opinion, a separate body of old-age laws. These laws must address the legal system based on principles of fairness and justice, similar to the separate family laws that exist in the legal system.

A panel was then held with the participation of Prof. Beka Solomon (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Faculty of Life Sciences) and Prof. Daniel Michaelson (Neurobiology, Faculty of Life Sciences), on the subject: “Molecular Approaches to the Study of Alzheimer’s Disease and to Developing Treatment Approaches to the Disease.” Prof. Solomon noted the gap between the disease’s major effects on health and the paucity of effective modes of treatment. One possible form is treatment by antibodies able to clean out the accumulation of beta Amyloid cells that are characteristic of the disease. However, the experiments using this method have failed, and today it is understood that the disease emerges because of a variety of factors. Prof. Solomon is now involved in developing treatment methods based on the TNFα Cytokine and stem cells, which have been found to be effective with mice. Prof. Michaelson then presented his approach to the subject. He observed that, given the understanding that Alzheimer is a multifactorial disease, it would be difficult to treat it with a single medication, just as two kinds of cancer are not treated with the same medication. Prof. Michaelson focused on the ApoE4 group of proteins, which is found among about 60% of the patients and is related to the early and more difficult emergence of Alzheimer’s disease. The challenge, of course, is to develop a medication that will also be effective in treating human beings and not only animal models.

The second part of the meeting featured a panel with the participation of Prof. Zehava Solomon (School of Social Work) and Prof. Sharon Toker (Faculty of Management) on the subject: “Aging and Old Age in the Perspective of Social-Psychological Research: Between Wilting and Growth.” Prof. Solomon described her studies of former Yom Kippur War prisoners. Does their difficult trauma, which began 45 years ago, accelerate their aging processes? Prof. Solomon’s longitudinal studies found that the indicators of accelerated aging (for example, lower functioning and a higher mortality rate) were significantly higher among the former prisoners than among soldiers who were not captured. The trauma of captivity affects many areas (medical, psychological, familial) and is now very relevant to the aging of the former prisoners. There are also, however, testimonies of positive signs of “posttraumatic growth,” but these still require more orderly research. Prof. Toker then lectured on “The Sandwich Generation”—that is, those who deal with the care of both their elderly parents and their young children. The more aging there is in the population, the greater the number of those in this generational role, and the distress they experience is not recognized as it should be. Prof. Toker researches the topic through the longitudinal monitoring of about 20,000 workers. It turns out that the sandwich generation is indeed more subject to symptoms of depression than the control group (those who took care only of a child, or only of a parent, or did not take care of anyone). Some of those in the sandwich generation may experience ongoing distress that could also accelerate their aging. The research also shows, however, that a proper approach, such as mitigations and considerateness on the part of employers, can help relieve this group’s distress symptoms. People in this group are indeed already aging, but undoubtedly they still have great powers and capabilities if the burdens they carry will allow them to manifest these.

The closing lecture was given by Prof. Moshe Zuckerman (Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas) on the subject: “Aging and Old Age in Art: Sociological and Cultural Aspects.” Prof. Zuckerman pointed out that the topic of representations of old age in art is an enormous one. This is evident, for example, in representations of the gods: whereas in pagan culture the gods are young, in Christian plastic art the gods appear as wise, richly experienced elderly people. Moving on to examples from the history of music, Prof. Zuckerman underlined the fact that for composers, the correlation between creative maturation and biological age is doubtful. There were those who already expressed most of what they had to express as teenagers or young adults (for example, Mendelssohn), and those who continued to develop creatively over the years (for example, Brahms), and even some who were able to pass through different stages of maturity despite their short lives (for example, Mozart and Schubert). Today art is particularly influenced by the Western notion of striving toward the future. Hence it is believed that artists should not keep working in the same modalities over time, and that artists who do so indicate that they are actually aging. Does this modern ethos also influence our attitude toward elderly people, who are regarded as no longer capable of keeping up with the demand to create new forms?

The meeting was moderated by Prof. Dov Shmotkin, Head of the Herczeg Institute on Aging. He noted that the lectures presented at this meeting gave concise overviews of important topics in the study of aging and old age, and reflected the multidisciplinary nature of the Herczeg Institute’s activity. He thanked all the members who had come to the meeting as well as those who were unable to do so. The meeting opens a new academic year in which the staff of the Institute will be able to pursue a variety of innovative research activities.