Weekly volunteer work reduces risk of dementia in retired seniors: Professor
Seniors who volunteered sporadically did not see the same cognitive benefits
If you’re a senior who is considering retirement or recently retired, you might want to consider taking up volunteer work.
According to a professor at the University of Calgary (U of C), seniors that consistently participate in volunteerism post-retirement substantially reduce the risk of developing dementia.
The study, led by Dr. Yannick Griep, a psychology professor for the U of C and published in the medical journal PLOS One, tracked 1,0001 Swedish citizens – all of whom retired in 2010 – over a five-year period, monitoring them for the development of cognitive problems.
“The idea is that people who volunteer continue to reap the latent benefits,” Griep told Metro on Wednesday. “So, when you retire, you usually lose benefits like having a structured day, contact beyond your family, and the idea that you have a purpose and contribution to society that is greater than simply paying taxes.”
The professor said the underlying assumption is that those in the regular volunteering camp stay sharper cognitively because they are continuing to engage their mind in these key ways.
Griep said in another study senior retiree subjects were asked to exercise a specific number of times a week and they also saw the benefits, but volunteerism appears to have the greatest affects.
“What is special about volunteering is that it’s the most prototypical activity that comes close to doing paid work. It’s the most closely related to the benefits that person had while they were working,” he said.
Griep said he and his co-researchers found that retirees who only volunteer sporadically did not receive any benefits to their cognitive health.
“You do need to do this constantly, so as soon as your volunteering discontinues, or you do it less often, there are no specific cognitive benefits for those individuals,” he said.
Griep said this is an important issue.
“As a senior, your risk of dementia goes up substantially. Anything you can do that’s low cost and easy to implement that will reduce the likelihood of dementia is invaluable.”
In a society that values work and youth, we have lost sight of the importance to reflection, questioning and “sacred aging.”
The Western world celebrates doing at the expense of being. Even religious communities, in their effort to be vibrant and relevant, often pay much more attention to action than to reflection and contemplation. Those in search of meaning, particularly the young, even travel to the Far East to find gurus who’d expose them to the art of being.
That doing is important to make a living and to contribute to society should be self-evident. The elimination of poverty in many places — albeit not enough and not everywhere — is largely due to what’s sometimes described as the Protestant work ethic. We’ve every reason to be enthusiastic partners in this, irrespective of our religious affiliation.
But there’s much more to life than work. We need to look into ourselves and beyond to affirm, nay celebrate, the mystery of human existence. Even those who work hard and enjoy its fruits ought to know that in order to live fully, more is needed than doing. Now when we live longer because of the favourable conditions created through work, our retirement years could be dedicated to being — to enjoy existence on Earth and perhaps also try to prepare for what’s beyond.
Psychologist and blogger Mary Pritchard has written that “society praises those who do: It’s more about what you accomplish than who you are as a person.” That’s probably why retirees, seemingly more men than women, are anxious to tell you, defensively, that now, though they no longer work for a living, they’re “busier than ever.” They may find it shameful to admit that they now have time to do “nothing,” to enjoy the everyday and the ordinary, with opportunities to reflect on what human existence is really about.
Pritchard recommends: “Instead of looking at your day as an endless to do list, what if you started each day with a question: ‘At the end of the day, how do I want to feel?’ After you ponder that one, you can ask yourself, ‘What will make me feel that way?’ ”
But that requires not only that society regards such questions as legitimate but also for the state to provide adequate support to enable retired people to live with dignity. That’s by no means always the case. Some people need to work past their retirement age in order to maintain themselves. This, alas, makes it virtually impossible for them to move beyond doing.
An editorial in this paper last month assumed that the answer is to allow, nay encourage, seniors to remain in the workplace beyond retirement age. Though this may be appropriate in exceptional cases, pensions should be made adequate to enable women and men to devote their “golden years” to the cultivation of being.
That’s the aim of the “sacred aging” movement in the American-Jewish community. Reacting against “our modern youth-obsessed culture,” it tells us that moving away from the world of doing “can be an empowering and inspiring opportunity for spiritual, emotional and psychological growth.”
Reminding us that in ancient and Indigenous cultures, including Judaism, “eldering has always been regarded as a sacred and honoured phase of life,” sacred aging seeks to encourage old people to lead “idle” lives that “continue to be vibrant with joy and self-discovery.”
As churches, synagogues and mosques usually have a large proportion of older worshippers, they may take to heart the Psalmist’s charge to “serve the Eternal with joy” by celebrating being without apologies. In the words of Rabbi Deborah Jacobson of Longmeadow, Mass., “we are here to keep learning and to keep growing especially in our character and in our spirit. None of that ends with ‘retirement.’ ”
Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every four weeks.
Aging gets a bad rap. But disease, decline and discomfort is far from the whole story. Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at UC San Diego and director of the UCSD Center for Healthy Aging, is challenging us to take another look.
In conversation with Nautilus, Jeste points out that some things get better with age, like the ability to make decisions, control emotions, and have compassion for others—in other words, we get wiser with age. The challenge to aging well, he argues, is to be an optimist, resilient and pro-active, allowing the benefits of age to shine through. The corresponding challenge for doctors is not just to increase lifespan, but to increase healthy life.
Nautilus caught up with Jeste earlier this month.
What is successful aging?
There are three domains of aging: Physical, cognitive, and psycho-social. Most people think about aging as physical aging, and that’s why there is a negative perception about aging and a bias against aging. In terms of cognition, again, there is something similar. Starting after middle age, say around 60 or so, memory and other abilities decline. However, psychosocial aging is really important, and that is usually not studied and that is not included in the concept of aging.
So what is psychosocial aging? It includes things like well-being, happiness, quality of life, control of emotions, socialization. Those are the kinds of things that matter a lot to people, and they need to be included. Successful aging mainly refers to better well-being, greater happiness, and not just arriving at old age, but thriving and even flourishing.
Where is life in old age both longer and healthier?
In Europe, gains in longevity level off with country wealth. But healthy longevity does not
IN THE end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years,” goes the saying. Many people fear that a trade-off between the two is inevitable: they may live to a very old age, but their final years may be spent in wretched health.
Data from 30 European countries suggest that such a trade-off depends on where people live, and whether they are men or women (see interactive chart below). The number of years of healthy life that the average person can expect comes from a survey asking people about long-term health problems that limit their usual daily activities.
On average, European women who turn 65 can expect to live about three years longer than men at that age, who have a life expectancy of 17.4 years. However, women tend to spend much of that extra time in poor health; the number of healthy years for men and women is the same, at just over nine.
Does it help to live in one of Europe’s richer countries? The data suggest that life expectancy at age 65 rises with a country’s wealth, but only up to a point. The trend levels off at a GDP per person of around $30,000 (adjusted for differences in price levels between countries), which is roughly the dividing line between eastern and western Europe. By contrast, the time spent in good health increases in a linear fashion with a country’s wealth. Italian 65-year-olds, for example, can expect to live about the same number of years as Norwegian ones, even though Norway is much richer than Italy. But Norway’s elderly are likely to spend nearly 80% of their remaining time in good health, whereas those in Italy can hope for just 40%.
This may be a result of countries’ spending on public services and infrastructure. Many characteristic health problems of old age, such as difficulties with hearing or eyesight, are not fatal; but unless they are dealt with, and unless public spaces are adapted to the needs of the elderly, they can make life miserable. Pavements, street signs and pedestrian signals, for example, are often designed for the young and able-bodied. Richer countries have more money to spend on making them better suited to older age groups. That may not extend lifespans, but it can help people make the most of their remaining years.
What if You Knew Alzheimer’s Was Coming for You?
Simple blood tests may soon be able to deliver
alarming news about your cognitive health.
By PAGAN KENNEDY NOV. 17, 2017
"Everything about our relationship to Alzheimer’s is in flux right now. The disease — once thought to be unpreventable — is beginning to look more like a multifactorial illness that might result from poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic inflammation, exposure to chemicals in the environment and genetics. Some scientists now describe Alzheimer’s disease as another form of diabetes; others are pursuing a link between Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular problems. And studies have shown a link between Alzheimer’s and exposure to air pollution and head injuries. Many researchers in the field, including Dr. Holtzman, believe that the key to defeating Alzheimer’s will be to catch it at the earliest possible moment and prevent it.
It remains unclear whether lifestyle interventions can significantly delay cognitive decline. But the members of ApoE4 group believe that by banding together, sharing data and collaborating with scientists, they can improve their odds. “We are genetic pioneers, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, searching for and testing out strategies,” reads the group’s website. Rather than seeing themselves as victims of genetic bad luck, Ms. Gregory and her collaborators regard themselves as citizen scientists and activists who may be able to outsmart the disease.
KOLKATA, India — Once when I was searching for old-age homes in Kolkata for a story, my mother said sardonically: “Look around you. The whole neighborhood has become an old-age home.” It was an exaggeration but not by much.
The old man down the street was recovering from a knee replacement. The elderly lady across from him spent her days in her nightgown feeding the neighborhood’s stray dogs. The children were gone — to the United States and Australia, to Bengaluru and Mumbai. When my sister went to pay our property taxes she found a separate line for seniors. It was pointless. Almost everyone there was a senior.
My mother had grown up as one of 30-odd cousins, all living in one sprawling house. In the morning they would leave their soaps outside the common bathroom to mark their place in the line. On holiday afternoons they would crowd onto their grandmother’s bed. It was not a very big bed but somehow they all fit. Only a few of the next generation still live in Kolkata. The others return for weddings and funerals.
When I lived in the United States, my immigrant friends would always say their dream was to retire in India. The magnetic lure of the dollar had pulled them to the United States. In old age they planned to be economic migrants again, returning to India, where their dollar would go much further. India was the coda to their American dream. Who wants to live in the United States in old age, they would shudder. It was too expensive, too lonely, too difficult.
But according to the Global Age Watch Index, a survey by Help Age International that measures the quality of life — using income security, health, personal capability and enabling environment — for people age 60 and older, India ranked 71 out of 96 countries in 2015.
It was the afternoon of her 91st birthday, and unusually hot, part of a heat wave that had community leaders worried. Elderly volunteers had been winding through the labyrinth of footpaths, distributing leaflets on the dangers of heatstroke to the many hundreds of residents like Mrs. Ito who lived alone in 171 nearly identical white buildings. With no families or visitors to speak of, many older tenants spent weeks or months cocooned in their small apartments, offering little hint of their existence to the world outside their doors. And each year, some of them died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell.
The first time it happened, or at least the first time it drew national attention, the corpse of a 69-year-old man living near Mrs. Ito had been lying on the floor for three years, without anyone noticing his absence. His monthly rent and utilities had been withdrawn automatically from his bank account. Finally, after his savings were depleted in 2000, the authorities came to the apartment and found his skeleton near the kitchen, its flesh picked clean by maggots and beetles, just a few feet away from his next-door neighbors.
The huge government apartment complex where Mrs. Ito has lived for nearly 60 years — one of the biggest in Japan, a monument to the nation’s postwar baby boom and aspirations for a modern, American way of life — suddenly became known for something else entirely: the “lonely deaths” of the world’s most rapidly aging society.
“4,000 lonely deaths a week,” estimated the cover of a popular weekly magazine this summer, capturing the national alarm.
Life can begin at 60, it is all in your hands! Many people feel unhappy, health-wise and security-wise, after 60 years of age, owing to the diminishing importance given to them and their opinions. But, it need not be so, if only we understand the basic principles of life and follow them scrupulously. Here are ten mantras to age gracefully and make life after retirement pleasant.
*1. Never say I am aged' :*
There are three ages, chronological, biological, and psychological. The first is calculated based on our date of birth; the second is determined by the health conditions; the third is how old we feel we are. While we don't have control over the first, we can take care of our health with good diet, exercise and a cheerful attitude. A positive attitude and optimistic thinking can reverse the third age.
*2. Health is wealth:*
If you really love your kith and kin, taking care of your health should be your priority. Thus, you will not be a burden to them. Have an annual health check-up and take the prescribed medicines regularly. Do take health insurance coverage.
*3. Money is important:*
Money is essential for meeting the basic necessities of life, keeping good health and earning family respect and security. Don't spend beyond your means even for your children. You have lived for them all through and it is time you enjoyed a harmonious life with your spouse. If your children are grateful and they take care of you, you are blessed. But, never take it for granted.
*4. Relaxation and recreation:*
The most relaxing and recreating forces are a healthy religious attitude, good sleep, music and laughter. Have faith in God, learn to sleep well, love good music and see the funny side of life.
*5. Time is precious:*
It is almost like holding a horses' reins. When they are in your hands, you can control them. Imagine that everyday you are born again. Yesterday is a cancelled cheque. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is ready cash - use it profitably. Live this moment; live it fully, now, in the present time.
*6. Change is the only permanent thing:*
We should accept change - it is inevitable. The only way to make sense out of change is to join in the dance. Change has brought about many pleasant things. We should be happy that our children are blessed.
*7. Enlightened selfishness:*
All of us are basically selfish. Whatever we do, we expect something in return. We should definitely be grateful to those who stood by us. But, our focus should be on the internal satisfaction and the happiness we derive by doing good for others, without expecting anything in return. Perform a random act of kindness daily.
*8. Forget and forgive:*
Don't be bothered too much about others' mistakes. We are not spiritual enough to show our other cheek when we are slapped in one. But for the sake of our own health and happiness, let us forgive and forget them. Otherwise, we will be only increasing our blood pressure.
*9. Everything has a purpose:*
Take life as it comes. Accept yourself as you are and also accept others for what they are. Everybody is unique and is right in his own way.
*10. Overcome the fear of death:*
We all know that one day we have to leave this world. Still we are afraid of death. We think that our spouse and children will be unable to withstand our loss. But the truth is no one is going to die for you; they may be depressed for some time. Time heals everything and they will go on.
What’s the best way to develop a healthy perspective on old age? Spend more time with elderly people and discover what brings meaning and pleasure to their twilight years despite the losses, both physical and social, they may have suffered.
That’s what two authors of inspired and inspiring books about aging discovered and, happily, have taken the trouble to share with those of us likely to join the ranks of the “oldest old” in the not-too-distant future. Actually, the wisdom therein might be equally valuable for young and middle-aged adults who may dread getting old. To their detriment, some may even avoid interacting with old people lest their “disease” rub off on them.
Too many in our youth-focused culture currently regard the elderly with fear or disdain and consider them costly consumers of resources with little to offer in return. Given the explosive pace of technology that often befuddles the elderly, they command little or no respect for the repository of wisdom that was once cherished by the young (and still is in some traditional societies).
The first book I read was “The End of Old Age” by Dr. Marc E. Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Miami Jewish Home whose decades of caring for the aged have taught him that it is possible to maintain purpose and meaning in life even in the face of significant disease and disability, impaired mental and physical functioning and limited participation in activities.
The second book, “Happiness Is a Choice You Make,” was written by John Leland, a reporter for The New York Times who spent a year interviewing and learning from six of the city’s “oldest old” residents — people 85 and above — from diverse cultures, backgrounds and life experiences.
Rasheed Hooda is redefining what it means to age in today’s world. This year the Houstonian is dedicating a remarkable journey to mark his 64th year, where he will walk hundreds of miles to highlight the values that have sustained him in his life. Rasheed has partnered with the Aga Khan Foundation USA to use the walk to raise awareness and funds for AKF’s work across Africa and Asia.
WALKING THE WALK
Rasheed has been building up to this journey for several years. A few years ago, as he approached his 60th birthday, Rasheed decided to climb the tallest mountain in Texas, Guadalupe Peak. It was a rigorous hike that took 11 and a half hours. That trip inspired his nephew and others to undertake the same journey.
Two years later, Rasheed stepped up his goal: a journey from Chicago to Santa Monica along Route 66 on foot. He walked more than 2,800 miles over a six-month period. He met an estimated 2,000 people on his solo journey. Along the way he camped, stayed in motels, and accepted the hospitality of strangers who approached him during his hike and offered him lodging.
He posted his experiences regularly, gained social media followers, and made lifelong friends with the people he encountered along the way.
64 MARATHONS IN 64 DAYS
It was during that journey that Rasheed was inspired to dedicate his 64th year to an even bigger goal, which he described on his blog, Ageless Adventurers. In the spirit of his favorite song, the Beatles’ hit “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Rasheed mapped out a trip starting in Houston, where he lives now, then moving north toward his first home in the U.S.: Alva, Oklahoma, where he came to study at Northwest Oklahoma State University in the early 1970s.
“I will be walking from Alva, Oklahoma, east on Highway 64 to Concord, Arkansas.” Then he will dip south through Louisiana and east Texas, and then back to Houston. The entire trip will take 64 days, walking a minimum of 26.2 miles each day: the distance of a marathon. “In other words, 64 marathons in 64 days.”
Announcing: The ABCs of caregiving to seniors workshop.
There are a wide-variety of issues well beyond the actual giving of care that families need to address. We are producing a project that is funded by the Ontario Government that helps families deal with many of these complex and complicated issues. As part of our project, we are producing a full day of FREE workshops in King, City Ontario. Here are the details:
Despite having many friends in their 70s, 80s and 90s, I’ve been far too slow to realize that how we respond to aging is a choice made in the mind, not in the gym.
If there is one characteristic common to friends who are aging with a graceful acceptance of life’s assaults, it is contentment. Some with life-altering disabilities — my blind friend, another with two prosthetic legs — are more serene and complain less than those with minor ailments. They accept the uncertainties of old age without surrendering to them. A few have told me that the wisdom they’ve acquired over the years has made aging easier to navigate than the chaos of adolescence.
It was clear I lacked, and had to find, the contentment those friends had attained. The hours I spent exercising had given me confidence, but not contentment.
This interactive workshop will introduce Sage-ing® concepts including life review, forgiveness, and issues surrounding our mortality. Designed for anyone in their late 40's and older, the course will explore the impact of our beliefs about aging and the role of spiritual development as we create personalized plans for our elder years, including serving others and leaving a legacy. The workshop is designed with three objectives that will provide each student with tools to create their own personal Sage-ing journeys. They are: considering and choosing new ways and options in aging; understanding and experiencing how forgiveness can be liberating and how it’s an essential component in aging well; and recognizing the value of and applying a (nonsectarian) spiritual approach to aging.
Shinzo Abe must be bolder if a society of centenarians is to stay solvent
More than half of Japanese babies can expect to live to 100. This prospect would have horrified Yukio Mishima, a writer who thought it so important to die young and handsome that he ritually disembowelled himself after staging a pantomime “coup” attempt in 1970. It horrifies today’s pessimists, too. They worry that, as the country ages and its population shrinks, health bills will soar, the pension system will go bust, villages will empty and there will be too few youngsters to care for the elderly.
Yet for most people, not dying young is a blessing. Those extra years can be spent learning new skills, enjoying the company of loved ones or reading blood-spattered Mishima novels. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, says he wants his country to be a model of how to make ultra-long lives fulfilling—and affordable (see article). He talks of “designing the 100-year-life society”. But to achieve that Mr Abe, in his last three years in office, will have to adopt reforms that are far bolder than he currently envisages.
The key is to have enough people working to support those who no longer can. There are three ways to achieve this: persuade current workers to labour longer, encourage more women to enter the workforce and let in more immigrants. Japan has made progress on all three. The share of over-65s in work is the highest in the g7; the share of women in the labour force has recently overtaken that in America; and the Diet (parliament) is debating a bill that would allow up to 345,000 foreign workers (called “trainees”, not immigrants) to enter Japan by 2025. Companies are eagerly investing in robots to raise productivity. Mr Abe vows to reform the public pension system to encourage even later retirement.
Portugal is the 5th oldest country in Europe. Aware of this reality, the Aga Khan Foundation has sought to increase knowledge and understanding of this phenomenon, in order to meet the challenges related to the quality of life of its senior citizens. The aim is to ensure the well-being of seniors by strengthening formal and informal primary-care networks; by increasing their participation and representation in society; and by valuing seniors as a resource of knowledge and experience.
A growing portion of the elderly look and act anything but.
“The aging of America is not the crisis that is often portrayed in the media or even in scholarly papers,” says Richard Johnson, an economist and senior fellow at the Urban Institute, in Washington, D.C, who, along with a growing number of social scientists, is helping redefine what it means to be old. The rise in cases of age-related illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia is a real and urgent problem. But it’s not the whole story. “Today’s seniors are healthier, better educated, and more productive than ever,” Johnson says. “The challenge we face is finding ways to harness their talents.”
Learning from and sharing approaches to building age-friendly communities
Leeds welcomed the Portuguese Aga Khan Foundation as part of their week-long study visit to the UK.
Leeds City Council's Ageing Well Officer, Carole Clark, gives her account of the differences and similarities in how the communities and organisations in both countries engage with each other.
Members of the Portuguese Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) visited Leeds on Wednesday, 21 November as part of their week long study visit to the UK. They brought with them representatives from partner organisations in Portugal from Lisbon, Sintra, Oeiras, Porto Salvo and Quelez-Belas.
The mission of the AKF Portugal Seniors Program is improving the life of older people through strengthening formal and informal networks, promoting the participation and representation of seniors in society and increasing opportunities for them to become a resource in the community.
In Leeds, the AKF team was particularly interested in learning about our Connect Well Social Prescribing Service, Hospital to Home, and digital projects supporting older people to go online. We gave them a general overview of our Age Friendly work in Leeds. We also talked to them about our Neighbourhood Networks – as I said, ‘they can’t come to Leeds without learning about our fantastic Neighbourhood Networks’.
They were fascinated when Bill, Chair of Leeds Older People’s Forum, explained how the Council listens to and includes the voice of older people in their work. Delegates hoped this could be a new way of working in Portugal.
During their visit they met various people including Cllr Rebecca Charlwood, our lead member for Health Wellbeing and Adults. She chairs our Best City to Grow Old in board. AKF also met with representatives from the council, Age UK Leeds, Leeds Older People’s Forum, the Centre for Ageing Better and Community Links Northern.
Arch Café, which is owned by Age UK Leeds, was the obvious choice for lunch. All the profits from the cafe go directly to support their work with older people.
Sharing knowledge of what works can lead to better outcomes for everyone
It was fascinating to learn about the differences and similarities in how the communities and organisations in our respective countries engage with each other.
The Portuguese delegates observed that Leeds’ asset-based approach to working with communities is different to their own approach. They were eager to learn about how co-producing services with communities can help people in later life.
Delegates related to the presentation on digital and described how older people in Portugal grow to love using tablets once they have the opportunity to use them. Just as in Leeds, a lot of older people are keen to use technology once they are shown how it works and how it can help them to do the things that interest them.
Organising an international visit can be time-consuming as you pull a programme together for the day, but once you’ve got the right venue, and the key people to present on the topics, it all falls into place.
I enjoy welcoming visitors to Leeds to learn about our programmes of work and think that it is really important that they learn about what interests them and also have an enjoyable time so that they leave with a positive impression of our city.
UK Network of Age-friendly Communities
Leeds is is a member of the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities.
Age-friendly Leeds is led by a partnership between Leeds City Council and Leeds Older People’s Forum. For more information, contact Carole Clark.
Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice.
When I told my friends I was writing a book on older women like us, they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant was that they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.
In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging. Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes, and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.
Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance. We can wear yoga tights instead of nylons and bluejeans instead of business suits.
Yet, in this developmental stage, we are confronted by great challenges. We are unlikely to escape great sorrow for long. We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.
Rather than take people’s jobs, machines will help care for them in their old age
Over the next few years, demography will change the kinds of robots people need, as well as increase the number in use. At the moment, the robotics market is dominated by industrial machines, the sort used to assemble cars or electrical equipment. Sales of industrial-robotics systems were $48bn in 2017, seven times as much as “service robots”, a category that includes logistics robots for running warehouses, medical robots, robotic milking machines, exoskeletons that help people lift heavy objects and household robots that vacuum the floor.
As demographic change speeds up, service robots will become more important. One day, their makers hope, they will enable old people to live alone and stay mobile for longer. Robots will help assuage loneliness and mitigate the effects of dementia. They will make it easier to look after people in nursing homes and enable older workers who want to stay employed to keep up with the physical demands of labour. These robots will also be fundamentally different from industrial ones, which usually replace human activity—fitting a car windscreen, for example. By contrast, service robots extend it. For example, if an exoskeleton helps someone lift something heavy, the person still has to be there
US seniors display creative talents through the arts
Art has been shown to be of therapeutic value, creating a sense of calm, engaging creative areas of the brain and offsetting depression, especially in older adults, offering a valuable pastime for everyone to consider. Here, we feature the works of four artists, all senior members of the Jamat, who arrived in the US from different countries, and who display their cultural sensibilities in their colorful creations.
US seniors show their passion for recreational music
Recreation plays a key role in the physical and mental wellbeing of everyone, young and old. For seniors especially, involvement in recreation has a number of benefits in enhancing cognitive and motor skills, and provides an opportunity for socializing and developing new talents. For a group of seniors in the USA, a passion for music has shown that age is no limit to composing and performing for themselves and others.
Biomedical engineer Yuri Danilov reassures seniors, we do not lose neurons as we age
In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed University of Wisconsin biomedical engineer Yuri Danilov on the remarkable way our brains adapt to new circumstances (neuroplasticity).
Our brains must adapt, whether to catastrophic physical injuries that cause blindness or partial paralysis or just plain old age. How can we help?
Danilov was a student of Paul Bach-y-Rita, (1934–2006), a neuroplasticity pioneer. In conversation with Marks, he reveals—among other things—that he has met many sighted people who found that they could not learn to use Braille, the reading system developed by a blind man, Louis Braille (1809–1852), for persons who are blind. Yet, he observes, blind people learn the system in a matter of hours. Neuroplasticity favors those who really need it because it uses a neural pathway that is otherwise unused to do something very much needed.
But why do we find it harder to learn as we age? What goes wrong with the aging brain?
We are often told that the aging brain is losing neurons. That, Danilov assures us, is not the problem. The neurons are still there.
Rather, older people may face a desynchronization between sensory and motor neurons (our senses and our muscles are not always dancing to the same beat). But, he says, the older brain can arrive at the same learning results given more time.
That’s really good news. Most important decisions in life can wait a few hours or a day. Maybe it’s better that way.
Danilov also stresses the importance of remaining mentally active, which keeps the neurons growing: “If you do not exercise the brain, they start to lose branches and lose connections. That’s a perfect example of neuroplasticity, the number of physical branches on the axonal tree, number of synoptical connections, size of each synoptical connection, that might be changed by activity. If you act, the neurons sprout, so they are growing new branches. If they are not active, they start to prune itself. They start to lose a branch, lose connections.” [12:51]
So yes, our neurons are still there in old age but they do need to get out more and get some exercise!
Note: Blindsight is an interesting illustration of neuroplasticity: “When the visual cortex of the brain is damaged but the eyes themselves are sound, some blind people show the ability to sense objects that they do not consciously experience seeing. The eyes appear to adapt to working with parts of the brain which the person does not consciously experience.” That makes more sense if you consider that most of our sensory nervous systems’ activities are not consciously experienced as such. We mainly experience the outcome.
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