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.

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.

 

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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.

The Flu in Focus: Epidemiology, History and Research of Global Influenza

I live in Baltimore, USA and it has been getting cold here. The nippy winds have been turning my nose red and when I come inside, I always need to have a tissue handy. With the cold weather, there is a looming fear of the flu.

Even if it is not winter where you live, the flu is a serious concern especially for older adults. The flu season in North America generally peaks in the winter months, somewhere between December – February. In tropical climates, however, the flu can strike at any time of the year. As you can see from the map, huge swaths of the world including Russia, Australia, and parts of Europe and the Middle East are experiencing higher levels of the flu, and areas in South America, and South Asia and North Africa are experiencing moderate flu levels. Most of the recent flu outbreaks, including the much-feared Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), were particularly deadly for older adults.

 Photo Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

                                                                                        Photo Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

For a healthy young or middle-aged adult, the flu will generally lead to physical discomfort and some sick days from work, but it is typically not a deadly disease. The flu can be very deadly for older adults. Older adults often have weakened immune systems that make it harder for them to fight off the flu virus. In addition, hospitals and nursing homes can provide an ideal environment for the transmission of the flu virus, even when nurses and doctors take proper safety precautions.

The flu is more than just a problem for older adults. For instance, the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 was a worldwide killer that was particularly deadly for healthy young adults. The Spanish Flu resulted in the deaths of between 40- 50 million people worldwide, or approximately the modern population of South Korea. Take a moment to consider the implications of a virus so deadly that it could wipe out the population of a country in less than a year. With modern air travel, the danger of a new strain of the flu is even more acute. Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 people die in an average year with a normal flu season, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

The flu is a particularly challenging virus because it frequently mutates. Scientists originally believed that the 1918 flu mutated from a form of flu commonly found in pigs, and the “swine flu” has since been observed in different parts of the world. However, evidence has shown that the 1918 flu was likely an avian bird flu that transferred into humans. If you are interested in learning more about the scientific search for the flu virus, the book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata is an excellent read.

WHO tracks the flu to try to predict the strain of flu that will be most common in a given year. In addition, WHO has a global action plan to increase the availability of the influenza vaccine. It is important that all countries, not just rich nations, have access to a flu vaccine. In India, Indonesia, Romania, Republic of Korea, and Thailand, new manufacturers are now producing the flu vaccine, thanks to WHO grants. Other developing countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa have also been given grants to improve flu vaccine manufacturing capabilities.

A flu pandemic should not keep you awake at night, but it is important that countries and international bodies are prepared for the possibility of a more deadly strain of the flu. Modern medical advances will likely increase the probability of surviving such a flu outbreak, but older adults and the immuno-compromised are always at higher risk of death or complications due to respiratory infections. The goal is to promote healthy-living strategies, such as good diet and exercise, to improve the immune system and protect at-risk populations from the flu virus and other infections.

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Aquatic Wellness: Designing Functional Pools for A Personalized Experience

“This design to the length, reach, and breadth parameters of the body human translates into the least amount of energy, water, and space for the most exercise and traction. Do more with less…then reuse it.” The Vertical Pool

Aquatic therapy is a process wherein the body is submerged in a pool of warm water and made to perform movements for physical rehabilitation and recovery after an illness or injury. Many populations including seniors and veterans with disabilities are subject to physical limitations that can be improved through aquatic therapy, including internal organ function like pulmonary and cardiovascular efficiency.

As a professional aquatic practitioner, I have always dreamed of patenting my own pool design on a small footprint to economize on space and expense. A pool does not need to be large; it needs to be deep. After studying up on all the in-home and sports medicine pools on the market, I grew frustrated that not one pool – even at the cost of more than $60,000 – could meet my three critical requirements of internal pool depth of more than 54 inches, small in size and a sloping ramp access. This was until just a few months ago when a prospective buyer sought out one of my professional association member bulletin boards for a recommendation about what kind of pool to choose for her home. It was then that I learned about the Vertical Pool (TVP).

The Vertical Pool (TVP) has an internal depth of 67 inches – a full 13 inches deeper than most other small pools on the market. This meets two of my three criteria: internal depth and small size. I found several other redeeming features which offset the lack of my third requirement of a ramp access. Some of these redeeming features include a cross-bar above the deep section of the pool to hang from, an easy way to disassemble and relocate the pool, and an unprecedented price – features I have never seen in any pool during my 25 years in the field of aquatic therapy.

Additionally, aspects like specially designed accessories to clean the pool, a shower massage hose, an adjustable floor, and even a rudimentary device known as a “swimhorse” – a support frame that enables people to swim in place and horizontally – coupled with an eye for conservation, make this pool more than amazing! The more I considered TVP and my personal needs, the less hesitant I became about the modest $12,000 investment. After all, I can break it down and take it with me when I move. Even the biggest name-brand on the in-home pool market cannot be broken down and re-assembled with a base purchase price of $12,000.

Being the daughter of a World War II Navy Commander, and a considerate “fish out of water” who is passionate about the limitless benefits of working out or relaxing in water, I was particularly impressed with the million-dollar investment of TVP inventor, Peter G. Hold. Hold designed and created a functional personal pool that many wounded members of the armed forces may afford.

While many of my professional peers can argue that these soldiers need to be in class and supervised, both for socialization and safety, I have come to realize that many veterans with disabilities may not be able to attend classes in a community pool for a multitude of reasons. And if they cannot attend classes, they will not gain improved functional goals attained by aquatic therapy. Therefore, it is sometimes easier to rely upon a caregiver for the occassional visit to a class or therapist, and then be able to have “homework” to do in one’s own Vertical Pool.

As industry icon Dr. Igor Burdenko, whom I interviewed for this article, said in response to my question about how the Vertical Pool will impact the industry of aquatic exercise and therapy, “I see that this pool has an opportunity to be used all over the world. Nothing comes even close!” For more information, please visit The Vertical Pool and Aquatic Therapy Foundation. Make sure to access the ATTRIBUTES tab on The Vertical Pool website and scroll down to Dr. Burdenko’s explanation of the value of vertical.

Photo Credit: Felecia Fischell                                  

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.

HO-HO-H2O: Aquatic Therapy and Exercise Gifts

For the Christmas season, Felecia Fischell, aquatic specialist, has written a personal piece on  shopping for aquatic gifts.

The noodle is by far the most useful and versatile piece of aquatic equipment, and experientially speaking, HYDRO-FIT® sells the best product on the market. The HYDRO-FIT density foam has the longest shelf life I have ever seen. Several lasted more than 10 years, being used in a fresh water lake, saltwater cruise ship pool, chlorinated swimming pool, hot tub and the ocean. Currently referenced on their website, HYDRO-FIT sells the 54-inch long, 3.25-inch diameter solid noodles for $11.95 plus shipping. The shipping was considered “oversized” and therefore more expensive. However, I would rather purchase them again, as an eco-conscious consumer, because I have seen way too many of these equipment deteriorate and crumble in as little as one calendar year of indoor swimming pool use. Financially speaking, a $12 noodle, lasting 10+ years, is less expensive than buying $3 noodles every year or two. Because they are solid, not hollow, and made of superior foam, noodles retain their flotation properties well and do not become easily waterlogged. If you purchase a noodle, it can be straddled or wrapped around the back under the arms and may negate a need for the more expensive waist belt.

Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.
Photo Credit: Courtesy from HYDRO-FIT, Inc.

Waist belts are particularly useful when training in deep water. Low back support and aid in maintaining a vertical posture, when striding and pressing through the water with limbs can be important. This is so as not to compromise safest form through movement. There are many brands of belts and since this may truly be a personal comfort matter, it is difficult to recommend a specific one. Most belts should fit snugly around the midsection, almost as if the person cannot breathe when out of the water. The belt should not have dangling loose parts or get in the way of arm or leg movement through their fullest range of motion. Since waist belts are not often used in therapy as in exercise, this article provides tips to consider, rather than recommending a preferred brand. Please note, however, that belts which are straps with flotation “pillows” can be placed in different locations along the strap secured around the body. This may not only impede some movement but also increase the risk of losing the safest vertical form.

HYDRO-FIT still makes many of my most favorite products and during the Christmas season, their $100 cuff kit is being sold for $85. This kit includes a pair of webbed gloves (thin), a pair of hand buoys, a set of cuffs (which can be used not only on ankles or arms, but also buckled together to form a waist belt), and a very useful, sturdy mesh tote. I have enjoyed using other brand webbed gloves, as they do not need to be rolled down off the hand from the wrist, to prevent stretching that occurs if pulled off from the fingertips. Novice users do not require the added resistance and power of thicker, more robust gloves. Hence, the “wave mitts” included in this kit are perfect for beginner.

All of the items mentioned (highlighted and underscored) so far, except the gloves, are buoyancy equipment. The webbed gloves are drag equipment, as are paddles, bells and blades. Drag equipment is useful in that it works “omnidirectionally.” When under water, the drag equipment can train muscle parity (balance between complementary muscle pairs) more smoothly as it is not buoyant and likely to pop up to the surface. Muscle parity is frequently a more desirable objective in the outcome of rehabilitation and developing proper function for daily activities.

Paddles have evolved in design and form such that there are now glove-like devices that can be worn. There are far more designs and manufacturers of these than the paddles I use and started using more than 20 years ago. Comments based upon experience allow me to reference a pair of paddles that are hand-held, about 17-inch long and have a disc at each end. There is a center dial, allowing for adjustment of the triangular openings around the inner diameter of each disc. Water flows through the adjusted openings, making the resistance minutely modifiable. They are inexpensive, at less than $20 per pair, and withstand the test of age and durability. Water Gear Aquaflex manufactures these paddles and they can be obtained from many online vendors, including Swim2000.com. Persons with gripping issues or especially compromised wrist joints should not necessarily use such paddles.

max Blades and Bells by AquaLogix are inexplicably a new favorite. Purchased just a little over a year ago, their durable plastic polymer construction gives a sturdy appearance and I have found them easy to don, care for, carry and use. The bells come in three different sizes and the grip handles, inside the bells, make the equipment particularly comfortable to hold. The blades almost appear to be the innards of a turbine engine, and they are attached to a velcro strap that cinches around each ankle (or wrist/forearm). Using drag equipment is beneficial to those who prefer developing their strength by controlling the amount of force to move the equipment through water. Such folks do not want the feature of buoyancy to support their extremities when working out in the water.

From the Nekdoodle to the Wonderboard and Buoyancy Wrap by Sprint Aquatics, there is SO much product on the market today. Swim Outlet is one online clearinghouse for aquatic equipment of all sorts including suits, shoes, videos and electronics. Purchase choices are greatest through internet sources, where name brand sources can sometimes be found at small discounts. Store bought products are usually of lesser quality and cannot be supported for replacement, like many manufacturer websites. The choices are numerous, overwhelming and sometimes hard to decide. Visiting local aquatic and therapy facilities that use equipment is a great way to try out products before making the investment. There is no harm in asking if you may borrow or even test out the products in a pool facility during a non-busy time. Just make sure to bring your own towel and be prepared with a swimsuit worn under your clothes or kept in the car. Have fun helping yourself, a friend or loved one celebrate a positively Buoyant New Year!

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.

Microneedles: A New Innovation in Medical Care for the Elderly

Photo Credit: Peter DeMuth, Wellcome Images
Photo Credit: Peter DeMuth, Wellcome Images

 

Rita Barrock is an 84-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. She lives in a nursing home, where she has to be under constant supervision. One of the daily challenges that the nurses who care for her face, is getting her to take her medication. As an Alzheimer’s patient, Barrock is not always compliant with her medication – she often forgets why she needs to take the several multicolored pills that she is given three times a day and throws a fuss that is both disruptive to the home as well as detrimental to her own well-being. [1]

One in three senior citizens in the USA dies with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In sub-Saharan Africa, the current population of older adults is 46 million and is estimated to reach 157 million by 2050. A number of these people have HIV and yet another portion contract a whole host of other diseases on a regular basis. By 2050, India’s aging population is set to be 323 million, 45 percent of whom will carry the entire country’s disease burden, the most prevalent of which is diabetes. There are currently 197 million elderly living in poverty, 40 percent of whom live alone.

Anyone who has spent time with grandparents or other elderly folk have been privy at some point or another to their daily intake of medication. However, research proves that for a number of different reasons, older populations tend to be less regimented than younger ones when it comes to swallowing the pill. In a study of 34,501 coronary heart disease patients aged 65 or older, for example, only 26 percent continued to use their medication five years into their regimen.

Common reasons for abandoning the intake of medication include the number of pills prescribed and the stigma of taking oral or injectable medication. Apart from not wanting to take medication, and medical conditions that prevent older folk from making coherent decisions regarding their health; poverty, lack of access to medication and inadequate health literacy – for instance, the inability to correctly inject oneself with insulin – also deter seniors from following their medical routine.

With so many barriers, it is time to rethink the way people ingest medication. Some progress being made in this field includes extended-release tablets that minimize the daily dosage one needs to take. Over the last few years, there has been another technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way people medicate. Microneedle technology is a new drug delivery system that relies on a transdermal release of medication. Imagine a small patch of biodegradable polymeric protein or silicone with several microscopic needles embedded in it. The needles are coated with medication and are applied in the same way one would apply a nicotine patch. Their small size makes them a minimally invasive, easily applicable, pain-free way to medicate, that is also devoid of the stigma of the pill.

Microneedles are still in the testing stages. They are currently being developed for use in insulin for diabetes, quantum dots for cancer, TB testing, gene delivery and several immunizations, including HIV, tetanus, polio, and influenza (plasmid DNA). In addition, it is primarily universities such as Georgia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, MIT, and some international institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Tokai University of Japan, that are developing this technology, with a view to disseminating more effective vaccines in developing countries. There are, however, a handful of private enterprises investing in the technology for mass production such as California-based TheraJect.

Medical technology is a dynamic field that has the potential to significantly change the quality of life for older adults. This population should be recognized as a vital market for technologies like microneedles.

[1] This particular story is fictional. It is based on the experiences of older adults in nursing homes.

Sachi Shah is a recent graduate with a degree in International Development and Economics from Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

Aquatic Therapy Facilities: Focusing on Water Quality, Air Temperature and Noise

In October of 2015, Global Health Aging celebrated National Physical Therapy Month by publishing a weekly four-part series on aquatic therapy. Part 3 of the series touched on three major considerations when looking for aquatic facilities. Herein, the blog continues to examine other factors that may contribute to new participants’ decisions in selecting a facility, especially when there is more than one facility in close proximity to the patron. In December, be sure to look for suggestions on equipment for new patrons’ holiday wish list.

Photo Credit: Penn State
Photo Credit: Penn State

Air Temperature

It is very important for patrons to be comfortable and warm when exercising in the water. If a patron tends to get cold, he or she can purchase a partial wetsuit or wet vest. A less expensive option is to simply wear a snug-fitting long sleeve shirt (over the top of a swimsuit, if female). When air temperatures are significantly cooler than the water temperature, a swim cap or even a knit ski type cap can greatly reduce the amount of heat lost through the head. This will help insure that the participant remains comfortably warm in the pool.

Noise Level and Water Quality

These two considerations are rare options that patrons can control when selecting a facility, unless they are willing to pay or drive to destinations farther than what is locally available. Most often, if using a public facility like a YMCA or athletic club, there is little choice available to the participant. However, it is worth noting, just to be certain, that these conditions will not impede or hamper participation.

Regarding noise level, natatoriums tend to have a lot of extraneous noise. If multiple groups are working simultaneously in either different areas of the same pool or within the same room, noise interference between the groups may diminish a participant’s satisfaction and focus. In classes designed for senior citizens who generally may have more trouble hearing than children, classes for children, like swim lessons, should not be scheduled at the same time as classes for seniors. Children naturally want to scream, especially when splashed. Hence, it is fun for them and a good release of their anxieties, as they are not yet comfortable in the water. It is not fair to expect children to be quiet, nor is it fair to expect seniors to enjoy their classes when they cannot hear the instructor and focus on the work to be done.

When selecting a facility, water quality is another consideration that may be of concern Most pools today still use either a chlorine or bromine system to kill off harmful contaminants like bacteria. While salt pools and ion filters are more prevalent in smaller pools, they may also pose challenges to patrons with skin sensitivities. Water quality is not controlled by patrons in public facilities, therefore participants are better able to tolerate the harshness of the chemicals used in pools, by showering, prior to entering the pool. Most patrons consider showering an important responsibility to rid the body of oils, lotions, deodorants and perfumes that may add to the cloudiness of water. But few do not understand that they are doing themselves a disservice by not rinsing off before entering the pool. When a patron is already soaking wet, including their swimsuit and hair, he or she has saturated the oils etc., reducing the potential for chemicals to adhere to their skin, hair and swimsuit. By showering before entering the pool, a patron protects him or herself as well as the quality of the pool water.

Sound Systems

Sound systems deserve some brief mention as they can often be helpful when overcoming noise interference or hearing deficits. Sound systems are also good for playing music which not only adds to the enjoyment of many class programs, but the music sets the tempo and cadence for movement. There are some sound systems that play music over speakers outside the pool and the instructor may be either on the pool deck, leading the class or in the water. An instructor may wear a microphone headset that transmits a wireless voice signal to be broadcast through the speakers, if the sound system is waterproof. The choice of music can also induce relaxation in some cases.

If a patron of aquatic therapy returns to the pool to practice or perform assigned exercises without an instructor present, waterproof personal systems can add enjoyment and motivation to a patron’s aquatic therapy session. One of the most ingenious products on the market today is called a SwiMP3. The aquatic patron downloads a song list to a waterproof MP3 player and listens to the music through headphones that are actually placed adjacent to the ears on the jawbone, and the sound is perceived through bone conduction. Amazing!

Since touring an aquatic facility is exhaustive, it may be worth choosing to contract for a “trial” membership. If the patron chooses to no longer participate, the expense of a long-term membership commitment is not lost. Aquatic therapy and exercise are not only good for physical well-being, the socialization and relationships that are created in the water tend to last for years. As with most things in life, change is difficult. Choosing to begin an aquatic program is a huge investment of time and energy. Establishing a regular routine can be challenging, but when that commitment becomes routine, the benefits become SO evident that few will stop coming. Aquatics are good for life!

Felecia Fischell is an aquatic specialist with 25 years experience in aquatics. She leads aquatic classes and consults as an aquatic personal trainer and a swim instructor in and around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA. The Founder of FunLife Aquatics Consulting and Personal Training, Felecia presents at health fairs and has given aquatic presentations to high schools, Howard County Board of Education, Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Brains Healthy Across the Lifespan: Is It Really As Easy As Counting to 5?

Photo Credit: Allan Bergman
Photo Credit: Allan Bergman

Research over the last 20 years on the impact of lifestyle on brain health indicates that how people live each day can strongly influence the delay and potential prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. To appreciate the full weight of these findings, the World Alzheimer’s Report 2014 estimates that if dementia is delayed for just five years, incidence would be cut by half! By 2030, this delay translates to nearly 44 million people who will not succumb to dementia, and estimated financial savings for individuals, their families and global health systems is projected to exceed $600 billion.

Risk for age-related brain disease, the number one fear of people over 50 in the USA, begins decades before symptoms appear. The appeal of embracing a protective lifestyle is a welcomed alternative and becomes increasingly important from middle age onward. While the brain’s plasticity across the lifespan means that it is never too late to benefit from healthy lifestyle choices, the rule of ‘use it or lose it’  implies that loss of unused neural networks, skills and healthy habits are harder to recapture the older people get.

Figuring out how to live each day may not be so simple. Though multiple studies show a difference in types of daily activities for people who did not develop dementia versus those that did, pinpointing WHAT activities is complex. Researcher Jaak Panksepp’s work sheds light on wired at birth brain networks that need to stay active across the entire lifespan to effectively promote survival and longevity for mammals. These include seeking, play, care and restoration. Scientific news reports also tout the importance of sleep, exercise, diet, leisure activities, antioxidants and other factors supporting brain health. In general, beneficial lifestyle activities create awareness and reflection, involve physical activity, promote heightened engagement and connection to people, pique interest, and more.

Frequency counts! The above-referenced research suggests that those who did not develop dementia engaged in at least five beneficial activities per day, five days a week. Given that average cognitive decline for people over 60 is 1-2 percent per year, frequency appears to be very important to avoid this slippery slope. Actual improvement in cognitive function will also likely require MORE than these activity levels. For most, this runs counter to conventional thinking about aging, which tells people to slow down or retire as they age.

Brains are better off if individuals participate in beneficial activities such as good sleep, exercise, learning and play; and people engage in interesting, fun hobbies five times a day, five days a week. Due to the slippery slope of decline per year, people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives by staying active. The goal is not to overwork the body to keep brains healthy, so below are two mechanisms that promote wholesome lifestyles and offer protection if people take time out because of illness, injury, or vacation.

1. The longer people engage in beneficial activities, the more cognitive reserves they build, which protect against cognitive decline. Education and physical exercise are the primary ‘reserve’ builders. Education across the lifespan is the best way to maintain and improve brain functioning, and the more physical exercise people do over many years, the greater resiliency their bodies have to fight unhealthy aging. Reserves will kick in for protection if injury, illness or an abundance of stress occurs. Even those with ailments can partake in tailored activities that ensure the highest possible quality of life.

2. It is possible to multiply the benefit of each activity by adding ‘boosters’. There are a number of ways to do this, but for simplicity’s sake, counting to five is ideal:

  • Add social engagement to any activity throughout each day.
  • Weave a physical element into whatever you are doing – work up a sweat as you vacuum, go for a walk while on the phone, take action breaks when sitting for extended periods.
  • Choose activities that are meaningful to you – be with people you care about, do things you consider important and have always wanted to do.
  • Love what you do! Choose activities that make you and others laugh, that make you feel great, and that bring out the best in you.
  • Try new things, meet new people, stretch your mind and body in ways you have not done before.

By counting to five – five activities a day, five days a week, five boosters that add up to five more years of brain health – one can reap a potential lifetime of health benefits for both the brain and body.

Joan Parsons, MBA and MS Certificate in Interpersonal Neurobiology, is founder and CEO of Lifestyle Rewired. The company offers lifestyle assessments, High Value Activity Programs and Immersion Travel Programs that enrich and protect brain health. Joan’s mother Sally developed dementia in her 70’s, becoming the inspiration to identify how such a vital woman could succumb to brain disease at a relatively young age. Researching hundreds of studies on the impact of lifestyle on the brain enabled the team to develop concepts and models to support life long brain health, hence Lifestyle Rewired was born. The company’s programs and tools focus on activities that inspire learning, new experiences, and meaningful human connection. 

Technology for the Tech-Shy: Designing New Applications for Older Adults

In the digital and connected world, older adults are seemingly left behind. Tech companies continue to design products that cater to young adults, even in the generation of social media. As phone calls and snail mail are dangerously slow and outdated, why should the elderly not benefit from advances in communication? Fortunately there is a growing number of mobile and tablet applications that cater to the elderly population. These apps help to improve quality of life and communication channels with family, friends and healthcare providers.

For example, Oscar aims to enhance the lives of seniors as well as help seniors keep in touch with their family, friends or caregivers. Oscar is an easy-to-use, remotely managed communication tablet app that allows tech-shy elderly known as the ‘seniors’  to remain connected with family, friends and healthcare professionals known as the ‘juniors’. The app boasts of a simple interface which allows users to communicate via text, pictures, voice and video calls. Additionally, it provides a ‘Live View’ of the application on the elder’s tablet and allows the ‘junior’ to fix or update relevant items remotely. The technology also provides reminders, weather alerts and games. Apart from communication, Oscar is a platform for apps with the possibility of adding or removing applications depending on the user’s proficiency and interest. Keep your eyes peeled for the iOS version that is coming soon!

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Two finance applications that target the elderly are Mint and Check. Like Oscar, both apps boast of simple interfaces which present relevant financial data in one simplified format. Both applications also provide reminders for paying bills, tracking payments, and helping with creating and managing budgets. A primary difference is that Check is only available on Apple iPads, while Mint is available on both Android and Apple operating systems.

In addition to communication and finances, healthcare is another important consideration with the elderly population. WebMD and Blood Pressure Monitor are great applications, allowing seniors to monitor and learn more about their health. Finally, there are a whole host of games apps to improve cognition and memory such as Luminosity and Elevate. Luminosity focuses on cognitive abilities, while Elevate focuses on reading, writing and mathematics. Both are fun, and we encourage everyone to check them out!

While being acutely aware that some of these apps are only accessible to people with adequate financial resources, such people can invest in mobile applications to remain connected, enlightened and lead an improved quality of life.

Seniors are part of the digital world, hence they should benefit from advances in communication than be left behind. The goal is to design products, free or cost-effective, which will improve the quality of life of older adults. It is, therefore, encouraging to see a number of companies collaborating with seniors to design great products. Since technology can also benefit this population, corporations are recognizing the value and contribution of older adults.

Oscar, Mint, WebMD, etc., have great potential to improve health outcomes among the elderly as well as provide a comfortable and healthy life. The video below shows more useful apps for the elderly.

Namratha Rao is pursuing a MSPH in Social and Behavioral Interventions in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Sexual Health and Intimacy in Later Life

The concept that older adults cannot have intimacy or a satisfying sex life is misleading. One basic need involves emotionally based relationships which play a vital role in the overall human experience. People have a universal need to belong and to love and having intimate relationships provides social networks and emotional support to older adults.

Photo Credit: Alex Proimos
Photo Credit: Alex Proimos

As people grow older, they want and need to be close to others. This includes the desire to continue an active and satisfying sex life despite changes in sexual behavior. Older adults may be impaired by infirmity but relationship needs such as closeness and sexual desire still remain. Many seniors can have sexual relationships, and probably a few others find ways to maintain or rekindle intimacy and a satisfying sex life as they age.

Health plays a key role in the level of older adults’ sexual activity. Many chronic health conditions such as pain as well decreased sexual desires due to emotional or health problems can affect sexual health. Health professionals have known that sexual dysfunction is not only a major problem for relationships and mental health, but can be an indicator of serious physical health issues such as heart disease. Older adults need preventive health screenings to reduce sexual problems. In addition, older women can improve the quality of their sexual experiences by aggressively managing their health conditions.

Age does not protect seniors from sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, older adults who are sexually active may be at risk for diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes, among other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It has been reported that the number of older adults with HIV/AIDS is growing. While casual sex offers only a moment of emotional intimacy. It does not provide the love and commitment of a serious relationship.

In conclusion, older adults need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from a social group or connections. This desire to belong can bring about companionship and intimacy among seniors. Sex and older adults is still a taboo in some societies and often ignored. It is paramount that sexual health becomes a vital component of the quality of life for seniors.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.