North America is bounded to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west, and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea. It is the third largest continent by area and the fourth by population.
Our body is home to about 300 to 500 different types of bacteria. They can be found in our gastrointestinal tract. While some of these bacteria are good and some bad, all of them are crucial to our gut health.
Telling if our gut is healthy does not require us to act upon our feelings. There are clear signs that indicate a healthy gut, more importantly clearer signs that indicate an unhealthy one.
An upset tummy
Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea are everyday struggles that we ignore. These are clear indications of an unhealthy GI tract. One of the key responsibilities of the gut is to help the body eliminate waste. While each person has unique bowel movement cycles, it is important to have a consistent and regular one. A regular poop cycle can be anywhere between once every three days to twice in one day.
Unintentional change in body weight
Losing or gaining weight, unintentionally, is a sign of poor gut health.
Weight loss is commonly caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO. The presence of excessive bacteria in the small intestines is detrimental to food and nutrient absorption, emphasizing yet again the importance of bad and good bacteria. Nutritional deficiency and weight loss are the most obvious symptoms of SIBO.
Weight gain, on the other hand, can be attributed to insulin resistance. When excessive sugar regulates in the body, we develop insulin resistance – making us susceptible to diabetes and other lifestyle diseases.
Often mistaken for food allergies, food intolerances are certain foods that our bodies have a hard time to digest, process, absorb nutrients from, and finally excrete. Bacterial imbalance in our gut, and the absence of good gut bacteria is what causes food intolerance. Abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, gas, are some of the most common side effects of food intolerances and a sign of poor gut health.
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Name: Mo Al-Khalaf Job: Cardiac Immunology Research Fellow Country: Canada Age: 36
Dr. Mo Al-Khalaf is a graduate from the University of Ottawa, with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. He also holds a Bachelors’ and Masters’ in Science in the field of Biochemistry from Concordia University (Montreal, QC). He is currently the University of Ottawa Cardiac Research Endowed Fellow at the Ottawa Heart Institute. Dr. Al-Khalaf’s ongoing research aims to shed new light on accelerated cardiac aging and organ failure. In addition to his ongoing biomedical research, Dr. Al-Khalaf’s interests in advocacy and community support are reflected in his multiple roles in various local, national and international committees, to advocate for early career professionals and highlight research within the cardiovascular community. Dr. Al-Khalaf is an experienced science communicator that contributes to multiple media platforms, including a monthly blog at the American Heart Association, BEaTS Research Radio interviews with scientists and medical professionals, and official social media representative for the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and American Heart Association early career professionals, discussing and promoting science and issues related to the wide healthcare and academia sectors. Find him on Twitter and Instagram.
On his scientific research experience:
“My early research centered on skeletal muscle development and composition, from stems cells to adult tissue fibers, focusing on the various effects of DNA damage and response mechanisms in determining muscle biology. My post-doctoral research aims to shed new light on the connections between cardiac and systematic effects of DNA damage response, specifically in the realm of activation of innate immune pathways leading to detrimental inflammation within tissues and the body, ultimately causing accelerated aging and organ failure. The goal of this research is to understand the fundamental causes of pro-inflammatory states within the cardiovascular system, and to develop novel therapeutic strategies to reduce the increasing burden of heart disease on global populations.”
On preventing DNA damage that causes illness and disease:
“When it comes to DNA damage, triggers or sources causing this damage are quite numerous. Some come from outside the body, like sunlight or unhealthy or dangerous working environments; while some triggers are initiated from within the body, like mutations in the DNA maintenance machinery, or a dysfunction in energy production, which can lead to stress-induced dangerous molecules within cells that can break DNA strands. Generally this happens to everyone & all the time, it’s the cost of biological living! But most species, and especially us humans, have evolved over the years a lot of DNA “Quality Control” instruments (proteins) that help in surveillance, upkeep, repair, and even proper disposal of damaged DNA content beyond salvaging. These are collectively called the DNA Damage Response mechanisms, and that’s my main area of focus in biology.”
On why he decided to study the science of aging:
“Early in my science path I’ve spent a number of years in a fundamental discovery biology setting, where the team involved was focused on understanding previously unknown roles of various DNA Damage repair proteins, contributing to the published literature some greater insight into these mechanisms. I wanted to advance my research career to be more targeted towards improving health and translating scientific discovery into more immediately beneficial biomedical knowledge and use. With that thought in mind, I transitioned my work in DNA damage response into an area of human biology where DNA damage plays a major part in how the body functions, and that is where I pivoted to aging research. So much of biological aging is a consequence of increased DNA damage, coupled with a decreasing potential for DNA repair. If we can better target and rebalance this equation (lessen DNA damage burden, and bolster the DNA repair capacity) then it could be possible for us to reduce the negative effects of biological aging on the body, while keeping all the advantages of healthy aging! That’s the future I work every day for.”
On the top three things to do to prevent heart disease:
“When it comes to heart, or more generally, cardiovascular diseases (CVD), I see so much potential for vast improvement. Did you know that the number one cause of mortality worldwide is cardiovascular diseases! And did you know that future projections show that the burden of CVD is going to increase even more! Generally speaking, to reduce the global cardiovascular health crisis, we need to improve on current levels of healthcare access, healthcare education and continue to innovate and discovery better healthcare solutions. This is why only a systematic and multidisciplinary approach of bringing physicians/scientists/developers/teachers/policy makers is going to effective in reducing this burden. On an individual level, I can certainly recommend healthy diet and exercise (with an emphasis on cardiovascular endurance type of training of course!). Importantly, I think being mindful and proactive in maintaining/improving one’s personal health is the key to healthier life and aging. The more we prioritize our individual health, the better our chances are in keeping that “DNA damage / DNA repair” balance tipped towards a beneficial and desired outcome!”
On the importance of effective science communication:
“Recently over the past couple of years, I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for the value of communicating science to a wider set of audience, compared to the more established traditional ways that are used by academics and researchers of all kinds. While there is a lot of good in having research be discussed amongst peers, innovation and collaboration requires that researchers and academics talk a lot to each other and have direct methods of contact, I think there was some value lost in the gap between knowledge shared between scientists and knowledge provided to everyone interested or can benefit from this data. This is where I see science communication being a valuable modern method of sharing information outside the “echo chambers” and “silos” where this information is traditionally found. Social media provides a platform that brings together so many individuals from outside academia and research. Having more science injected into these new media platforms is definitely a vital and welcome new addition to the information sharing ecosystems. I highly encourage more scientists and academics to be active on social media, because these are the ways we can expand our reach. We provide useful data that could make the difference between the truth being out, or the misguided information spreading and distancing individuals from the scientific facts.”
Being mindful and proactive in maintaining AND improving one’s personal health is the key to healthier life and aging.
Video games have become a mainstream activity among older adults who have found functional utility and pleasure in gaming. With better access and ease of use, older adults are using video games to reduce stress, maintain mental sharpness, connect, and to have fun. According to a survey conducted by the AARP, which included 3737 people aged 50 or older, 47 percent of respondents reported playing video games every day. The average respondent spent five hours every week playing video games on tablets, phones, game consoles, or computers. According to the study, the 50-59 age group is experiencing the most significant spike, which is an interesting fact, as this is the generation that grew up playing Ms. Pac-Man and Atari.
While teenagers and especially boys are still the most avid gamers, the grandparents are emerging as an essential player group. An AARP survey reported that more than 10 million U.S. citizens above the age of video had become video gamers between 2016 and 2019. There were more than 40 million gamers in the target age group in 2016, and this number has grown to more than 50 million in 2019. It has a massive implication for companies such as Nintendo and Electronic Arts (EA) that may now create more products targeted towards the older adult market.
According to Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an engineering psychologist, and professor at North Carolina State University, older adult experiences may be enriched, depending on the type of game played. McLaughlin, who was part of the team that conducted the digital games case study, says that the highest benefits usually come from unfamiliar games.Challenging and new games rather than familiar but challenging are thus the right combination because “completely new tasks form new pathways in your brain.” For persons who are just new to the world of gaming, it is essential to start with much simpler games such as Solitaire, online chess, and scrabble. The case study also found that both occasional and regular video gamers benefited a lot from playing. Older adults reported significantly lower rates of depression, better health, more excellent social functioning, and well-being as compared to non-gamers.
While playing to enhance mental acuity is great, some older adults play video games for the sense of community it provides. As such, it is not surprising to find older adults who enjoy video games, especially multiplayer games such as World of WarCraft or Super Mario. According to Greg Portell, head of global consumer industries and retail price at Kearney consulting firm, video games provide a sense of interaction and virtual community because of the isolation many older adults feel. Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks associated with dementia and other serious medical conditions.
Given the many benefits of gaming for older adults, digital entertainment has turned into some form of clinical therapy. The science is still in the formative stage, but studies show that video gaming can address loneliness and loss of purpose that many older adults experience. According to Dr. Kathrin Gerling, an assistant professor of computer science at KU Leuven, a research university in Belgium, gaming restores a sense of accomplishment and agency for older persons. Her paper titled “Designing Video Games for Older Adults and Caregivers” examined the design of interactive technologies to support caregiving relationships through play. Accessible game design and its impact on older adults is a critical area of focus, which can further improve the demographic’s uptake of video games. It can be a very empowering experience for an older gamer to thrive and feel a sense of belonging in an activity that mostly involves younger adults.
A newly released book by first-time author, Breanna Deutsch, proclaims that the world’s largest and most pressing healthcare issue is none other than what the majority of people consider an unwavering part of life: aging. Deutsch asserts that the leading cause of the world’s most critical health conditions—chronic diseases that lead to organ failure, heart problems, immune issues, and a general decline in quality of life, all boil down to the body’s aging process.
In Finding the Fountain: Why Government Must Unlock Biotech’s Potential to Maximize Longevity, Deutsch demands that governments direct more resources to tackle the issue of aging, in particular by taking advantage of biotechnology. She also stresses that while aging may seem inevitable, much can be done to impede, reverse, and possibly even prevent it altogether. For example, IV Therapy promises to help boost immunity, but IV therapy costs are not low-cost. Consumers should also be aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor the supplements in IV therapy.
As a resource that adopts and encourages others to embrace a positive view of aging as a healthy, normal part of life, our goal is to also encourage and welcome honest dialogue with those we disagree with, such as Deutsch. This is because everyone is growing older, older people still exist, and the aging population, like other age groups, brings both challenges and opportunities.
Deutsch suggests that although global life expectancy has gone up in recent years—the United Nations estimates it at a record 72.6 years—the assortment of ailments that plague the elderly makes the uptick in years hardly worth it. She claims that while technologies exist to combat the cell death that leads to aging, these treatments often face roadblocks which prevent them from making it to hospitals or centers that are accessible to the everyday person.
While we agree with Deutsch that agingincreases vulnerability to age-associated diseases, we disagree that the increase in life expectancy is hardly worth it. There are benefits with living longer, from increased productivity to boost the economy, to intergenerational connections that give the child and the older adult a sense of purpose. The fact people are living longer but not necessarily healthier does not imply that aging is at fault. Instead, it means we have and continue to put little focus on prevention.
Healthy aging does not begin when we are older adults. It starts in our younger years. How young? As soon as we arrive in this world! Putting a greater focus on tackling social determinants of health (SDOH) will reap faster dividends than current biotechnology therapies for aging and longevity, which are either expensive or not FDA-cleared or approved. We need more research and better resource allocation into SDOH because, for several years, SDOH has only been popular among public health practitioners and recently moved into the policy domain.
We also cannot forget that beyond focusing on genetics plays a critical role in how we age. For example, family studies demonstrated that about 25 percent of the variation in human longevity is due to genetic factors. However, promoting proven public health interventions can help mitigate chronic conditions that accompany aging.
As both scientists and science communicators, our team at GHA are careful about current language toward aging, which could lead to ageism. Because, at the moment, everyone is growing older, older people still exist, and the aging population, like other age groups, brings both challenges and opportunities.
Deutsch’s book offers a step toward the future by putting pressure on the government to aid its citizens in taking care of their overall health. While we take a different approach, we also believe in prioritizing the goal of prevention and allocating the necessary funds to reach it. Ultimately, the saying prevention is better than cure always rings true.
There are many shocking stories about the way older people have been treated by friends, family members, and even nursing home employees.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), elder abuse can lead to physical injuries – ranging from minor scratches and bruises to broken bones and disabling injuries – and serious, sometimes long-lasting, psychological consequences, including depression and anxiety. For older people, the consequences of abuse can be especially serious and take a longer time to recover.
Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. Victims often become more confused, frail, and unhappy with their circumstances as they are abused and exploited. Older adults, in particular, need advocates, such as elder abuse lawyers, health professionals, and social service agencies, among others.
In addition to the health and social problems linked to elder abuse, older adults are left feeling undervalued and underappreciated, a sobering fact that another human being would deem another human being less than them.
As stated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “…all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, which among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Older adults deserve to be treated with dignity, feel loved, and cared for since every life across the age spectrum is precious. If not, ageism (discrimination and stereotyping based on age) will continue to prevail because ageism is linked to elder abuse. Health care professionals can help to revolutionize society through health education, empowerment, and advocacy.
Elder abuse is more common than anyone might think. Itis a critical public health issue that results in poor health outcomes and increased mortality among older adults of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, social classes, geographic areas, faith communities, mental capacities, and physical abilities. Until service providers work together to address this problem, elder abuse will continue with devastating societal implications for older adults and their loved ones.
This is part of a series about aging in the twenty-first century.
Name: Dr. Michelle Caunca Job: Epidemiologist and Fourth-Year Medical Student Country: United States Age: 29
Dr. Michelle R. Caunca is a Ph.D. in Epidemiology and Fourth-Year Medical Student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F30) Fellow, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and sponsored by Tatjana Rundek, MD, Ph.D. and Clinton B. Wright, MD, MS. She is also supported by the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. Her dissertation work focused on examining the relationships between regional MRI markers of brain aging and cognitive performance in a racially/ethnically diverse, urban sample using data from the Northern Manhattan Study. She received her BSc in Neurobiology with a minor in Psychology at the University of California, Irvine in 2013, graduating cum laude with Honors inBiological Sciences and Campuswide Honors. Connect with Dr. Caunca on Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.
On her research about brain aging:
“Much of my research has focused on elucidating the relationships between cerebrovascular disease and cognitive function and decline in racially and ethnically diverse populations. I view cerebrovascular disease, and vascular disease in general, as a common pathway for many different upstream determinants of cognitive decline and dementia. These upstream determinants include comorbid health and psychosocial risk factors, but also social determinants of health.
My approach is based on a population neuroscience perspective, combining the disciplines of neuroscience with epidemiology and biostatistics to properly leverage large, epidemiologic datasets that often have high-dimensional neuroimaging data available. I have used methods that span many different disciplines, including marginal structural modeling, structural equation modeling, and machine learning. During my undergraduate career, I worked in the 90+ Study under the mentorship of Claudia H. Kawas, MD, and Maria Corrada, ScD, where I wrote my Honors thesis on amyloid PET imaging and cognitive performance in the oldest-old.
On a surprising fact about working with diverse populations:
“One fact I learned was that more translation from research to the community and population needs to be done to address racial disparities in health. My recent paper examining the effects of racial segregation on cognitive function inspired me to continue this line of work in the future. As an MD/Ph.D. trainee, I am a translation-focused scientist, and I would like to see more efforts done to reduce disparities vs. describe them. There are so many other wonderful researchers out there who are working on these very issues – I would love to be part of this movement for neuroepidemiology.”
On why she decided to pursue an MD-PhD:
“I had a wonderful mentor in college (Claudia Kawas, MD) who inspired me! She was and is my role model. I had the honor of being her undergraduate trainee, working in her epidemiology research group. I was enamored with the idea that you could treat patients one-on-one, then use those experiences to inform research questions that you could attempt to answer with data science and epidemiology. She told me I should go for the MD/Ph.D., so I did, and I’m so glad. It’s a very fun and challenging path. Therefore, role models are important! I aspire to become an academic neurologist and epidemiologist studying the vascular and social determinants of cognitive aging to translate epidemiological findings into public health and clinical practice.”
On practicing self-care in graduate school:
“I had to learn how to prioritize self-care during my MD/Ph.D. training. I honestly did not make it a priority until midway through the program during a particularly difficult period of burnout. I always advise students to be introspective and know how they best care for themselves daily – they’ll figure out how to study for medical school and the techniques needed for their lab, but often we figure out self-care, too little too late!
I love to cook and bake, so the kitchen is a very peaceful place for me. I also love hanging out with my dogs and taking care of them – I am a very embarrassing dog mom! Of course, I like to binge-watch favorite TV shows and YouTube videos, but truly I think the most crucial self-care for me is the daily stuff. Some examples include: making sure I’m cooking healthy food, walking my dogs and getting outside, good skincare/haircare, and keeping in touch with family.”
On how COVID-19 will change healthcare for older adults:
“Of course, I think it’s inevitable that our medical and research systems will be changed. I’m not an expert on infectious disease, so what I’ll say about this is my opinion. Anecdotally, I am super encouraged and excited by the rapid adoption of telehealth services. I like the idea of potentially increasing the reach of care to populations that often find it difficult to travel to see their physicians or travel to university centers for research sessions. This population includes our older folks. With that said, I think that makes the availability and accessibility of the internet and technology to become an area where disparities may develop.”
I like the idea of potentially increasing the reach of care to populations that often find it difficult to travel to see their physicians…This population includes our older folks.
I wanted to write something instructive and useful during this pandemic of COVID-19 which is affecting all of us at this time. At the time of this writing, a large part of Canada is shutting down schools, workplaces and environments which have the potential of spreading this virus. While most of my clients are still coming in person to see me, many have opted for video or telephone sessions in order to stay healthy and protect others from getting sick.
As an individual therapist, I feel a very strong urge to provide a message of calm and to remind everyone that at our core, we are all incredibly strong and resilient- even when faced with such a huge health scare. I feel for those of you who are unable to attend your AA meetings or other self-help/support circles. Also, for those of you who take care of your mental wellness by going to community classes such as yoga or pilates and are now at home following along with videos instead, this is a challenging time.
Clients have brought me stories of how they cannot be with loved ones who have compromised immune systems who would benefit greatly from company and companionship. Others have told me sad tales of having to cancel vacations they had been looking forward to for months, or some concert they had bought tickets to that has been cancelled. A few have told me they were scheduled to attend work conferences they were excited about that were not happening since the spread of COVID-19 increased to dramatic levels.
Could there be an upside in all of this?
After listening to so many stories of how the practice of self-isolation is affecting people in their everyday lives, it struck me that while I cannot control this virus or our health authorities’ dictates on how we must proceed, I can do what I do best as a therapist- provide hope and find the higher meaning in the most difficult situations we find ourselves in.
Finding Hope in the Midst of Crises
I have a little wisdom card on my office desk from a wise mentor of mine which says:
May I learn to be a gardener of life
Nothing comes to birth
As without Light
One of the things I teach every client through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to change their thinking from negative to positive by changing their self-talk and looking for the positives in their lives by writing gratitude lists every day. This goes a long way to lowering anxiety and producing a state of peace and inner calm.
In my experience thus far with watching how the world is reacting to COVID-19, I see the full picture of both graceful and destructive ways people in power are handling things- both the pitfalls and the triumphs. I choose to focus on the part of humanity which views an enormous challenge such as this as a way of building community, finding our caring and compassion for one another, and finding straightforward solutions to solving the problem.
If you look hard enough, you will see these amazing testaments to the resiliency and compassion that we all have within us everywhere.
But if you’re strapped for time like me and want to read about such heartwarming acts of generosity and kindness, click on one of my favourite websites- Tanks Good News. Reading the ‘good news’ stories will turn your frown upside down and leave you feeling hopeful and inspired by good old-fashioned real-life acts of kindness.
Here are some of my favourite stories from that site related to the outbreak of COVID-19 which were posted recently:
I’m sure the list goes on! Here I am going to take the opportunity to ask you to send in your uplifting examples of everyday people doing good things to help others during this pandemic. I will share them with my readers and spread good vibes across cyberspace- I think we all need that right now. Either leave them as a reply at the end of reading this blog post, or email them to me at: estherATestherkane.com
How Can I Best Use this Sanctioned Time of Isolation? Finding the Higher Meaning
The next topic I want to address is how to find the silver lining in these times of shutdowns, quarantine and self-isolation. Of late, this has been the number one topic I’ve explored with my clients and when applying open curiosity without strong emotion (i.e., a mindful stance), has borne many wonderful fruits which I am thrilled to share with you.
I feel that since most of us are not travelling, visiting people, or for some, not even going outside, this is the perfect opportunity to engage in something which most of us put at the bottom of our “to do” list- self-reflection, meditation and going within. I’ve suggested that many of my clients take this opportunity to slow down and get in touch with themselves and do an assessment on where they’re at emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Many have taken to journaling, meditating, and sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings and aspirations with the people closest to them. You may have to get creative here! Luckily, we have incredible technology which helps us stay connected with loved ones far away. I recommended Skype or FaceTime or telephone.
Luckily, I don’t have to see people in person to provide my services as a therapist and many of my clients are taking advantage of this and booking video or telephone appointments. Also, I’m finding that their self-reflections and “ah ha” moments are deeper and more profound and I feel it is a direct result of having to face a calamity which affects all of us and forces us to ask the big questions we so often push to the side such as:
What do I do with my time if I’m not busy (fill-in-the-blank)…working, going to school, going to meetings, social events, or travelling?
Now that other countries are quarantined what is going to happen to our supplies and trade items such as food, medications, and other things we take for granted which may not be available in the near future?
How do I find meaning/purpose/enjoyment if I can’t do all of the activities I normally do like go to work/school, attend classes, go out to movies/plays/concerts or travel?
Scaling Down and Finding Meaning in the Simple Things
I’ll end this musing with a list of things you can do during this time of shutdowns, quarantine and self-isolation which may “fill your cup” for the time being until things go back to normal.
Look at your New Year’s Goals and see how you’re doing thus far and work on meeting goals you’ve slipped on (Hint: It probably has to do with eating and exercising!)
Write in a journal and explore your inner life- how are you doing in the self-care department these days? What things can you do to nourish your body, mind and spirit?
Meditate– I know that most of you have definitely been putting that one off big time- no excuses now! Get on that cushion, close your eyes and practise deep belly-breathing for at least 20 minutes. You may be mad at me now but you’ll thank me later
Order books online and get back into reading. Now is a nice time to sit by a fireplace with a blanket and a good book and a cup of tea
Call that friend or relative you have been putting off because you were “too busy”. I know for a fact that you aren’t now so pick up the phone- you’ll also thank me later for this one
Find online support groups if there are alternatives to in-person ones
I hope you found this article helpful and if so, please pass it on via your social media networks. Stay healthy, calm and have faith that this too shall pass and we will come out the other side stronger, and wiser. Onward!
Esther Kane, MSW, is a Canadian women’s psychotherapist with over twenty years’ experience and author of three self-help books. Sign up for her free bi-weekly newsletter to uplift and inspire at: https://estherkane.com.
Millennials often get stereotyped as lazy, entitled, and self-involved, but did you know that about one out of six millennials in the United States is a caregiver for someone with dementia, and with an average age of 27 years? Nor is it a problem limited to Americans. One in four young Canadians provides care to a family member or friend.
In 2019, Global Health Aging was proud to author a report with the Center for Healthcare Innovation titled Social and Financial Costs of Millennial Dementia Caregivers. The report evaluates the social and economic implications of the shifting U.S. demographics on dementia and caregiving in vulnerable, at-risk populations.
There is a lack of research about the experiences of young people living with a parent or grandparent with dementia. As the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to 82 million in 2030 and 152 million in 2050, the hope is that more case studies and published research become available. One groundbreaking resource is ‘The Dementia Diaries’ by Matthew Snyman, an award-winning filmmaker based in London, and Emma Barrett Palmer, the founder of HumanKINDER located in Chamonix, France.
A novel in cartoons, this award-winning project looks at dementia from the perspective of a young person by following four real-life young people dealing with dementia in their grandparents. In 2016, Global Health Aging organized a giveaway featuring The Dementia Diaries for Dementia Awareness Week.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are still a largely hidden problem in many countries. Even when awareness is present, confusion and memory loss are considered an inevitable part of aging, rather than signs of a degenerative disease. One of the goals of Global Health Aging is to change that perception through education and media.
Are you a caregiver for someone with dementia? If no, do you know another caregiver or anyone with dementia?
Name: Andrew Dowling Job: Founder and CEO Country: Australia and United States Age: 51
Andrew Dowling is the Founder and CEO of Stitch, the world’s leading companionship and activities community for over 50’s. Andrew wrote his Master’s thesis on social enterprise a decade ago — long before most people had even heard of the concept — and has spent the last ten years building businesses designed to have a social impact. He is currently working to address social isolation and loneliness for older adults at Stitch. Andrew has over two decades of experience building successful technology organizations in Australia, India, China, and the United States. He has served in multiple businesses in a wide range of roles and specialties: CEO, CTO, strategy consultant, software engineer, advisor, non-executive director. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.
On older adults staying socially connected during COVID-19:
“The COVID-19 crisis has meant this question is relevant not just to older adults, but pretty much everyone around the world right now. Many people have been finding creative ways to stay socially connected, particularly through the use of video platforms that allow people to get together “virtually” for everything from happy hours and dinner parties through to Pilates and exercise sessions.
For older adults, the answer has been remarkably similar. We’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm with which Stitch members have embraced virtual events and activities as an alternative way to connect socially. Most of the virtual activities scheduled on Stitch each day are booked out within minutes, and we are seeing a big increase in the number of members who are connecting with each other online, where in the past they would be meeting face to face.
Of course, depending on where you live, there is still some degree of in-person interaction happening too. Certain activities, particularly going for walks or other forms of exercise, are still allowed provided they comply with social distancing rules. We are seeing “coffee walks”, or activities like golf, taking place in the community, although the number of participants for those events is obviously much smaller than it was previously.”
On improving access to technology for older adults:
“At Stitch, we are often finding that preconceived notions about older adults not being able to access technology are often over-exaggerated. We have members who are in their 90’s, and it’s been inspiring to watch those who are comfortable with technology help those members who are still just learning. The suddenness of the COVID-19 crisis has seen a massive increase in the number of older adults who are suddenly willing to try something new like video calling, which is something we have observed a lot over the last few years: once older adults have a reason to adopt new technology, they are often far more adept than many people expect.
Having said that, there are of course many older adults who do not have access to technology or else face other barriers. For us, the solution comes from recognizing that’s always going to be the case for a certain percentage of the population, and finding ways to address it. Some of our members, for example, act as “buddies” for other members who struggle with technology. They will give them a phone call to let them know when there is an activity they would like to attend, and often help with things like transport (which is another barrier that many older adults face). The key here is building community connections that help support those people who may struggle, for whatever reason.”
On what he’s learned since starting Stitch:
“I sometimes think I have learned more since starting Stitch than I did in my entire previous professional career. If I were to point to one thing, however, it has been how my greater understanding of the importance of social connections on our mental and physical well-being has had an impact on my own personal life. Until I started on the Stitch journey, I think I took my social connections for granted to some extent — at least, I never previously thought much about the impact of my social connections and my sense of community had on my own well-being. Being an active part of the community has highlighted how important those things are, not just for me, but for my kids and my family, and that’s been an unexpected gift.”
On increasing social connections as people get older:
“As we get older, we often face increasing barriers to social connections, including access to technology and transport, as previously mentioned, but also support for disabilities, affordable housing, and health. Organizations like Stitch are working to address those barriers, along with plenty of community organizations, local government groups, health organizations, and not-for-profits. It’s a big challenge and one that is only getting bigger as we all live longer lives.
Having said that, we have seen time and again how resilient our members are, particularly when they are been given an opportunity to be part of the solution themselves. In Stitch’s case, the most important members of the community are those members who help create social outcomes for all other members. By creating solutions that older adults themselves can create and nurture, rather than coming up with services that need to be delivered to them, we can end up creating far more sustainable outcomes for everyone.”
On his insights about loneliness and aging:
“There is a persistent stereotype of the lonely older adult, which paints a picture of inevitable loneliness as we age. In reality, the evidence tells us that older adults are less likely to feel lonely than their younger counterparts, and it is young people today who identify as the most lonely generation.
The role that aging plays, however, is an important one, and it’s why we chose 50 as the age for people to be allowed to join Stitch. When we are younger, life brings us new social connections automatically, whether that’s through school, college, work, or even parenting. This means we can go through much of the first part of our lives without ever thinking too hard about how we build meaningful social connections.
At a certain point, however, opportunities for those new social connections stop or decrease. And the process of aging means our social circles then will inevitably start to shrink — driven by factors such as relocation, illness, divorce, and death — unless we proactively develop new social connections.
This is why one of the biggest things we can be doing right now to address isolation in older adults is through education. Being “lonely” today is still considered a stigma, something very few people feel comfortable admitting. They often feel that doing so is to admit there is something wrong with them.
On the contrary, it’s a natural part of life for your social circle to shrink, particularly once you reach 50 and beyond. The more people understand that, and understand that the only way to address it is to constantly open themselves to new connections, the happier we will all be as we age.
Being “lonely” today is still considered a stigma, something very few people feel comfortable admitting.