Interview: Dr Doug Wilson talks about Ageing Well
Dr Doug Wilson has a New Zealand medical degree and a PhD from the University of London. At the age of 50 he joined the international pharmaceutical industry, becoming head of a major medical research and development program, first in the United States, and then internationally, based in Germany. He currently acts as a consultant for companies focused on biotechnology and healthcare. Doug is the winner of New Zealander of the Year Awards 2021, Senior category.
Dr Doug Wilson talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Ageing Well: How to Navigate Life’s journey in Your Later Years.
I’ve been a medical academic, a medical researcher, and a pharmaceutical industry research physician. This has exposed me to major medical questions of the past, and recent and current dramatic moves to alleviate major health crises with new innovative treatments.
As we are living far longer today than ever before we are facing great positive opportunities with the extra years of life, but also an increasing appearance of diseases associated with ageing such as dementia. Recent past suggests medical science is likely to conquer most forms of cancer and dementia. But both are proving tough enemies.
The nature of ageing, and its impact on us, is profound. The nature of our lifestyles have material influence on how well our lives may pan out, and how well we are setting ourselves up for health and financial struggles.
The book tries to give a helicopter overview of the wonders of ageing, the opportunities it presents, and how we can best navigate these future years give us the best outcome.
What are some areas the book covers?
Growing older community, shrinking workers community, how this may play out.
How long might you live? What are your genes telling you. Anti-ageing drugs. Biological age, independence, frailty, improve your well-being,
As lifestyle and behaviour significantly influence our successful healthy living, what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance.
Early signs of diseases that need treatment.
Heart attacks, stroke, cancer, dementia.
Happiness, loneliness, depression, relationships,
Walking and its benefits
Having a purpose
Dating for seniors
Long term diets, weight losing, fasting diets.
Ageism and elderly abuse. Where to get help.
What inspired you to write the book?
Researching in Oxford 1981, I found work suggesting London bus conductors lived longer if they worked on a double-decker bus than a single decker one. Why?
Also Conservative party politicians in the UK live longer than Labour party politicians, why?
Answers to those questions seem likely to be sufficiently broad to impact my own personal life and circumstance.
My broad history in medical research and development of new drugs opened doors to the long-term science of getting older, and what you can do about it.
Over the last three years I’ve been a regular interviewee by Kim Hill on the Saturday Morning Radio New Zealand. It has been a wondrous experience to spend time with one of the world’s great journalists and communicators. Each occasion I walk away admiring her fresh insight and capacity to drag unique perspectives from those she is interviewing. The effort to prepare fresh communication lines and topics regularly was a great stimulant for new book preparation.
What research was involved?
I follow the trends in ageing research, new drugs, new threats like Covid 19, and treatment of dementia and cancer. I’ve long standing links to a number of medical journals. And I have previously written Ageing for Beginners, a book covering some of the areas I’ve studied here. Ageing Well is a total rewrite incorporating another four or five years of medical research from its predecessor, and multiple other influences.
What was my routine or process when writing the book?
Working with Linda Cassells publisher of Calico Publishing, we set up a list of topics relating to ageing, then marshalled them into manageable segments as chapters. At that stage draft scenarios were prepared and agreed, and then the first two or three chapters written to see how storyline would flow. I wake early, I write early, and I talk with folk.
What did I enjoy most about writing the book?
Finding a clarity of language and presentation across a wide range of complex and sometimes confusing topics. I would write and rewrite so my conclusions could clarify the obscure.
What do I hope readers will take away from the book?
Almost all of us find getting older puzzling, and at times frightening. I set out to present the basic world of ageing, healthy living, of sensible and effective preventive lifestyle changes, to educate the reader about things they may face, and what they can do to help themselves. Scan the book first, then you will know which sections may be pertinent to yourself. In many cases a path forward from a troubling issue is spelt out. It is not a medical text, but presents stuff for the lay. It covers a host of other situations including financial and psychosocial.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Elderhood by Louise Aronson. A highly experienced US geriatrician highlights her concern about modern medicine’s approach to treating older people by following the rules well entrenched for younger people. An older person may present very differently when they are sick from younger individuals. Unravelling the confusion becomes a critical part of improving the older patient’s life. It is persuasive and backed by many individual stories.
Winning Ryman Healthcare Senior New Zealander of the Year.
This event had been building up for many months. A list of ten semi-finalists were identified, and I knew I was one of those. Then closer to the main event these numbers were whittled down to three finalists, and to my real surprise I was one of those. At that stage I had no idea if I would win. Evening dinner incorporated 800 individuals, including many past winners and current candidates and their supporters. My wife and I sat at a table of 10 people, most of whom I knew of, but most I had never met. I struggled into a dinner jacket, which had last seen light some decades earlier. We three contenders had each to climb on stage and make a brief statement. This I found difficult as I was unsure of the level at which to pitch a few wise words. Then to the sound of loud music popped up on the screen the winner was me.
It was both a privilege and a surprise. My fellow contenders were admirable individuals with long histories of charitable work, impacting many individuals. But there I was, having to wind my way through dinner tables, trying to avoid knocking over bottles, and clambering on the stage to meet Scotty Morrison and Toni Street to receive my award, and give a speech. A flash of reality triggered me to say a few words, which seem to be well received by the audience. I left them with the increasing need for all of us, young and old, to work together for the future is complicated, for many of us great things and others turmoil ahead. The world is changing fast. You don’t get many awards in your mid-80s. So this is been a wondrous occasion. I’m honoured.
My new book Ageing Well: how to navigate life’s journey through your later years, needs some backup public relations, and already there are a number of outlets where I’ve been giving interviews.
What is next on the agenda?
Maybe another kid’s book? Getting to 85, keeping active, and boosting podcasts and blog.