Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Musk, Meaning of life, Mars...

Elon Musk, may not be an instantly recognizable name, but I predict you won't forget it now. Here's the story. Following an immersion in the philosophical leanings of Schopenhauer, Musk experienced a self-described existential crisis -  at the age of 12.  Already a precocious child, this South African by birth, made his way to Silicon Valley via Queens U in Ontario and U of Penn, Wharton. Next, he spent just two days in a Stanford PhD program before deciding he wanted to become an internet millionaire.  And did.

Elon Musk has already transformed the way we secure financial transactions on the web, when he started PayPal during the turbulent kick off to this millennium. With those riches banked, he is now wearing the CEO cap at Tesla in northern California and SpaceX in LA.

What does this have to do with ageing?

I don't know about you but the issues with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner lithium batteries has increased stress levels throughout the gray haired ranks of the aeronautic industry across the globe. This includes the globetrotting public. Elon's a pretty dab hand with batteries, having originally traveled to Silicon Valley to help in electric vehicle core technologies. These are the batteries necessary for a long term sustainable business proposition. He's probably not a bad choice to have on your crisis swat team!

One of his favorite books and an early source of inspiration was the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. It fired his post Schopenhauer imagination because it brought him to conclude that the question is harder than the answer. All his subsequent entrepreneurial pursuits have evolved from this notion and he asserts that it puts him in a position to understand the universe better.

This man on a mission has asked himself (and everyone he knows) what is going to have the most influence on the future? This is a question every boomer should seriously be asking themselves, with their bonus decades up for grabs (see below for other interesting links on the subject).

In the meantime, here's one clever guy with some great ideas for entrepreneurs, including "older-preneurs". He  wants to expand the scale and the scope of our consciousness, exploit the earth's solar dependency to fuel the world and he really wants to take us to Mars.

"I guess I'd like to go to Mars while I am able to make the journey. I'd like to get there ideally in my 50's. I aspire to make that happen. I think it can happen."

He'll be 42 in June and looking at his track record, he's pretty fast off the mark. We won't have too long to wait.

By Deborah Gale

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Rich-poor, young-old....

I have taken the liberty of re-releasing Caitlin Moran’s column from the London Times of 15 October 2011 entitled, The Poverty Trap. I have substituted the words  OLD and YOUNG where Caitlin had originally used RICH and POOR.

The Poverty Trap by Caitlin Moran, 15 October 2011

‘There is one massive difference between being OLD and being YOUNG, and it is this: when you are OLD, you feel heavy’. We’ve recently heard a lot about the gulf between the OLD and the YOUNG– the difference between those with money, and those without.

Well, I’ve been OLD and I’ve been YOUNG. When I was YOUNG, I knew I was YOUNG because we lived on benefits, slept on mattresses on the floor, and would share a Mars Bar between ten for pudding.
Now I’m OLD.  I know I’m OLD because I’ve got under floor heating and could afford to eat out at Pizza Express up to three times a week, if I so chose. I’m basically living the life of a billionaire. I am loaded.
So, having been an OLD person and a YOUNG person, what I notice is how similar they both are, really. There’s not that much difference at all. Everyone cheerfully plays the system they find themselves in.
In Wolverhampton, when you needed a dodgy MOT for the car, an uncle’s mate would be given a tenner “for a pint”, and an exhaust pipe would magically appear out of somewhere – to the ultimate financial detriment of the garage it had been lifted from, but hey-ho.
Now I’m in London, friends of friends recommend good accountants who will “sort out” your VAT problem for a pint-equivalent fee – to the ultimate economic detriment of the country, but hey-ho.
We’re all just monkeys using sticks to get grubs out of logs, really. However. There is one, massive difference between being OLD and being YOUNG, and it is this: when you are OLD, you feel heavy. Heavy like your limbs are filled with water. Perhaps it is rainwater – there is a lot more rain in your life, when you are OLD. Rain that can’t be escaped in a cab. Rain that has to be stood in, until the bus comes. Rain that gets into cheap shoes and coats, and through old windows – often followed by cold, and then mildew. A little bit damp, a little bit dirty, a little bit cold – you are never at your best, or ready to shine. You always need something to pep you up: sugar, a cigarette, a new fast song on the radio.
But the heaviness is not really, of course, from the rain. The heaviness comes from the sclerosis of being broke. Because when you’re OLD, nothing ever changes. Every idea you have for moving things on is quashed through there never being any money. You dream of a house with sky-blue walls; wearing a coat with red buttons; going out on Saturday and walking by a river. Instead, you see the same crack in the same wall, push-start the same car down the same hill, and nothing ever changes, except for the worse: the things you originally had are now slowly wearing out – breaking under your fingertips, and left unreplaced.
This has the effect of making your limbs feel heavy, like you’re perpetually slightly drowning. You’re dragging ten years of non-progress behind you like a wheel-less cart. Perhaps there’s something out there you would be superlatively good at – something that would give you so much joy, you feel like you are flying. But you’ll never find out: the world is a shop and it is closed to your empty pockets, and you are standing still, heavy, in the dead centre of your life. You look around, and start to suspect you might not exist. After all, you appear not to be able to make an impression on the world – you can’t even change the colour of your front door. Twenty-six years, now; forty-two, and you’ve never even been to your neighbouring town – it’s too far away. And so you sit. You sit still. Because your limbs are so heavy. They are full of rain.
If you’ve never been OLD, I don’t think you could imagine what it’s like – simply because of the timescale. You could envision a day, maybe, or a year – but not a lifetime. Not generations of it, passed down like drizzle, or a blindness. Not how, if kids from a OLD background achieve something, it’s while dragging this weight behind them. How it takes ten times the effort to get anywhere from a bad postcode.
My children can’t imagine it. They love to play at their Sylvanian Family rabbits being “OLD”: they love the ingenuity of a sofa turning into a bed for five rabbits; of having only one thing to wear. “It’s all cosy,” they say. “It’s all – YOUNG.”
I can see how if you were – say – a coalition government consisting of public school kids and millionaires, you could convince yourself that the OLD are snug in their Sylvanian caravans. That all they need to bridge the “gulf” between them and the YOUNG is for things to be less cosy. That making their life harder – withdrawing benefits and council housing – incentivises them in a way similarly incentivising the wealthy – by imposing a higher tax rate – would apparently never work.
But the last thing anyone OLD needs is for things to be harder. These limbs are full to bursting.

While imperfect, this exercise, highlights some of the stigmatized, marginalized similarities that exist between being old and being poor. In theory, while not necessarily in practice, poor is something you can escape. Old is not. More reasons to re-imagine, re-define, re-assess, re-evaluate, re-think ageing. If you are reading this, there is a 100% chance you are ageing and are likely to catch old during the 21st Century.

Deborah Gale

Friday, 11 January 2013

The pros and cons of ambient assisted living

Ambient Assisted Living

A topic long discussed among experts but not in mainstream media made it into last week's edition of Die Zeit, one of the major newspapers in Germany, in an article entitled "Der unsichtbare Pfleger" (the invisible carer). What are the pros and cons of AAL and how could this benefit all generations?

“The Invisible Carer”

With the aim of reducing time spent in hospitals and care homes, the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research invested 45 million Euros in AAL projects; hoping to save 87 billion Euros if millions of older people in Germany were to make use of this technology.

But how to improve quality of life for older people and their carers while saving money at the same time? The researchers piloted jackets that automatically call the ambulance when you suffer a heart attack, computer games which encourage stroke patients to be physically active and mobility sensors in the whole flat, for example, sensors on windows, humidity sensors in the shower and sensors on the fridge.

Despite huge successes and the clear economic benefit, Ambient Assisted Living devices have still not made it into DIY markets. Birgit Wilkes, a telematic’s professor identified one of the main problems, “engineers are developing great things, but often have little knowledge of older people’s needs.”

On top of this, the engineering part of AAL is not sufficiently linked with professionals in the health sector. Investment in shiny technology is being prioritized at the expense of in-depth field research. To secure research funding projects need to be focused on innovation and research instead of looking into sustainable, user-friendly and realistic solutions.

How to make the ‘invisible carer’ bring visible benefits?

Maybe one should look at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where assistive devices to monitor your own and your family’s health are emerging as big themes.

Why isn’t it possible to transmit the data collected in my older relative’s flat to my smartphone app or for those without smartphone, via SMS? This could include features similar to FaceTime, iMessage and Siri into the technology that already exists in an AAL-equipped flat. We should be able to do more with existing technology than just keep in touch.

Why shouldn’t I be able to check to see why the fridge hasn’t been opened for two days, if I can’t be around? This approach won’t only benefit older people; it can help everyone. Wouldn’t this make it a real intergenerational endeavour and not only help older people age independently and as healthy as possible but also make all generations aware of their own health and how we/they should nourish it to be able to age actively?

Ina Voelcker

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke....STROKE!

Dominoes. Four friends have had one. Two in their early 60's, two in their early 80's. But overnight, the marathon speaker, presenter and long distance runner, Andrew Marr, has made himself even more famous. Marr, a spritely 53, suffered a "serious" stroke and is reportedly able to speak. For someone whose living depends on that, this is welcome news.

Marr is an exerciser, not obese, clearly not sedentary and ubiquitous. His Sunday morning show reviews the broadsheets; normally populated by squirming politico's. Then, he is always there to Start the Week for us on Radio 4. Last year he even managed to squeeze in a couple of TVseries. So what got him? Aside from physical, there are also psycho-social effects to consider and he's had a tricky year with that gagging order business.

Strokes are third in the big three killers after cardio-vascular disease and cancers. Strokes are cerebro-vascular, and while it is random where the plaque builds up - that weakens the blood vessel - that turns into the clot, the start point is the same. Elevated blood pressure is the most common trigger.

In the UK up to 40% of stroke victims never see the inside of a stroke unit. Early brain imaging to determine which part of the brain is salvagable is critical. For every eight patients, only one will be alive and independent within three months.

Marr is fortunate. He's also doing what he does best - he's making us think. Meanwhile, he's getting specialist care in an acute stroke unit....think. Face Arms Speech TIME.

Deborah Gale

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Here is how to make nursing home activities exciting

Last week I came across the Youtube videos where residents at Waverley Mansion, a Canadian retirement home, sing and dance the songs "Call me Maybe" and "Gangnam Style". I found the initiative fantastic. Having worked in several nursing homes for the past 5 years I must say that one of the most frequent complaints I heard from my patients was how bored they felt, that they didn't have anything exciting to do or to look forward to.

But don't get me wrong, the nursing homes I'm talking about were all 100% compliant with local regulations which  require them to offer a range of activities to their residents. I remember looking at their daily timetables and being amazed by the number of options offered: bingo, sing along sessions, movie sessions, arts and crafts, quizzes, mass, exercise classes, and the list goes on. So, one may wonder, 'how come these residents can still feel bored?' Well, I can give you a few reasons:

1) The majority of these activities help passing time, but they don't have a goal in itself. When activities are done as part of a greater project, with a clear goal to reach, they become more exciting and engaging. For example, one may spend hours doing arts and crafts that will never be seen by anyone. But add a bit of competition to that where the best piece will get a prize, or put them on sale to help raising money for a fun trip for the residents. Immediately there is a clear goal to drive people to dedicate their time and produce something to the best of their ability.

2) In most activities, residents tend to be the audience, rather than the actors. If you think of the activities mentioned above, they are often led by someone else, be it a member of staff, an instructor, or a priest, while the residents are expected to passively follow whatever is asked of them. Having the opportunity to show others your talents or something cool you can do feels great, is rewarding and can do wonders for one's self-esteem.

3) Even though these activities are done in group, they don't necessarily prompt residents to interact with each other. It is incredible to think that many residents may live in the same house for years and never really talk to each other. Activities that involve cooperation and teamwork can help breaking the ice and bringing people together.

4) Most activities tend to be confined to the nursing home setting, in the sense that they don't trigger interaction with the "outside world". How frequently nursing home residents have the opportunity to show others what they are up to? For example, if a group of residents attend weekly exercise classes, why not give them tools to show to their family and friends how well they are progressing? A lot of people do this nowadays thanks to technology and social media, so why not use similar tools in nursing homes?

The reason why I found the Waverley Mansion  Youtube videos so incredible is because they ticked all these boxes. I can only imagine the excitement those folks went through. Having a clear goal to accomplish,  they must have rehearsed and worked hard to put the whole act together. I can imagine the talks during meal times, not to mention the satisfaction of showing what they have done to their children and grandchildren. Well done to recreation coordinator Sarah Urquhart and all those behind this project for showing us all how it is done.

To watch the videos click here:
Waverley Mansion's Call Me Maybe
Waverley Mansion Gangnam Style

Brenda Reginatto

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Stroke at a glance

Are strokes happening more often or have we just become more aware? The baby boomers have grown up with some choice responses in reaction to tricky situations. 

"I tell ya, I coulda had a stroke..." 
"I'm as serious as a heart attack..."
"You gave me cardiac arrest..."
"CODE 5!!"

Stroke has degrees of meaning. At one end it means to move with gentle pressure and on the other,  it can mean that you are lead oar on a crew boat or the word every coxswain bellows to keep his oarsmen moving in glorious unison. But this post is about the kind of stroke we have a visceral fear of having. This one strikes unbidden in a sudden, disabling attack or loss of consciousness which interrupts the flow of blood to the brain aka thrombosis.  While it can be survivable, the long term impacts are very personal and highly case specific. For some, it can act as a life choice, lifestyle wake up call. For the unfortunate others, strokes bring the immediate and irreversible loss of faculties and increased likelihood of prolonged functional decline.

In western society, we have become worryingly au fait with stroke lingo. Act, FAST - Face, Arms, Speech, Time. We memorize, we wait, we hope that we will react, in time.

The telly adverts for stroke awareness show the pathways to the brain burning up, the system short circuiting. It's equivalent to a blow out of our personal motherboard. If we are quick, as in two hours from onset, the wonder drug thrombolysis can be fed into a victims veins where it can race to stop the bleed. This is a form of damage limitation. In a 2004 study, if eligible patients got this drug for up to 6 hours, there was a 78% probability of a gain in quality adjusted survival during the first year.  Despite such apparently promising benefits and almost a decade later, it is still not customary. So provided you qualify as eligible and that the stars align, this post will hopefully make you more aware:

1 of the existence of this drug 
2 hope that the hospital you are taken to has its use as a protocol
3 hope you don't have any contraindications, as in other underlying conditions which preclude its use.

So now you know and knowledge is power Use it. Taking personal responsibility for your health is another type of power. Be your own advocate.

That's a stroke of genius.

Deborah Gale