Category Archives: Europe

The birthplace of Western culture in particular ancient Greece, Europe is the second-smallest continent by surface area. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, Atlantic Ocean to the west, and Mediterranean Sea to the south. Europe is the third most populous continent after Asia and Africa.

An Interview with Jacynth Bassett: Ageism-Fighting Trailblazer

At 24, Jacynth Bassett is founder of, a company whose designs have been featured in the likes of Vogue, The Sunday Times Style, Stylist Magazine, Stella Magazine and many other leading fashion publications. According to the website, is Shopping With Attitude – Where Ageism Is Never In Style. Bassett is fighting against fashion’s ageism problem, thanks to her elegant and fashionable approach to design, among other innovative ideas.

It’s no surprise that ageism exists in fashion. Models over a certain age struggle to find their place – and older customers are frustrated at the lack of elegant fashion styles. This can lead to negative attitudes about aging which has significant consequences for physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. From fashion to entrepreneurship, is affecting change that can impact overall well-being in society and culture.

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What inspired you to launch

I was inspired to launch after growing tired of seeing women like my mum feeling invisible and irrelevant in the eyes of the fashion industry, largely because of their age and changing bodies.

A love for style and wanting to look good does not fade. Yet brands and retailers tend to be either youth-focused or patronize the older customer base. We either see youth-based imagery and fashions designed for younger shapes, or clothing that is frumpy and dowdy – with both resulting in a demoralizing shopping experience for 40+ women who still want to look modern and stylish.

So I wanted to create an online boutique that empowers these women. We curate collections that cater to their body types and lifestyles, whilst still being contemporary and exciting, and we only use 40+ women to model our clothing. Plus we have an online forum called ‘Ageism Is Never In Style’ where they can share their views and be inspired.

Do you think society can get rid off ageism in this lifetime?

Anything is possible, but it will take a lot of team effort and self moderation for this to be achieved.

First we need to be encourage integration between groups and demographics rather than segregation. Only then will we be able to understand, appreciate and respect our similarities and differences. Then we need to collectively put in the time and effort to lead and promote the revolution we want to see, in order for it to have a real impact.

But we also have an individual responsibility. Ageism is so ingrained in society, even those of us who are vocally against it can fall foul of using discriminatory terminology or stereotyping without realizing it. We need to be acutely aware of our own biases, and be the change we want to see.

Your company is very customer-friendly! Customers can shop for outfits using the Shop By Body tab. Why include this in the shopping experience?

Finding clothes that fit isn’t easy, particularly online. But as women’s bodies change with age, it becomes even more challenging. So I wanted to create an empowering user experience for customers, where they can quickly and easily find clothes that will flatter their body shapes, and not feel disappointed or ashamed of struggling to find clothes for their body types.

We love seeing your customers as models! Have you felt any pressure to use professional models?

Only when I was doing research and developing the business. I carried out a survey with my target market, and one of the questions I asked was about how they would feel seeing customers as models. The response was mixed. Some loved the idea, but others were used to seeing clothing on professionals and wanted to keep it that way.

It did concern me but after further investigation, I realized that the negative responses generally came from their own personal biases and assumptions about using customers as models. So I stuck with my vision and fortunately we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response.

Where do you see in 10 years?

I hope it will become the global one-stop fashion destination for discerning women of all ages who love style, and are looking for something of beautiful quality and a bit different.

From your articles, What Does ‘Frumpy’ Really Mean? to It’s OK Not To Go Grey, why should society be careful about using certain words or viewing aging as a single dimension?

Words are extremely powerful, but now that everyone is writing their opinions online, they also have a lasting impact. Even when you delete a comment, it isn’t really gone, and someone may have already read it. So we need to be careful with the words we choose to make sure we really understand their meaning, and use them in the right context.

When it comes to aging, there are a lot of terms and phrase that have become the norm, but are actually still derogatory without our realizing it. So I think we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and to take time and consideration before using them.

I also think we’re still struggling to recognize that ending ageism means having the choice to age as one wants to without external pressure or judgement. There are a lot of articles out there claiming to celebrate ageing in fashion – such as encouraging women to go grey, or to wear wacky clothes in order to be stylish – but actually they are still implying there is only one right way to grow older. Ultimately the right way is the right way for you, so we need to be acknowledging that we can age in a multitude of ways. Then we will all feel that we have the freedom to do so without being judged or criticized.

Do you work with the designers on your website? If so, do they share your mission?

Yes. I work very closely with the designers on the website if they’re British and/or with their agents if they’re European. It’s vital for me to understand where the clothes are coming from, the fabrics being used, and why the cut and style has been chosen. So I can spend hours at showrooms going through collections, trying on designs, and picking the very best pieces and patterns. And in some cases I’ve even co-designed exclusive pieces.

I also refuse to work with any designer or brand that does not support our mission. If a designer is ageist, it does not take long for a statement or comment to be made for the truth to come out, and for me to know they are not right for us. Maintaining a sense of integrity is integral to me and

What fashion item can you not live out?

Tricky question! I’m a bit of a style chameleon so I like to change things up all the time… Can I pick 3? I’d say a tailored dark blazer that I can throw over anything, a fabulous pair of ankle boots, and a pair of well-cut, slim fitting boyfriend jeans.

On the blog, you discuss fabrics from various regions (Hollandaise from West Africa, etc.), why is it important to explore other fabrics and designs?

To appreciate quality, I think it’s vital to understand fabrics: where they came from to how they have developed and changed over the years. Most of the common fabrics that we use today in the UK or the US came from other countries, and we should acknowledge and respect that. Plus its only once we’ve understood where fabrics have come from, that we can move forward.

I also think that we should be appreciating fabrics and designs from other cultures given the global society we live in today. Again it’s about integrating with one another, and by doing so, we can appreciate each other and be inspired to be even more creative.

What advise would you give millennials interested in launching companies especially for an older population?

  • Never make assumptions – integrate yourself as much as possible into your target market before moving forward.
  • Keep in constant contact with your market because it will change over time.
  • Know that not everyone in your target demographic is going to be a customer. So identify your ‘tribe’ so you can work out when to listen to feedback and not to.
  • But remember, just because you’re not your customer, doesn’t mean your opinion doesn’t count. You have the advantage of being more objective.
  • Be disciplined – make sure each decision you make is because your market wants it, not because you do!


A big thanks to Jacynth Bassett for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out for more information, including becoming a featured blogger and liking the Facebook page.

*This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.*

Tessy Chu is the Managing Editor of Global Health Aging.


The Power of Health Literacy in Later Life

What is Health Literacy?

Health literacy refers to the ability to access, understand, communicate, and act on information related to health and disease. People who are health literate can find and understand health information, discuss concerns with medical professionals, and act on decisions to improve health and manage conditions. As a social determinant of health, health literacy is related to social factors, such as culture, education, or socioeconomic status.

It is an important factor in public health as health literacy rates affect health systems and the health services they provide. People with high levels of health literacy show healthier lifestyles, have fewer chronic illnesses, are more adherent to treatment, report better health, and live longer lives. In contrast, people with lower levels of health literacy have less use of preventive health services, are at higher risk for misdiagnosis, experience difficulties managing chronic conditions, medications, and treatment adherence, and have poorer health outcomes.

Health literacy affects everyone—even people with good literacy skills can have low health literacy. Most people will have difficulty understanding health terms or information at some point in their lives. Sometimes, people first hear specific medical terms or health information when they or a loved one has a serious health problem.

Health literacy has been shown to affect rates of illness and death, use of health services, and health outcomes. Low health literacy may account for up to five percent of overall healthcare costs. To address this, the European Union (EU) financed the European Health Literacy Survey, which revealed that nearly 50 percent of the population have a poor understanding of healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion.

Why Does It Matter to Older Adults?

Health literacy is population-focused rather than individual-focused. Like many regions in the world, Europe is experiencing an increase in chronic conditions. It is the leading cause of mortality representing 77 percent of all deaths. When people manage multiple health conditions, they need to understand complex health information and navigate healthcare systems. Research finds that people who have the most difficulty with limited health literacy are older adults, recent immigrants who may not understand the regional language, those with lower levels of education, and ethnic minorities. For some older adults, using the internet to find health information or services is a struggle, and for others using basic math to schedule medications is challenging.

With populations growing older, more people will live with chronic conditions and may not have the skills to access, understand and act on health information. Although Europe has a relatively high socioeconomic status, up to half of its citizens have a poor understanding of their health, which means that health literacy is a crucial factor to active and healthy aging. Improving health literacy supports people in taking responsibility for their own lives, to make better decisions about their personal health, and to have the capacity to live longer lives in better health.

Increasing health literacy means addressing the knowledge and skills of people with low health literacy, their families, and communities. It also requires teaching health professionals how to provide health information that is understandable for individuals and how to help their patients understand what that information means for their own health. Improved health literacy empowers individuals to further engage in their healthcare and take a more active role in their personal health. In turn, this will have positive impacts on health promotion, disease prevention, and better treatment outcomes.

Carrie Peterson is a gerontologist and consultant in eHealth and Innovation.


Migrant Health: What About the Elders?

By now, most have heard about the migrant crisis, where around 1 million people migrated to Europe due to war, persecution, and other unfortunate circumstances. Many efforts to provide aid and support have focused on children, which is typical of most disaster and emergency responses. This is appropriate for the situation in Europe as children and unaccompanied minors comprise around 25 percent of migrants.

But what about the older migrants? Are they also receiving quality, targeted, and culturally sensitive care?

In disaster and emergency response, older adults have distinct needs that many relief organizations are ill-equipped to address. In fact, there is clear evidence that older people are often overlooked, neglected, or even abandoned. The main issues that such migrants face are health effects, housing issues, and pension challenges, which are significantly worse when compared to native groups of the same age. In addition to the psychological issues of being displaced, separated from family and community, and in violent situations, there are basic physical issues which make migration difficult for older adults. Temporary housing is often inadequate and cognitive conditions such as depression, dementia, and delirium all play a part. For some, reduced mobility impedes evacuation, while others may suffer from fatigue or frailty that affect balance when standing in lines for food, water, and medical care.

Both medical professionals and individual migrants face challenges in health consultations since cultural and linguistic backgrounds are very different. This can lead to older adults being less likely to seek out medical advice and care and the health sector having trouble in accurately diagnosing and treating those who do seek help due to the language and culture barriers. There is also the consideration that care services will not meet the (often different) needs of elderly migrants who receive health and social care or accommodate the cultural tradition of parent-child relationships.

Quality, targeted, and culturally sensitive services are required to meet the needs of older migrants. Likewise, training services are needed for health and social care professionals to develop these competencies. The age-specific information on migrants is growing, but more information is needed.

In Denmark, The Migration School is the largest training programme for the care of minority groups in Scandinavia and the first research project in Europe focused on diagnostic methods associated with dementia. In the Netherlands, Pharos has two programmes called Health for the Elderly and Asylum Seekers and Refugees. Both programmes focus on physical activity to prevent falls, supporting (migrant) carers for people with dementia, improving preventive care for asylum seekers and refugees, and the responsible use of medicine.

The global proportion of older adults is increasing. Older people will outnumber children under age nine by 2030 and people under age 25 before 2050. The majority of older people live in low‐ and middle‐income countries, where some are prone to disasters and emergencies. Not only will there be more older adults to be affected by disasters, but more older adults will also provide aid in the aftermath. It is thus important to address ageism and the ethical responsibilities of non‐discrimination in disaster and emergency management – older adults’ lives matter and should not be disregarded when distributing aid and planning services.

Carrie Peterson is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

Population Aging and Urbanization in Europe

Cities are seeing a rise in ageing populations. In the European Union (EU), 75 percent of residents live in urban areas. As urban populations continue to rise, more and more people will grow into old age. For instance, the over age 65 group makes up 20-27 percent of the population in cities inside Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Since population aging will influence health, social exchanges, and well-being of older adults, hundreds of cities are designing urban environments to foster active and healthy aging.

Urbanization affects many areas including the health and well-being of society. As a result, many sectors are collaborating to keep populations engaged and healthy. Adapting cities to demographic trends accommodates residents, allowing for independent living and participation in society. The European Commission estimates that over 75 percent of housing in the EU is not suitable for independent living. Other aspects of physical environments including adequate sidewalks, transportation, and functional green spaces can increase physical activity and improve mobility, which reduces the risk and effects of chronic disease. Social issues, such as employment discrimination, negative stereotypes, and ageism, also play a role in the health of aging populations. It is important to involve older adults’ perspectives on urban planning to identify issues and barriers which prevent participation in society.

To help cities adjust to demographic trends and support healthy ageing, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities and Affiliated Programs, as well as a guide for policy and action in fostering age-friendly urban environments. Over 300 cities in 33 countries are currently involved in the Global Network, including 19 Member States in the European Region. The WHO guide advises on eight areas¹ considered the most influential, which also reflect the UN Principles for Older Persons. Through the work of the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing (which has a dedicated Action Group on Innovation for age friendly buildings, cities and environments) the European Commission has published a guide on innovation for aging, with examples from 12 countries in Europe.

EuroHealthNet’s Healthy Ageing website also highlights examples of initiatives and key resources on healthy and active aging throughout the European Union. Arup, Help Age International, Intel, and Systematica have produced an overview² of aging in 10 European cities with comparative data on both urbanization and aging. AGE Platform Europe published a guide³ aimed at helping European cities to use the Urban Agenda to become more age-friendly and as a repository of innovative solutions for age-friendly environments. These networks and initiatives encourage cities to be health-promoting environments as they adjust to population aging, and share innovative ideas, experiences, and lessons learned along the way.


By 2020, more than 50 percent of the global population over 60 years old will be living in urban areas. Planning now can stimulate active and healthy aging both for current and future generations.

1. The WHO guide addresses: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services.
2. The ”Shaping Ageing Cities” publication examines: society; mobility; built and digital environments; politics; planning; and aging.
3. The AGE Platform Europe guide addresses the eight areas in the WHO guide as well as eight themes corresponding to the Urban Agenda: inclusion of migrants and refugees; jobs and skills in the local economy; urban poverty; housing; air quality; urban mobility; digital transition; and innovative and responsible public procurement.

Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

Breaking Down the Stigma of Loneliness in Denmark

In Denmark, there is a stigma associated with being alone. In fact, it may be more socially acceptable to say you have depression, than to say that you are lonely. As a result, there are no cultural safeguards that tackle loneliness in Denmark, especially among the aging.

According to a 2015 report titled *Ensomhed i befolkningen (Loneliness in the Population), 2.6 percent (12,000) of adults between the ages of 65 and 79 reported feeling lonely. Among adults over 80 years of age, almost twice as many (21,000 people) reported feeling lonely. It was also reported that some 210,000 Danes aged 16 years or older have experienced loneliness, over 15 percent of whom were 65 years or older.

One of the biggest reasons loneliness needs to be addressed in Denmark is that it poses several health risks. The risk for illness and early death *increases by 50 percent when people do not have meaningful contact with others. Additionally, loneliness has been linked to increased hospitalizations, and a need for psychiatric treatment. Several studies have also equated long-term loneliness to smoking and obesity.

The good news is that policies and programs to reduce loneliness among older adults in Denmark have been operating for several years, and are especially used in senior care homes. These programs include activities that aim to create opportunities for socialization and strengthening social networks, intergenerational activities – where older folks socialize with younger people instead of just their peers – shared meals, and baby and pet visits.

There are also programs put in place by specific neighborhoods to take care of the seniors living in the vicinity, such as storytelling evenings, outdoor trips, and exercise-buddy systems. In 2014, Ældre Sagan (Dane Age) established the social project *Folkebevægelsen mod Ensomhed (the People’s Movement Against Loneliness), which aims to reduce the number of people who experience loneliness in half by 2020, by raising awareness, breaking taboo, and fostering togetherness through targeted social arrangements.

Another such initiative, “Denmark eats together”, brings different generations and people from diverse cultures together during mealtimes. They currently partner with over sixty schools, organizations, municipalities. The national movement kicked off in five cities in April 2016, and saw hundreds of local and private teams, large and small, urban and rural, take a stand against loneliness by inviting others to join them for a shared meal.

Programs targeting loneliness in Denmark have reduced the number of lonely adults over age 65 from *65,000 in 2010 to *33,000 in 2015. Three prominent drivers that mark the success of these programs are

  • the range of activities they provide
  • the fact that they actively reach out to vulnerable groups
  • their ability to provide transportation to and from events

*WeShelter in Denmark, a community of social services working with people who are homeless or disadvantaged in Copenhagen, is participating in projects to share their experiences with social groups and social food clubs. One current project is documenting the effects of volunteer work on loneliness experienced by older, formerly homeless adults.

Apart from such targeted activities, a growing number of older learners are taking short education courses offered to adults in Denmark. Some education programs also specifically foster intergenerational environments, as they believe these types of courses have benefits for both younger and older learners.

As we have seen, there are a number of different ways in which pockets of Danish society are recognizing and dealing with the issue of loneliness. It is now time to destigmatize loneliness in mainstream culture as well.

*Some references are in Danish but can be translated to your language of preference Google Translate.

Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

The Dementia Diaries: A Great Resource for Dementia Awareness Week

In honor of Dementia Awareness Week held May 15-21, Emma Barrett, Programme Manager for Social Innovation Lab Kent (SILK), and Matthew Snyman, Author of The Dementia Diaries, have written a great piece about The Dementia Diaries. The book a collection of stories about young people and their experience with dementia.

Dementia. It does not care about geography, place or time. Dementia will touch all at some point in their lives, whether it be grandparents, parents, friends, partners or acquaintances. It is often difficult to talk about or share.

Dementia is a real life problem that we wanted to try and solve, so we asked for advice from grandchildren in families living with dementia. Children and young people have amazing talent for problem solving; they are fearless and often blunt, but can approach problems that adults struggle with in surprising, empathetic and intuitive ways.

So when we asked young carers what to do about dementia in our local communities in England, they were amazingly incisive. One teenager Jack, whose great-uncle had dementia, said “we need a book, where the facts are true and the feelings are real… a bit like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but about dementia… so my friends in school understand what I’m going through”. It was as simple as creating an accessible and shareable way to talk about dementia.

And this was how The Dementia Diaries was born. A story that started in a community center in Kent, UK, but has touched hearts worldwide. The Dementia Diaries is about more than dementia. It is about giving a voice to people who do not have a voice. Ultimately it is about love, relationships and what it means to be human.

“…It is also a book about the wisdom of children and young people…it is a book about the surprising depths of love between generations. Written by young people who have the courage to face the brutal facts of life. It is carefully leading you by the hand into new perceptions and discoveries of one of the diseases we all fear. I have a sister who is now in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, and the book has made me laugh and giggle with her over and over again…”, said Jens Peter Jensen (Social Innovation Platforms, Denmark)

The Dementia Diaries was as much about the process of bringing people together as the book itself. We found many people facing isolation, dealing with day-to-day challenges alone. “Sharing my story, I now feel more open about living with someone with dementia and it’s not a big hush hush. I feel it should be shared now, and not kept to yourself”, said Raisa, one of the younger contributors to the book.

We are equally proud of the accompanying Learning Resource that is available to download for everyone who purchases the book. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. What better way to inspire a dementia friendly generation for the future? The Dementia Diaries helps people to learn from real life human experience with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. “Life can sometimes be hard, but guess what you can still live well with dementia”, said Brian, one of the contributing grandparents.

In this book, people will find heart-warming stories about the good days, bad days and everything in between with dementia. Full of handy tips, facts and activities, The Dementia Diaries reveals the other side of dementia through the eyes of those who know it best. Join Fred, Sam, Brie and Sarah to read all about their escapades with their grandparents. “These are not just Diaries, they are a real beacon of hope for the future”, said Angela Rippon, OBE. Read testimonials from other people here.

Join The Dementia Diaries communities on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

From May 15 – 31, readers can win a copy of the award-winning Dementia Diaries! To enter, LIKE Dementia from Jessica Kingsley Publishers on Facebook or FOLLOW on Twitter. The winner will be selected on June 1, 2016!

Matthew Snyman is an award-winning writer and filmmaker based in London, born in South Africa, but grown in Kent, UK. He is focused on creating great stories for young people and for the young at heart. Follow Matthew on Twitter and visit his website

Emma Barrett Palmer is a social innovator and part of SILK’s founding team, the first lab of its kind in a UK government setting. She facilitated the co-creation of The Dementia Diairies and the book and learning resource. Emma is happiest with a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Follow Emma and SILK on Twitter.

Ukraine: How War Affects the Elderly and Health Systems

Since the war between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in Eastern Ukraine began, living conditions have changed for the worse. A war always affects the weakest and most vulnerable population. In Ukraine, more than a million people have been displaced from their homes; 60% of those are elderly. In some cities and villages, most people stayed because they were too old, disabled, or just did not want to leave their homes. They had to find shelter in their basement or hide out in bomber shelters for months during gunfire.

Living conditions have been appalling and the winter especially caused havoc. The cold and stress worsened the health conditions of all Ukrainians, particularly the elderly, many of whom already suffer from chronic illnesses and cannot defend themselves like the younger population. Last November, the government cut off services to all rebel-held areas. As a result, the elderly have not received their pensions in months and are dependent on food donations for daily meals. People are in danger of starvation in many villages and most elderly have lived without electricity and water for the last few months. Water may be available at wells, however, those may be difficult to reach and the quality of the water cannot be guaranteed. Besides the lack of food, there is also limited access to basic health care and medical supplies for elderly. Health workers have left the hospitals, medical facilities are damaged, and shelves in drug stores are empty. Many elderly die from treatable chronic conditions such as hypertension or heart problems due to poor living conditions, lack of treatment and medicine. No one knows how many have died by now since no one keeps track of the deaths related to malnutrition or medical shortages.

Thankfully, non-governmental organizations have come to Ukraine to help. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors without Borders is an organization that has provided medical services for people in Eastern Ukraine. People can call and be seen by a nurse or doctor at home. MSF also provides mobile clinics where up to sixty people per day can be seen at any advertised location. Dr. Polyakov, a MSF doctor in Donetsk, Ukraine, tells the New York Times that so often he has to turn away patients because he does not have the right medications in stock or the prices for the ones available have risen substantially and can no longer be afforded by his patient. Around 90% of his patient population is elderly. The doctor’s work is challenging as Ukraine puts limits on the kind and amount of supplies that they can bring into the country and eventually use. In addition, United Nations workers need special documents to travel through the war-torn area, which limits the delivery of aid and causes the crisis to worsen.

During war time, the most vulnerable population is the one suffering the most. The elderly need special care and often do not have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety. In Ukraine, the elderly are dependent on aid from non-governmental organization such as Doctors without Borders. We can now hope that the crisis will end soon and the elderly will receive the basic health care they need to survive.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas.

Europe: How to Tackle the Lack of Support and Accessibility for the Influenza Vaccine

Every year, millions of people become infected with the influenza virus. In the U.S., it is recommended that anyone over the age of six months be vaccinated against influenza (flu). The World Health Organization (WHO) has come up with “six priority groups” that are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. These groups include pregnant women, health care workers, small children (ages six months to two years), people with chronic medical conditions, and the elderly.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

According to WHO Europe, “90 percent of deaths related to seasonal influenza occur among those 65 and older.” Elderly who are infected with the influenza virus experience more severe symptoms, have a longer recovery time, and are hospitalized more often and longer. Compared to the U.S., there is an overall lack of support for the influenza vaccine in Europe. This is a result of missing data on the effectiveness and feasibility of the vaccine as well as lack of money.

In 2013, the flu vaccine was only 62 percent effective. For the elderly and frail, the vaccine is even less effective. The main reason for the ineffectiveness is that the influenza vaccine only responds to certain circulating viral strains. Also, the responsiveness of the vaccine depends on “the seroconversion in the individual” after vaccination. Anytime a vaccine (antigen) enters the blood, antibodies are created by the immune system to fight off the disease that a person is immunized for. A reduced seroconversion can lead to a reduced effectiveness of the vaccine.

Although the flu vaccine is less effective in the elderly, it is still recommended that older adults get vaccinated because “some protection is better than none,” and immunization can lead to decreased recovery time and severity of illness. In addition, hospital admissions and the death rate related to influenza are reduced, which lessen the burden of a health care system in any country. Therefore by 2014-2015, 94 percent of countries in the WHO European Region recommend that at least 75 percent of the elderly population should get vaccinated. However, only the Netherlands were able to reach this goal.

How can we increase the uptake levels of the influenza vaccine? Dr. Caroline Brown, Programme Manager for Influenza at WHO/Europe, highlights that we need to “estimate the burden of influenza, assess the costs and benefits of influenza vaccination programs,” and still maintain and improve the vaccination programs we have. Making a vaccine easy to access and afford is key as well. In Europe, vaccines can only be given by doctors and vaccine programs do not always exist, which causes a lack of accessibility to vaccines. Some countries offer free vaccines while other countries require residents to pay for them. It is important to improve the public’s perception of the influence of vaccines, which will happen once there is more data about the effectiveness of vaccines. Researchers are also eager to find a more effective vaccine; a vaccine that could possibly be effective for a longer period of time and be given in higher doses as a recent study shows. This could increase the protection for influenza especially among the elderly.

If the vaccine is not as effective among the elderly, we need to take another approach. In order to protect the elderly in nursing homes, let us reduce outbreaks and mortality rates as well as advising all health care workers to get vaccinated, which ultimately leads to herd immunity.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician at Catapult Health.

Health Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors

As most pet owners already know, our pets are best friends and considered part of our families. Especially in nursing homes where the elderly suffer from depression, loneliness, and lack of social contacts, pets can be very therapeutic, improve the quality of life, and alleviate emotional and physical problems. Research has shown that stroking and even talking to a pet lowers one’s blood pressure and heart rate which can lead to an increase in life expectancy. When a person is stroking a pet, a chemical reaction takes places and a high level of mood enhancing hormones, such as serotonin, prolactin and oxyctocin is produced, while less stress hormones are released.

In the US, pet therapies, also called animal-assisted therapies, are very common and popular in nursing homes. Owning a pet might not be for everyone because of the many responsibilities that come with a pet ownership. Pet therapy allows the elderly to spend time with a pet, usually a dog, and feel closeness. In addition, the elderly have something to look forward to and feel that they have a purpose in life again. While pets in nursing homes can ameliorate the psychological state of mind, they also contribute to an improved physical health of the elderly such as reduced need for medication and improved vital signs. The elderly who take their dog for a walk prove to have improved mobility, more social interactions, and enjoy their daily exercise routine. It has been researched that older pet owners walk significantly farther when they walk with a dog, which can contribute to the fact that pet owners require fewer doctor visits.

The European Union understands the importance of pet ownership for the elderly. As part of the Europe 2020 Initiatives, a new campaign was launched to promote the benefits of pets for the elderly. The motto is called “Animals are good for us, be good to them. We care.” IFAH Europe, the International Federation for Animal Health Europe, started a Facebook page where anyone can get information on how to care for pets. The elderly are also asked to post personal videos about how they enjoy their lives with a pet. This campaign promotes the benefits of pets for the elderly and may raise awareness of the elderly’s emotional needs.

In Romania, pet therapies are just as common, but dogs used for pet therapy have a different story to tell; they are street dogs. Bucharest, the capital of Romania, has more than tens of thousands of street dogs. The dogs have always been seen as a plague and had a bad reputation due to a few fatal incidents with city residents. After a 4 year-old boy was killed by a street dog in 2013, a law was published stating that street dogs will be euthanized unless they have a home. As a response to the law and a vision to save the dogs and give back to the community, the organization Vier Pfoten started a project and trains street dogs to be used for pet therapy in nursing homes. What a great idea to save street dogs in Bucharest as well as give comfort and companionship to elderly!

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas.

The Need for Improved Health and Social Reforms for Britain’s Aging Population

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

In today’s society, social and health care reforms for the elderly are more important than ever due to increasing aging populations worldwide. In Britain, these reforms have not greatly supported elderly care and need some major improvements. The current situation is shameful as more elderly should receive the care they need. Funding for health and social care services have been decreasing since 2005. In 2005-2006, a total of 1.231 million people aged 65 and older received some form of social care while in 2012-2013, a total of 896,000 received assistance. This shows a decrease of 335,000 elderly who did not receive the necessary care and services, although the overall number of elderly has been increasing in the last years. These services, such as Meals on Wheels or visits to daycare centers, had been terminated but are important to the elderly since it allowed them to live at home independently and have daily social interactions.

Oftentimes, the elderly do not have the support of their families and rely on these social services. As we get older, illnesses and disabilities can prevent us from getting out and becoming socially active. Life-changing events such as retirement and death of a family member or friend can also increase the risk of loneliness and isolation. In fact, 46% of people aged 80 and older reported that they often feel lonely. In addition, 10% of the population mentioned that television is their main form of company. This is sad and shocking at the same time. Are we all too busy to visit our parents or grandparents? “Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship,” states states British Health Secretary Mr. Hunt to the Daily Express.

What can we do to involve the elderly in our lives and communities? Britain has started to recruit volunteers since they are important to nursing homes and older adults living at home. Volunteers provide much needed companionship and connections to communities. For example, Prime Minister David Cameron activated 30,000 teenagers to help people with dementia. In addition, these teens will teach the elderly modern technology so they can use Skype to talk with their families via internet.

Britain can also learn from health care or social systems in other European countries. A study showed that the elderly in Britain are poorer and lonelier than in similar European Countries. In addition, “they are more likely to suffer ageism in health care and in their daily lives than in either Germany, Sweden or the Netherlands.”

A role model for elderly care is the Asian culture that is well known for the respect and good treatment of the elderly. If an older person cannot live at home anymore, he or she will be taken in by family members. Nursing homes are usually the last option family members will consider as there is a strong social interaction and relationship among all generations. Britain as well as other countries can learn from this and strengthen the social relationships between generations.

Martina Lesperance is a Health Educator and Screening Technician in El Paso, Texas.