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.