Friday, 15 April 2016

No One Is Getting Out Of Here Alive

Ageing is the most exposed thing that any of us will ever do - simply by living. Everyone who lives will go through this process but ever since the 5th Century BC, humanity has persisted in trying to prevent it - ever searching for the fountain of youth. And after all those centuries, immortality still eludes us, and we are vulnerable because of it.
We perceive ourselves as vulnerable because we see youth as the pinnacle of our being. Age is held up as the evidence that we are losing our footing in the race of life. We love to celebrate birthdays but the more we have, the less we want to acknowledge what they represent. Old age seems like a box we don’t want to tick; but the only people who evade it are those who escaped it entirely. Think.....who paid the ultimate price for beauty in perpetuity....still so keen?
Sarah Silverman, comic and social observer, raises an interesting point. In a conversation with Jerry Seinfeld, she noted that there are lots of girls today who watch their mothers fret over every wrinkle in their attempt to hit “the pause button” - at every opportunity, at any cost. This widespread ambition to stop the clock makes our next generation fear their own ageing, as they become unwilling to daydream about their own futures.
Consider for a moment that you’re pre-to post pubescent and maybe even a young mother, and your mom looks exactly like you (or better) and never changes. You watch your body go through major changes while hers is frozen; what impact might that have on developing and accepting your own identity? It’s like trying to square real life with the Kardashian world.
We already know how the rampant pressure being exerted on people to conform to an idealized, stylized, ageless beauty is mainstream without anyone taking ownership of the idea. And its an ideology that has pervasive but prejudiced impact. Fitzgerald was right, the rich are different. In this case, they throw every last bit of their wallets at the elusive stopped clock, high on hopes of cheating time of its timeless due. Ignorant to their impotence in the face of it.
How did we get here? And if we don’t succumb to the pressure, why does that imply that we are letting ourselves down, letting ourselves go? It seems we’ve made a rod for our own backs. It is up to all of us to embrace nature as nurture and teach self acceptance.
The BBC has aired a two part series How to Stay Young and the answer boils down to SPOILER ALERT - lifestyle choices. No new revelations but everyone likes lists so here you go:
1 Increase fruits, veg and nuts and decrease meat,
2 Up your exercise by doing things you actually like doing
3 Lower stress with meditation and try to look on the bright side
4 If you can, get a dog and if you have one, take it to work with you!
If it makes you feel good, do it but don’t get suckered into the hype. Hope in a scalpel, a syringe or a bottle is still only hope. Google’s Calico (California Life Company) is committed to life extension and they will undoubtedly figure out a way to do just that. But when it’s all said and done, and assuming we were to find out that we can have forever, would we really even want it?
We deal with ageing in slow motion, every single day and yet no one likes to talk about ‘it’. This conversation is for everyone who wants to age, which is the same as saying you want to live. It is a choice and it does not matter how young you might think you look or even think you wish you were. Starting now it’s got to be great, not just ok, to get old. It’s time.
The ultimate currency.

This blog originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 15 April 2016

Friday, 11 March 2016

Plan on getting older? D' Big Isssues

ALERT. This might not be the most uplifting post to date but it's time we talk. These are some things to consider and solutions that are available right now, that you ought to know about. 

So, what do you think it will it be - Dementia, Diabetes, Depression or some other Dignity Destroying Dependency or Disability that steps in before death will take all of us out? Tricky question, when we have no idea if we will get older, let alone how much old we will get.

That ratchets up the tension with every birthday.

In the meantime, the rising incidence of bodily changes as we age is indisputable. Disability is more likely to become a normal part of the human condition, as we reach greater ages. And if this is the new normal, realistic needs assessment, including the active involvement of older people in the design of products becomes more urgent - now.

So, what can be done to enhance the quality of life for those who are already living with disabilities? Thankfully, a number of companies are actively and creatively addressing the unpleasant but also realistic concept of living with disabilities.

Unforgettable is one of them, and it is focused on improving the lives of people living with and coping with cognitive deficits and dementia. James Ashwell, the founder has first hand knowledge of the limitations and complexities of dealing with dementia. This is because he cared for his mother during the last seven years of her total decline. His team at Unforgettable also go beyond the procurement of specialized products and services to include a supportive online community addressing issues surrounding caring for people with cognitive deficits.

And Spring Chicken is also just a click away. When Anna James father was diagnosed with Parkinson, the former Mothercare executive saw the gap in the market. Anna and her team uses their experience and expertise from catering for the early years to offer solutions for the other end of the age spectrum, selecting effective, quality products to help make life easier and brighter for older people.

Another option is MaxiAids. They offer products and new technologies for improving independent daily living for people with mobility issues, low vision or blindness and hearing loss.

Last but certainly not least, Fiona Jarvis, founder of Blue Badge Style has developed her online platform with a unique proposition; redefining disability with style. Jarvis, who has become progressively disabled over the past 20 years, makes recommendations for the less abled on style, accessibility and disabled facilities. She is creating a new standard for disabled people so that As Recommended by Blue Badge Style will become as recognizable as a Michelin star. All of these entreprenuerial efforts are welcomed. The significant numbers of individuals already affected at the same time that the scope and costs of care globally continue to escalate makes the market space for ageing hot and getting hotter.

Make no mistake, pathologies accumulate with age and the number of aged people with and without dementia is also accumulating. In the same way as the stigma surrounding mental illness is being challenged, the stigma about cognitive decline must also be acknowledged and addressed. Dementia is another mental health issue. With more people surviving to older ages, cognitive declines will escalate. It will do so unequally and this ageing population will continue to operate in normal society as ever increasing degrees of care are required.

Oldness is Demanding. While longer lives are neither guaranteed nor chosen, they will also demand better understanding, management and targeted attention to all those damn D's, D' Big Issues of our time.

Why dementia is the mother of all boomer fears.

Dementia's got us all hepped up, with worry. The "forgetting" is epidemic because it's the fear of losing ourselves. And it has penetrated the consciousness of humanity since the time of Aristotle.

We used to call it senility. For thousands of years, the older people who survived could go doolally while life went on, around them. In the past 25 years, dementia has turned into a major health problem.

At present, dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK; 40,000 of whom are under 65. Meanwhile, in the US, one-third of the US population over 85 already has the disease. It's marked by different manifestations and trajectories, no defined starting point and likely to incubate for 20-30 years. No wonder we're afraid.

People are more frightened of dementia than of a life altering or prematurely life-curtailing disease.

Since our brains start shrinking at age 25, there are decades of fear ahead, even though cognitive decline is rarely seen in the under 60s. Still, some measure of intelligence theft, over time, is inevitable. And while it's true that faster declines have been linked to the usual culprits, the likelihood you'll succumb to dementia still can't be predicted with any accuracy -- even for all the smoking, obese, diabetics with high blood pressure out there. Meanwhile, no one is immune, so earning those stripes during midlife is not advisable, particularly if being well-derly instead of ill-derly is preferred.

Taking personal responsibility for controllable risk factors carries far greater importance the longer we get. That's even true for things we used to chalk up to genetic destiny, because we know that is no longer cast in stone.
Which makes it even stranger that so many don't pursue or actively consider wellness as an option. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that one in seven Brits have done zero exercise in the past decade, citing pure laziness as the most common reason. Thankfully, public health messages are now trumpeting that if it's good for your heart, it's also good for your head. Consequently, improvements to basic healthcare for any disorder that can increase risks of dementia is fundamental to getting to grips with this disease.

That said, getting an Alzheimers diagnosis is not always straightforward and the recent scandal regarding numbers of new cases has increased fears too. Luckily, there appears to be a link between your ability to smell peanut butter with your left nostril, from a distance, and confirmation of a positive diagnosis. There is even a new application for a patent for a device that can screen, detect, diagnose and/or monitor relative olfactory deterioration resulting from Alzheimer's disease. That's good news.

Further to optimism, attention is rightly being paid to a breakthrough drug called C31. In a world crying out for disruption, C31 is highly disruptive. It overturns the original direction of drug treatments for dementia for good reason. There have been more than 244 drugs tested for Alzheimers since 2000, only five of them have been approved and not one of them is a silver bullet. C31 was developed by Dr Frank Longo at Stanford University. Instead of trying to eliminate the amyloid plaques that are the calling card for Alzheimer's, C31's job is to protect brain cells and keep them healthy, before any neurological disturbance ever takes place. There is positive anticipation that this new approach can cut Alzheimers off at the pass.

And now, just a few days ago, three British neuroscientists were awarded The Brain Prize, for their work on helping us understand how we form memories. Apparently, we will soon be able to erase memories and theoretically be able to implant false ones. For anyone fearing an Alzheimer's diagnosis, erasing memories sounds like the last thing you'd want researchers to be working on. However, upon closer scrutiny, being able to strengthen the brains incredible plasticity really could be the key to halting the disease in its earliest stages.

And that's the ticket.