Category Archives: Global

It is important to know how older adults are viewed and treated in many nations. This category compares continents and regions including countries in different continents. The goal is to identify and examine the challenges and opportunities of population aging across regions.

Alcohol and Ageing: The International Trends Worrying Health Researchers

Risky drinking – defined as drinking at levels that put a person at risk of medical or social problems – has for centuries been viewed as an affliction of youth and immaturity. Yet, as the first wave of baby boomers reach retirement age, a startling trend is revealing itself: older adults are now drinking more than any previous cohort of retirees, with over 40 percent of older drinkers in some Western countries being classified as ‘hazardous drinkers.’

Our international research team recently explored patterns of drinking in older populations in nine different countries, including the United States, England, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Russia, Ghana, South Africa, and India. These countries span different political approaches, distinct continents, and various development levels, and the results were startling.

Drinking in older adults appears to be closely tied to wealth. We found that the proportion of older adults that drink is much higher in Western countries (e.g., the U.S., England and New Zealand) than non-Western countries. Additionally, while evidence shows that older men are more likely to drink than older women, this disparity is far smaller in Western countries than it is in non-Western countries.

When we explored the patterns of drinking across countries, we found that older drinkers in Western countries also seem to drink more frequently than older drinkers in non-Western countries. However, we also found that frequent (2-3 days per week) or very frequent (4+ days per week) heavy drinking occurs in both Western or non-Western countries, as with China and South Africa show an alarming number of older adults consuming alcohol heavily.

There are three key reasons why rising rates of drinking among older adults should spark international concern.

  1. Aging increases the risk of alcohol-related harm: Alcohol use merely is much riskier for an older adult than it is for a younger adult. The physiological aging process reduces our ability to process and detoxify alcohol, meaning we are more sensitive to its effects as we age even at the same level of consumption. Combined with this rising sensitivity to alcohol, aging itself also raises the risk of alcohol-related harm. As we age we are more likely to develop chronic conditions associated with (or exacerbated by) alcohol use or use medication that alcohol may interfere with, and to experience symptoms (e.g., nausea, sleeplessness, frailty, falls, depression) that alcohol can make worse. Unsurprisingly, older adults are far more likely to experience alcohol-related injuries and mortality than younger age groups.
  2. Older drinkers are neglected: Despite being at a heightened risk of alcohol-related harm, older drinkers are very likely to remain undetected in our communities. Research shows that older adults are much less likely than younger adults to be screened for alcohol use by health professionals. Furthermore, health conditions potentially underpinned by alcohol use are often misattributed to the aging process. Lastly, a recent report titled ‘Calling Time’ by Dr. Sarah Wadd and the British organization Drink Wise Age Well illustrates consistent neglect of older adults in alcohol policy, research on alcohol trends and harms, and availability of alcohol and addiction services.
  3. There are no benefits of drinking for older adults: A long-held assumption is that alcohol may be beneficial to heart health, and many older drinkers consume alcohol based on this belief. However, a growing body of international research now shows that the assumed health benefits of alcohol use were the result of poorly analyzed data and that there are no health benefits of drinking for older adults.

Unfortunately, our current health systems are ill-equipped to cope with this trend: in an era of rapid population ageing, a wave of older adults drinking at risky levels places considerable pressures on current health systems. Alcohol is the principle choice of drug for the ageing population and, although many do not meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, a large proportion will still require intervention to address the adverse consequences of excessive alcohol consumption (REF: Savage). Indeed, the number of older adults requiring substance misuse treatment services in the United States alone was expected to triple in the first two decades of this century (REF: Gfroerer). Given a rising rate of risky drinking despite the increased risk of harm and reduced likelihood of detection by health professionals, it is little wonder that the UK Royal Society of Psychiatrists now refers to older drinkers as ‘our silent addicts’.

What can we do? Fortunately, there is one key way in which we can collectively help mitigate this public health challenge.  As former American supreme court justice, American Lawyer Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) once said “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” This sums up the critical issue here: many older drinkers are just unaware of their risk levels because society does not realize that there is an issue to address. We have the evidence that shows many older adults are now drinking hazardously, despite the risks this poses, so now it is up to each of us to start talking to friends, family members, colleagues, health professionals and policymakers about it.

Dr. Andy Towers is a senior lecturer in the School of Health Science at Massey University (New Zealand). His teaching and research focus primarily on alcohol and drug use trends, policy and outcomes. In conjunction with colleagues at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), he leads a collaboration of researchers from the United States, Europe and the World Health Organisation in an international study of the global prevalence of older adults drinking patterns and health-related outcomes.

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An Interview with Stephen Johnston: Tech and Aging Innovator

Innovating services for aging adults means bringing together different perspectives and aligning common marketing goals which typically do not overlap. This is what Aging2.0 co-founder Stephen Johnston set out to do when he launched an innovation network that would be global, inter-generational, and interdisciplinary.

Several years ago, Johnston had a light-bulb moment when transitioning from the mobile industry to health services innovation. He saw an opportunity to bridge entrepreneurship, technology, and aging to bring people together and meet real-life needs. Johnston is also passionate about strengthening communities to have sustainable impact.

Aging2.0 is an innovation network focused on technologies specifically for aging adults (gerontechnology). The network supports innovators and entrepreneurs dedicated to challenges and opportunities affecting over one billion older adults worldwide. It was founded by Stephen Johnston and Katy Fike in 2012, with headquarters in San Francisco, and has a global footprint in over 20 countries.

Their network includes some of the largest and most innovative companies in aging and senior care, including leading organizations, individuals, and entrepreneurs. They offer competitions, advice and boot-camps to startups, as well as a networked platform to connect their target audience. So far, Aging2.0 has hosted more than 400 events, connected over 15,000 people in over 20 nations, and grown to over 50 volunteer chapters in North and South America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

I met with Johnston to find out more about the latest events in aging and Aging2.0 expanding to Europe.

How did you get into addressing aging issues through technology?

I had no particular ambition or ideas to go into aging, but I was very interested in technology from when I studied in business school at Harvard. I did a lot of courses in technology and got excited about innovation and disruption. After business school, I went to Nokia. It turned out that mobile had a much broader value proposition than just phone calls and texting. At that time, I did two very formative things while at Nokia. One is that I got interested in healthcare and mobile health (mHealth) and how the two worlds connected. Another thing was being in a good company that was being disrupted and trying to develop a model for change. So, I created Nokia 2.0 to build a global community of innovators at the company with this idea of leading an innovation revolution within Nokia.

After I left Nokia, there was the opportunity to work with doctors developing mobile apps. One of the clients was a billionaire from Texas who was diagnosed with a rare dementia. I got brought in to do venture-philanthropy research to find a cure for this individual’s disease with a network of researchers. While working with a group of experts in dementia research, there was this lightbulb moment for me was when the family was talking about how they didn’t have access to products and services that would help them as caregivers. I realized there was my opportunity if my mission in life was to build a community of innovators and support these innovators to help families with dementia and older adults.

Nobody was doing anything like this and there wasn’t a playbook for how to build global ecosystem for innovation in aging, so I had to just start making it up. That meant I needed to build a community around me via blogging and events, and that’s how I met Katy who became my co-founder. It became clear that, outside a small group, there weren’t that many experts working in innovation and technology and aging. And that became the genesis of Aging2.0.

What were the starting steps for Aging2.0?

Since my career up until then was pretty corporate, I had a hunger to really do things my way, build something on my own and create a small team that would be super agile. We started by having coffee and meetups in local places and inviting people to come along who were interested in the topic. That was the start of what we are doing now and what we have been doing ever since. The local events had some of the biggest impact on launching Aging2.0 and they kept us grounded. We had older people and startups attending and we were really making those connections. We were starting to build a strong community. Since then, there have been over 400 meetings where 1000+ people attend. We get a lot of validation from people who come to our events and tell us that this is valuable. It’s been growing steadily, but at the heart, it’s still about bringing people together to talk about topics in aging.

It comes back to being a bridge between innovation, technology, and startups on one hand and older adults, aging, and the senior care space on the other hand. We see ourselves as a bridge and that allows us to work with both sides and make sure each side sees the others’ perspective. There’s not a lot of overlap in the technology and startups and aging and senior care worlds and that’s where we’ve really been focusing on building a bridge.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see to using technology to enhance and improve the lives of aging adults?

There are a number of key challenges that we consistently here about that startups face. The first is getting access directly to customers and the user insights about what older adults need. We support startups here by being a bridge to both sides – building trust with customers, with local assisted living communities for example, and connecting technologists to older people and caregivers.

The second challenge is that the space is very fragmented. There isn’t one industry, but we are crossing over several industries and people have to learn to speak the same language. Distribution channels are fragmented which makes it hard for a product to get to market, in particular to reach older people in their homes. Business models are a further challenge. A lot of these companies are doing good and helping people save money for the healthcare system, but at the same time, the healthcare system isn’t rewarding them. Often, it is a private pay model where the companies are actually doing public benefit. I’m looking forward to something like social impact bonds which could start to make some interesting connections between risk sharing and startups on the one hand and with healthcare payers on the other hand in order to open up some funding for these new business models.

What keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?

At the end of the day, it is about making an impact. For me, the way I thought about it was looking at what I think is needed in the world, what I’m good at and like to do, and what can bring in an income. And this is essentially why I got into running a for-profit, for-purpose business. I didn’t want to be purely in the corporate side or purely in the non-profit side, and I wanted to create something sustainable.

My grandmother was one of the most important people to me growing up and inspirational as she was also an entrepreneur. She was extremely kind, compassionate and wise and great with younger people. Aging2.0 hopefully captures some of that; it’s not only young people coming together to build technologies to make older people live better, it’s about how older people can have access to ways to share their perspectives, insights, and values, and discover more purpose. And I think both sides will benefit.

How does Aging2.0 approach challenges and opportunities in health and aging?

Everything we do is human-centric and we are working on the needs of older people, such as health, finance, transport, food, and access to services. This year, we have launched our Grand Challenges which takes 12 big topics relating to fixing today’s care system (such as care coordination and staffing issues), addresses topics relating to thriving in the community (such as social engagement, mobility, and lifestyle products), and also looks towards the more complex issues to be resolved (such as end-of-life planning, dementia, and new models for financial wellness). Our network provides ideas for the priority topics to be worked on, and also helps provide the answers.

What solutions have you come across that you use in your own life?

A big thing for me is the adjacencies, where we have seen services come into the aging space from outside, ones that aren’t designed to be aging products, like ones to count steps. For example, wearables, the Misfit wearable is one that I’m using. I use Amazon Echo a lot, too and we all benefit from having smart homes, not just older people. I imagine self-driving cars, robots and wearables will be categories in which older adults will be the first movers which will generate a good deal of interest by tech companies here in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Why is Aging2.0 expanding into Europe?

We’re building this global community and want to be in 100 countries by 2020. The US is where it started but, being from the UK, I’m excited to be bringing this into Europe. I am really excited for 2 main reasons 1) the amount of innovation, government recognition of the issue and financial support for new solutions is really tremendous in Europe. It’s more of a strategic priority partly because of the aging population in Europe is a higher proportion than in the US. 2) There is a big need for innovative, startup thinking and ways of doing things – bringing in the “Silicon Valley mentality.” There is a good opportunity to build up an innovation ecosystem that has an impact beyond aging – in particular, to spur economic development, which will help companies and cities thrive. In Europe, there’s a lot of energy around smart-, healthy-, and age-friendly cities. Many parts of Europe have strong, community-based cultures, and connecting communities is one of my bigger passions. I was really inspired by a recent meeting in Geneva with the World Health Organization and meeting other organizations and the work they are doing, thinking about where we could be a network and then build global innovation platforms on top of the Age-Friendly Cities Network. I think Europe is going to be a good testbed for that.

Aging2.0 recently held a Startup Bootcamp and Summit in Belgium, what were some of the highlights from the event?

It was our first major European event (previously we have been having local chapter events, but nothing European-wide) and we had people there from 15 countries. The aim was really to get people together on the same page and start a conversation about innovation in aging from the perspective of the continent. There was quite a lot of talk about living labs and how we need to bring older people – for connecting technologies to older people. There was quite a lot of discussion around integrating the needs of older adults and practical applications in this area. One of the things that came out of the event was this need for sharing perspectives and best practices, such as a database of what works. Often, we have been doing this work in silos and making the same mistakes again and again. There was also a strong focus on outcomes, the use of data, measuring impact, and return on investment for services in the aging space.

One theme was ways in which older people can keep living safely in their homes longer. So far, this hasn’t been easy and we have been seeing a lot of fragmentation – a lot of people doing different things, using different and new technologies, and none of it is really tied together. So, that’s one of the things we are going to try to do more of, to make things easier and more holistic. Europe has the potential to have a much more integrated approach. So far, we are still behind, as far as technology companies being in their silos. This is an opportunity where Europe has the potential to take a leading role in building holistic platforms.

What exciting events does Aging2.0 have planned for the rest of the year?

We have many local meetups and events going on, listed on our website.

There is our first Asia-Pacific event and Startup Bootcamp in Taipei on October 12. We are excited for people to bring ideas and for big companies to get involved. The theme this year is “Fun Long Life,” and we will focus on investing in longevity at the individual, organizational, and governmental levels.

We have our annual global innovation conference, OPTIMIZE, November 14-15 in San Francisco. There will be some great speakers, networking and partnership opportunities, a Startup Bootcamp, exhibitions, and over 1,000 innovators, senior and healthcare executives, tech companies, investors, and aging adults coming together around common goals.

Our big strategic push is around the Grand Challenges initiative I mentioned before, which connects needs + design + products + market. Through this, we work with our members to understand what aging adults really need, the issues we should be prioritizing, and how to collectively address them best.

Going forward, we will be looking to deepen our partnerships with organizations in Europe and support our Chapters to become a vital part of the local innovation ecosystems.

Acknowledgement

A big thanks to Stephen Johnston for taking the time to answer my questions! Make sure to check out Aging2.0 for more information.

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

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

Is it really possible to live until you’re 146? The science of ageing

Scientists doubt that extreme natural longevity is feasible. But if lifespan is ruled by a genetic ‘clock’, that view could change

The grim reaper comes for everyone in the end, but sometimes he is in less of a rush. This was certainly true for Sodimedjo, an Indonesian man who died on Sunday, but whether he was the full 146 years he claimed remains doubtful – not least because his purported birthdate is 30 years before local birth records began.

Scientists have their own reasons to be sceptical. A study published last year pointed to the existence of an upper ceiling on the natural human lifespan.

While the average life expectancy has steadily increased since the 19th century, data from the International Database on Longevity showed that the age of the very oldest people on the planet appeared to plateau in the mid-1990s – at a mere 114.9 years. Since the apparent plateau happened at a time when the reservoir of healthy centenarians was expanding, scientists concluded that an intrinsic biological limit had been reached: even if you evade accidents and disease, your body will still steadily decline until it passes the point of no return, the data appeared to suggest.

This raises the intriguing possibility that ageing could be slowed or even reversed, and some animal studies have already claimed to do just this.

Jan Vijg, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who led this research, said: “We simply provided evidence that humans do indeed have a ceiling that they really cannot go beyond. That’s part of being human.”

There will be the occasional outlier – the French supercentenarian and oldest woman to have lived, Jeanne Calment, was 122 when she died in 1997, but most of us have a shorter intrinsic “shelf life”. The probability of someone living to 146 is infinitesimal, Vijg said. “If somebody told you that they saw a UFO yesterday but it’s gone now, you’d probably be polite, but you wouldn’t believe it,” said Vijg. “That’s my reaction with this story.”

Before resigning yourself to the knowledge that you will almost certainly expire by the time you reach 115 years, it is worth noting that this ceiling could be moveable in the future.

Richard Faragher, professor of biogerontology at the University of Brighton, puts it this way: How long can a human live if you don’t do anything to them? Probably around 120. But there is a separate question, how long do people last if you can do something to them?”

Until now, the steady increase in average life expectancy (as distinct from lifespan) has been driven by fewer people smoking, better nutrition and antibiotics. Drugs and surgery for heart disease and cancer have also played a part.

However, scientists are only just beginning to explore the possibility of therapies designed to target the process of ageing itself, as well as the illnesses that come with advancing years. This field has recently taken an intriguing twist, as evidence has emerged that ageing is not simply the manifestation of environmental wear and tear. Instead, the latest work suggests that ageing is at least partly……….Read more here!

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

 is the Guardian’s Science correspondent. Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahdev

The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, written by Judith N. Lasker, shines light on healthcare-based volunteering in developing contexts. While it does not explicitly focus on aging, this book poses a bold and poignant question: Does international medical volunteering really help patients?

Developing countries struggle with both acute diseases such as malaria that are less prevalent in developed countries, as well as many of the same chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that routinely affect people in nations like the United States. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases, which often impact older adults, are the leading cause of death or disability in the world. Many medical professionals who volunteer abroad often end up treating patients with such chronic diseases.

For example, International Volunteer HQ – a large volunteer-host connection service – offers North American medical tourists the opportunity to work with older adults in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Zambia. Another NGO, UBELONG, offers short term volunteer trips to Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Peru. Other programs, such as the volunteer surgeons who perform cataract operations, also target diseases that primarily impact older adults.

In Hoping to Help, Lasker investigates the impact of global medical volunteerism on patient health. She finds little evidence that global medical volunteer trips are actually helpful to the patients:

  • Lasker points out that most trips have no follow-up. Thus it is impossible to determine whether the patient benefited from medical care.
  • Most trips do not provide long-term solutions to chronic diseases; many individuals were prescribed medication –for example, blood pressure – without having access to a sustainable supply of the medicine. Once the volunteer leaves, the patient may become worse. Even a seemingly innocuous treatment, such as medication to reduce hypertension, can lead to a rebound hypertensive effect.
  • Finally, volunteer medical students or nurses will often conduct procedures or give treatment that is outside their scope of practice in their home countries.

The positive or negative effect on the health of patients treated by these practitioners are not well known, but it is safe to say that the impacts of global health volunteering are not all positive. There are many debates about the possible good or harm international medical volunteers can do to host communities – while some have compared the practice to colonialism, others have defended the noble intentions of these programs. What this debate leaves out, however, is the patient’s version of the story.

For individuals who wish to volunteer and contribute to aging in developing nations, Lasker’s book serves as a useful guide. She clearly delineates the positives and negatives of the programs. Volunteering is one way to help aging individuals in developing countries, but an investment in infrastructure development in the health sector will have a more meaningful, long-term, and sustainable impact.

Grace Mandel is a project manager for the Baltimore Fall Reduction Initiative Engaging Neighborhoods and Data (B’FRIEND) at the Baltimore City Department of Health.

What can a simple fruit fly teach us about ageing?

A recent study could lead to interventions that extend human lifespan and improve health in our later years. Based on new evidence regarding a DNA-based theory of ageing, this field aims to attenuate diseases of ageing such as cancer, hypertension and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ageing research dates back many years, but thanks to scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging the field has become more widely recognised. Researchers at Buck coined the term ‘geroscience’ to explain the relationship between ageing and age-related diseases. The notion that people are more susceptible to diseases as they grow older rings true to most of us, although some older adults lead healthy and active lives without medical intervention.

“Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65, and every day, more and more of them are just as fit as me” – so says Linda Marsa, contributing editor at Discover magazine. Richard Johnson, an economist, says “Today’s seniors are healthier, better educated, and more productive than ever.” Despite these positive trends, many would argue that the goal of geroscience – to explain and intervene in age-related diseases including arthritis – remains highly relevant to today’s societies.

Since life extension studies remain inconclusive, scientists are working to improve ‘healthspan’ – the length of time a person is healthy, especially in the later years. Brown University Professor Dr. Stephen L. Helfand is one of several researchers whose work is advancing the rapidly maturing field of ageing science. He is also senior author of the study mentioned above.

This study showed that many transposable elements (TEs) become activated with age in the fruit fly Drosophila* and that this activation is prevented by dietary restriction – an intervention known to extend lifespan. TEs are sequences of DNA (our genetic material) that move (or jump) from one location in the genome to another. Drosophila is a small fruit fly used extensively in genetic research. Why do scientists use fruit flies? Because fruit flies share 75 percent of the genes that cause disease with humans including having a smaller, fully-sequenced genome for easier genetic manipulations. Ultimately, the study provides evidence that preventing TE activation by dietary restriction may be a useful tool in ameliorating aging-associated diseases. The hope is that such results could be applied to humans as research progresses.

“Our demonstration that dietary [restriction], genetic and pharmacological interventions that reduce the age-related increases in [transposon] activity can also extend lifespan suggests new and novel pathways for the development of interventions designed to extend healthy lifespan.” according to this study. Despite the possibility of a true causal relationship, scientists can (happily!) avoid misleading phrases such as the Fountain of Youth, since geroscience hopes to improve health and longevity – not provide some mythical youth potion. Older people are a rapidly growing demographic – by 2100, the number of people aged 60 and over will reach 3.2 billion. It is, therefore, vital that researchers use terms that do not marginalize an increasingly growing demographic –  or maintain the current narrative of our youth-obsessed culture.

We have seen major breakthroughs in public health and medical research, including a generational leap in longevity, the use of antibiotics, the completion of the Human Genome Project, and more. Society has also reaped the benefits of new medical technologies and advances in nutrition such as sustainable diets, virtual reality, and food scanners. As the field of geroscience continues to evolve, both public and private sectors may increase investments for ageing research, especially if it can reveal treatments for conditions that afflict older people. More data is also needed to understand and support research findings including the current study by Dr. Helfand. This paper comes as scientists from three universities including, Brown University, New York University and the University of Rochester forge a new partnership in DNA-related research. The collaboration is supported by a five-year, $9.67-million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Hence, study outcomes could have a lasting effect on health and society. David Sinclair, a researcher of ageing at Harvard Medical School, has put this attitude into words: “The goal of this research is not to keep people in the nursing home for longer. It’s to keep them out of nursing homes for longer.”

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other

Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who views artificial intelligence and technology through a sociological and psychological lens. In the first half of her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other,  Turkle addresses the impact of technology on older adults. Technology advances such as robotics and assistive technology are making headway in society, especially in elder care. These new technologies can provide some comfort or care for older adults with chronic diseases. Turkle’s focus, however, is on the substitution of robots for human interaction and the emotional aspect of care performed by another human being.

Turkle conducts experiments where she brings different types of robotic technology such as AIBO, My Real Baby, and Paro the Seal into nursing homes. These robotics provide companionship and not practical assistance. For instance, many older adults began speaking to their robots, going over important life events and reminiscing about old times. They found that spending time with the robot reduces anxiety and isolation. The impact of My Real Baby, an “interactive learning doll”, was particularly significant in experiments because it gave older adults a sense of purpose. The My Real Baby doll needed comfort, changing, and other activities that made older adults feel needed (105). This promotes higher quality of life for older people.

Turkle also conducts research involving children, where children discuss the role of robotic technology in their lives. The children profiled in the book worry about technology replacing real human interaction. One child says, “that grandparents might love the robot more than you… They would be around the robot so much more.” (75). Another child worries “that if a robot came in that could help her [grandmother] with falls, then she might really want it… she might like it more than me.” (75). In her discussion of experiments conducted in nursing homes with the doll, My Real Baby, Turkle finds that older adults do not want to give the doll back at the end of the experiment (111). One grandmother even ignores her grandchild who is visiting to take care of the hungry doll (118).

What Turkle does best in this book sharply contrasts the ideal situation of having loving children or family who can visit and provide social interaction to the reality of isolation in many older adults. While Turkle acknowledges the barriers to artificial intelligence and technology as companionship for older adults, they surpass the alternative of no social interaction at all. She notes, “If the elderly are tended by underpaid workers who seem to do their jobs by rote, it is not difficult to warm to the idea of a robot orderly”. (p. 107).  She then points out that when given the choice between interacting with robots and interacting with a member of the research team, almost all of the older adults chose a member of the research team (p. 105). At the end of the day, these robots are not capable of producing the same amount of interaction and support as a human being. Turkle muses, “An older person seems content; a child feels less guilty. But in the long term, do we want to make it easier for children to leave their parents? Does the ‘feel-good moment’ provided by the robot deceive people into feeling less need to visit?” (p. 125). Robots providing clinical care may be an ideal solution to the shortage of workers caring for an aging population, but are no replacement for social interaction.

Grace Mandel is the project manager for the Baltimore Fall Reduction Initiative Engaging Neighborhoods and Data (BFRIEND) at the Baltimore City Department of Health.

Addiction in Older Adults: Prevalence, Effects and Solutions

Is an addict a teenager using heroin? Or a young adult drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? Recent studies challenge these assumptions. 20 to 30 percent of adults between 75 and 85 years of age have had problems with alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that 3.6 percent of 60- to 64-year-olds have used illegal drugs. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of older adults who sought emergency treatment for improper drug use jumped to 78 percent.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Substance abuse can exacerbate other pre-existing conditions, including dementia, which in turn could lead seniors to use too much or too little of their prescriptions or forget to take them entirely. Confusion could also prompt people to mix substances and prescription drugs, which can produce dangerous results. Additionally, ageing bodies do not process alcohol and drugs the same way that younger bodies do. Seniors could become drunk, high, or impaired faster than younger people who consume the same amount of intoxicants. This could lead to a greater risk of health problems, injuries such as falls, and addiction.

There are many different reasons why older adults become substance-dependent. Many seniors use alcohol or drugs to cope with life changes such as divorce, retirement, or death of a loved one. For others it is a residual habit from when they were younger; adults who experimented with substances in the past could continue to use drugs and alcohol for recreational purposes, without realizing the risk of addiction increases with age. The long-term use of pain medication to treat other conditions is also likely to turn into a substance addiction if not monitored carefully.

Fortunately, the recognition of this issue brings a plethora of rehabilitation solutions specifically catering to older adults. Seniors can now pursue addiction treatment in the company of their peers. In fact there are rehab programs and facilities especially for older adults, including programs that provide alternative medications as they wean patients off prescription painkillers. Some doctors recommend alternating prescription and nonprescription drugs to treat pain.

Acknowledging addictive behaviors and substance abuse among seniors is the first step to recovery. As these issues garner national attention, society is likely to see the development of more and more innovative solutions to help prevent seniors from becoming unduly addicted to harmful substances.

Pam Zuber is an editor and writer on many topics such as addiction, recovery, biology and psychology. She is particularly interested in topics that relate to achieving and maintaining good health. Zuber has written for various treatment centers including Elite Rehab Placement, Monarch Shores and Willow Springs Recovery.

A Brief Highlight of Older Athletes at the Summer Olympic Games

Photo Credit: GCSC
Photo Credit: GCSC

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are almost here. Starting next week, athletes from around the world will perform amazing feats including older Olympians who are generally not reported in traditional media. Older athletes have always participated in the games. For example, Brazil’s 2016 Olympic qualifying tournaments had many athletes in their 30’s and a few well into their 40’s. This article will focus on older athletes with the hope that it inspires readers and challenges aging stereotypes.

There are many examples of older athletes to celebrate. In the 2012 Olympics, a 101-year-old marathon runner Fauja Signh carried the Olympic torch. Also in 2012, Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan was a member of the Equestrian team at age 71. There is also the Senior Olympics – a biennial sports competition for adults aged 50+ – where the average age at the 2015 competition was 68 years old. As Global Health Aging states, “…the process of growing old is unique to each person.” Some people have loss of mobility or cognitive function… and some compete in the Olympics.

Athletes who have staying power lurk within many country teams. For instance, Robert Schedit, a 43-year-old member of Brazil’s sailing team, will compete in his sixth Olympic games! His first Olympics was the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, USA. Close behind him is Murilo Antonio Fischer who will compete in his fifth Olympic games at age 37. Fischer, a member of Brazil’s road cycling team, first participated in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Competing in athletic events or getting up to exercise are in part based on psychology and willpower. My investigation into the Olympics has shown a new narrative, that individuals of all ages succeed in competitive athletics. These sports in addition to regular daily exercise are attainable. Hence society has to redefine expectations as it is possible to be a great athlete well into old age. And for those who do not wish to run a 5 minute mile, any kind of exercise is important!

Grace Mandel covers South America for Global Health Aging. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Why Society Needs More Older Social Entrepreneurs for Culture Change

Social entrepreneurship – or business solutions to social issues – has evolved to be the big billion dollar idea over the last three decades. And it is here to stay. Both the developed as well as the developing world, public and philanthropic sectors are pushing for impact investing, and market-based solutions to the most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Photo Credit: Bill Bentley
                                                                                       Photo Credit: Bill Bentley

While this sector is currently a big draw for younger populations, it also holds immense potential for older adults. The number of older persons (aged 60 years or over) is expected to more than double from 841 million people in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050. Yet, this market remains virtually untapped by most social businesses. Additionally, there are very few seniors involved in building start-up companies that will change the world.

An interesting study by the Stanford Social Innovation Review explains why society requires older social entrepreneurs, especially those catering to senior needs. One reason is the fact that majority of social enterprises tend to rely on finding “solutions” to eradicate problems. Whereas any social enterprise providing for older people needs to be oriented towards improving how care is delivered. And who better to improve senior care than older adults themselves?

There are also a number of other reasons why social enterprises and start-ups are rarely inclusive of the ageing population. This includes:

  • False Perception of Need: There is a perception that older adults – given their many years in the workforce – do not need the services of social enterprises. However, a large number of older adults are indeed vulnerable to environmental and social shocks and stresses and require innovative social services to deal with these issues.
  • Disconnect from User: Older adults tend to be co-opted into the general adult population, when in fact, they are a market in themselves because of their diverse needs and habits.
  • Misunderstood Breadth of Population: While there are fewer older adults than younger people in absolute numbers – especially in the developing world where most social businesses work – the ageing population is still a huge untapped market ripe for exponential growth and profit.
  • Rhetoric and Access Barriers:  As social businesses employ and tend to cater to younger populations, the language of these companies often exclude older adults. Buzzwords such as “Gen X” paint the picture that social enterprises are for young people only. Additionally, social venture incubators and training programs are often hosted at universities, giving the impression that these programs are exclusively for students and young people.
  • Technology Misconceptions: Social solutions are increasingly taking the form of apps and e-commerce. While younger populations are more adept and likely to use technology, if designed well, keeping in considerations older adults’ physical and access constraints, elders who are taught to use tech can operate  it just as well as their younger counterparts.

While there is no obvious discrimination against older entrepreneurs, the social impact space can be made more conducive for senior innovators. There is a slowly emerging stream of data that is sighting why the world’s ageing population needs to be a part of this revolution, and a small but steady group of programs that work with older people to help them ensure success as older entrepreneurs.

Older adults, despite the current barrier to access, have the potential to revolutionize how society perceives work among the aging and senior care through entrepreneurship.

Sachi Shah is an Economic and Development Professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.

 

How Climate Change Affects the Health of Older Adults

Photo Credit: Thomas8047
Photo Credit: Thomas8047

Climate change and its consequences are an impending reality, ones that have both socio-emotional and physical effects on older adults. Our lives, livelihoods and health are intrinsically tied to that of the planet, so it is crucial to look at how we can improve resilience to climate change, especially in vulnerable populations like the elderly. Not all older people are the same as they react differently to the effects of climate change. However, there are a few trends that have been sighted to have a disproportional effect on older adults. These include:

Heatwaves: Heatwaves are one of the more direct consequences of global warming affecting senior citizens. More so than other populations, heatwaves can lead to severe heat strokes and dehydration in the elderly. This in turn can exacerbate existing medical conditions.

Air Pollution: We have all heard of or witnessed smog, the smoky, unseasonal fog that sets over cities and is caused by pollutants from industrial waste and fuel-guzzling vehicles. Smog comprises of several harmful chemicals that can damage lung tissue, reduce lung capacity and inflame airways. As the climate warms up, these chemicals mutate and their effects are exacerbated. This change in air quality can be a hard adjustment for older citizens especially those who grew up in a different climate. Additionally, older adults with existing heart and lung disease are particularly susceptible. Climate change is also causing a flux in pollen season, which is leading to increased and more severe allergens in the air.

Social Isolation: Seniors who live on their own do not always have access to help in emergency situations. Therefore, during weather emergencies, they are often stuck without access to basic services or a way out.

Climate Refugees: Natural disasters can lead to severe disruption and uncertainty in many people’s lives. These people may flee to other countries because their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Living in refugee camps without access to basic sanitation, clean water, medication and food, or the ability to pursue an income generating activity is especially hard on older adults. These types of events take a severe mental and physical toll on younger as well as older people.

New Diseases: It is a fact that as people get older, their immune system are not as strong as they used to be. Older adults are therefore more susceptible and less likely to make a full recovery from the newer and more dangerous forms of animal, air and water borne diseases due to climate change. Ebola and Zika Virus are just a couple of such infections that are currently plaguing societies, and have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable populations like the elderly.

Climate change is the reality of our time as it affects everyone. In any crisis, those who are at-risk because of poverty and health issues are most likely to be affected. Therefore, it is important that older adults recognize the effects and implications of climate change. Being conscious of one’s environmental footprint, building a community around oneself to turn to during emergencies, and taking small precautions like weatherproofing a person’s house or having an emergency evacuation plan mapped out to deal with weather irregularities can go a long way in safeguarding older adults from climate change.

Aging populations that lack the ability to take these precautions, such as those in poverty and especially in developing countries, should take on the challenge of teaching younger generations to recognize the effects of climate change and respect the planet. Younger generations in turn can seek more sustainable alternatives to natural resources, and pressure local governing bodies to create emergency plans for not just natural disasters but also more long-term climate change disasters such as droughts. This will ensure resilience for the overall community including the elderly.

Sachi Shah is an economics and development professional currently working with a foundation in New York City, USA.