Friday 13 November 2015, 18:33 | By Adam Hallows
In the News 2015 – Time to Face the Music
Now that the average UK life expectancy has risen to 81 years, several of the stories we shared this month have led to a rather provocative question – how many of us are actually looking forward to living so long?
If we take account of the 1 million older adults in the UK who report being lonely, together with the country’s care home crisis, then the need to find new ways of equipping future generations with the knowhow and means to deal with these longer lives is a huge challenge, and indeed a socioeconomic opportunity.
So where do we start?
Aim for the moon?
Channel 4 recently promoted The Campaign to End Loneliness’ (TCTEL) survey of over a million older people in the UK, by interviewing two older people on what life can be like as you age. It’s a hard watch, but at that time of year when family and the passing of time are at the front of our minds, then seeing John Lewis’ new ‘Man on the Moon’ ad campaign, with loneliness at its heart, is apposite to say the least.
TCTEL’s research shows that weak social connections are as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and are even worse than being obese; increasing the risk of depression, and the chances of developing dementia by 64%.
And so as the year’s biggest ad campaign turns 12 million+ plus (in online views alone) toward an issue that will eventually affect us all, how can we start making changes now?
Turn up the music
The Independent has reported on a Swedish study that shows music and communal singing sessions benefit the lives of older people, which has led to a successful trial of ‘piping’ free music into homes for older people.
Soon to be extended to the UK, the scheme ‘provides elderly people with tablets, loudspeakers, streaming software and unlimited internet data’, as according to its lead Professor Tores Theorell, “The human brain is like a muscle: it needs constant activity and training. If we don’t use our brain, perhaps by just lying in bed, it starts to deteriorate. To listen to music is a concentrated way of focusing on what is happening, and is therefore a form of brain exercise.”
On this same theme of using creativity to stimulate the brain, The Guardian reports on the London-based Age Exchange, which is using ‘reminiscence arts sessions to help older people with dementia reconnect with the world, by exploring memories using creative activity’.
The research, funded by a £600,500 grant from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, ‘aims to create and measure best practice in creative care for dementia’, which considering there will be one million people with dementia in the UK by 2015 (Alzheimer’s Society), cannot come soon enough.
Non-invasive therapies using talent and creativity to improve lives? Now we’re talking. Speaking of which…
A game a day
According to a recent large-scale study, online brain training ‘helps older adults with everyday tasks, giving memories and reasoning skills a workout to keep minds sharp and help with everyday skills such as shopping and cooking.’
The study found that ‘those who played “brain training” games for reasoning and problem-solving kept their broader cognitive skills better than those who did not’. And ‘people over 60 who played these games reported better scores for carrying out essential everyday tasks’.
Older people aren’t just using tech to stay sharp though, as The Telegraph also reports that a third of the over 65s are now using it to monitor their health too. Following a 2014 study which revealed that ‘65 per cent of people actively avoid going to their GP, new research has revealed that more than half of all Brits use gadgets or technology to manage their health and wellbeing’.
Promising stuff, but with just 6.3 per cent of interviewees saying they had shared data with their doctor online, then it seems there is still some convincing to be done if tech is really going to close the gaps between patients, doctors and treatment. Step in the patient hackers…
Hack it, share it.
Although most of us won’t be creating or adapting medical devices as part of our treatment, a recent Digital Health Space blog has looked at some of the ‘technologically savvy patients’ who have. According to the article, citizen hackers like Tim Omer have ‘tweaked glucose monitors so they speak to their phone, hearing aids so they play music, used 3D printers to make their own prosthetics and improved breast pumps for new mothers’.
According to the blog’s author: “We must find a way to harness the talent that is out there and the desire of patients to become involved in their own care while protecting them from unregulated experimentation. It may be that, in this way, we can sow the seeds of the next healthcare revolution.”
Jeremy Hunt is certainly behind patient power, having referenced US cardiologist, and expert in digital health, Prof Eric Topol and his book ‘The Patient Will See You Now’. Hunt indicated an “inescapable, irreversible shift to patient power that is about to change the face of modern medicine beyond recognition”.
Revolution? Patient power? This is how we better prepare for longer living, by getting more involved with our physical and mental wellbeing, taking it as seriously as our doctors do.
And what about the kids?
Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand have been looking for novel ways to get reluctant kids exercising more by looking at apps like ‘Zombies, Run!’ to see if they can inspire greater health.
For anyone unfamiliar with these apps, they work by talking the user through a set running programme that uses intervals to build fitness over a period of time. The ‘Zombies, Run!’ app is particularly fun as it places the user in an imaginary zombie-filled environment, where your proximity to, and then need to escape from the zombies determines when and how quickly you run.
Although their efficacy was not proven, it was found that 66 per cent of the participants had never used their smartphone for exercise. If app designers can make health as fun for younger people as social apps, gaming, or indeed education (Minecraft, again!) then as the report states, it could ‘establish healthy lifestyles at a stage in life that could make an incredible impact in adulthood’.
We’re living longer, and so the earlier we prepare for it the better. Use the billions of smart phones in our hands to learn about and manage our health, record and (safely) share our health data and less of us might need to see a doctor, and more of us would stay sharp for longer, annoying the neighbours with Fatboy Slim records well into our 90’s.
Until next month, keep up with the stories we share every day on the CSL Twitter feed.