Wednesday March 7th, 2018 06:41

In the News March 2018 – The Age of Super Humans


Two thought-provoking articles from AAA’s Ian Spero (Dare to Care Different and Silver Economy Predicted to Generate 6.4 Trillion Euros & Employ 88m by 2025) highlighted some of the trends informing our ageing society through innovation and technology. If you want to see how the future of social care and the silver economy are taking shape, be sure to investigate.

Before you go, here are some of our favourite agile ageing stories from around the world. Once again, we turn to Japan – which still leads the way when it comes to innovation and ageing.

Land of the Rising Sun

Produced with funding from the Pulitzer Center, this article by Shiho Fukada reveals how Japan is employing cutting edge technology to improve quality of life for its rapidly ageing population.

Mr Fukada introduces us to innovators like Kenta Toshima, a therapist in Tokyo who has “spent most of his savings to travel the world, so that he can bring far-off lands back to his elderly patients”. Seeing the impact his VR films have on their desire to be more mobile is quite something.

We also learn about the growing use of robots in senior care facilities to encourage activity, connect residents and carers, and even improve mental wellbeing through companionship.

Although it doesn’t fill us with joy to see robots replacing people (carers are in short supply), and care facilities being the preferred means for living, it does offer hope that technology can bring people together, inspire action and even encourage some to complete physical therapy to get moving again.

It’s Good to Talk

Staying connected is more than being occupied, it can keep us alive. This essential piece of journalism from John Harris in the Guardian acts as a timely reminder to anyone who thinks it doesn’t apply to them.

According to Harris; “We seem to have a collective aversion to focusing on the realities of an ageing society. But there is an even bigger issue. Far too many of us refuse to consider the prospect of our own advancing years – or, worse still, give any attention to people already dealing with theirs”.

To address this, he argues, “we must change the way we view retirement as sudden and without ambition, and cease viewing home as somewhere to be alone, but instead a place to stay connected with others”.

The solution, he believes, could be the Scandinavian-style cohousing, seen in several projects already running in the UK such as Cannock Mill near Colchester. According to one resident: “A lot of illness in old age is related to social isolation. That won’t happen to us, because we’ll have a permanent community.”

Extra Time

For those uneasy at the thought of robot friends or community living, then what about continuing to work to stay healthy and connected?

This interesting article in Forbes’ Next Avenue looked at several studies about the health benefits of delaying retirement for as long as possible. Although the results were mixed, one found a significant increase in mortality in the US around age 62 (the age of retirement), while a landmark 2016 study revealed that healthy retirees aged 65 had a 11% lower mortality rate than those who retired earlier.

Dr Donald O Mack from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Centre clarifies that “people who are still working aged after age 65 are generally in less physically demanding jobs”, but nevertheless, he continues “are healthier emotionally than their counterparts who retired”.

With a high level of education strongly related to longevity, then could later-life learning for a new more sedentary, yet stimulating role be a solution? Elder universities – yet another possible market to expand in the future then.

The Supers’ Secret

Returning to our theme of ‘superagers’, this piece also from the Guardian revealed how research around the brains of superagers showed more of a certain type of brain cell known as Von Economo neurons, than average elderly individuals.

Apparently; “These neurons are also found in a small group of higher mammals and are thought to increase communication. The team hopes that the findings might help scientists to unpick what causes Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and why some people might be resilient”.

Prof Emily Rogalski, from Northwestern University explains; “We are getting quite good at extending our lifespan but our health span isn’t keeping up and what the superagers have is more of a balance between those two, they are living long and living well”.

Challenging the Cult of Youth

We also discovered that it’s not just us who are ageing, but so too our social networks. This report revealed that as Facebook has aged (it’s just turned 14), so has it user base. This is of interest as Facebook’s business model is built around advertising, and with the products made for older people steadily increasing, then the elder social statesman may be around for much longer than some critics are suggesting.

Indeed, the cult of youth may be under threat. That’s one impression to take away from our final piece, this lovely article in the New York Times about a recent exhibition on the potential for ‘ageing pride to challenge the cult of youth’.

As the gallery itself says; “Anti-aging is heard more often in our society than the wisdom of age… Bowing to the cult of youth, images of age are often dictated by the cosmetics industry. Countering this are the many historical and contemporary works by artists pursuing a completely different idea of age.”

So let’s stick together, retire only when we’re ready and keep checking in on Japan to see what they do next. Until next, #BeAgile and be sure to follow Agile Ageing on twitter, and if you don’t already Creative Skills for Life too!

Image used with permission. Copyright Pat138241

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Monday October 2nd, 2017 14:16

In the News October 2017 – The tide is turning


In a month where Australian centenarian and fundraiser Irene O’Shea became the world’s oldest skydiver (aged 101 and 39 days), we take a look in our work as the Agile Ageing Alliance at more inspiring stories about the changing face of ageing.

And if you don’t already, then be sure to follow Creative Skills for Life on twitter, where we continue sharing the best stories from around the world of creative ways to help those living with long-term or life limiting conditions.

Smart thinking

We kick off with this article about Lindera, a German start-up using c to offer older adults more personalised care in their homes.

Building on her experience working with Microsoft, CEO and co-founder Diana Heinrichs wants to use data science to create a greater understanding of how long older adults can live independently at home.

Diana asks, “Imagine if you could know the individual likelihood of why, when and where a person might fall? How many people and how much money could you save?”

Lindera’s solution was to build an app-based mobility test powered by cognitive computing.

She explains, “We designed an integrative model combining proven psychological tests with a mathematical analysis of the gait to calculate the individual likelihood of a fall and to then provide tailored recommendations. Our goal is to provide elders something easy to use themselves at home”.

According to Diana, the app is already showing results with insurance companies licensing the tool to better align their service to individual need while lowering costs, and patients receiving clearer fall prevention plans they can share with family and caregivers.

With many predictions around AI focusing on what we may lose, it’s interesting to see a real-world example of how it can positively impact our lives on an individual basis. And as more of us choose to age in place, the more we know about how we’re doing the better.

Never too young to start

Staying at home for as long as you can isn’t just about your physical capabilities. It’s also about the home in which you live.

This article in the Irish Examiner focused on former electronic engineer and now chief officer at Ireland’s Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, Gerald Craddock.

Unusually, Craddock began his preparations for ageing in place in his 30s, ‘future-proofing’ his home during renovations as he knew he and his wife wouldn’t want to leave their community. An environmental factor that has been found to promote wellbeing.

For him, this meant ensuring accessibility with a ramp and leaving enough space in specific areas for modifications later down the line, such as a downstairs shower or lift.

According to Craddock; “It’s part of our human nature that we don’t think of ourselves getting old or think of ourselves as old, but design can have a significant impact on our environment, so it’s thinking in advance that is the key”.

With their population segment aged over-65 increasing in number faster than any other EU country, and an infrastructure set to be around for another 90 years (according to Craddock), adapting existing homes in Ireland will be key.

AAA is certain that the market for adapting homes to age in place will become huge. And it will be interesting to see if fitting luxury items like entertainment systems while that happens might become the norm. Maybe delivering games to positively impact both body and mind.

Very far away?

Talking of the future of gaming, this absorbing article in Wired explored the challenges faced when making brain training games. It focused on the work of cognitive neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, creator of Neuroscape – a new research institute at the University of California, San Francisco.

Since their work began, Gazzaley has been addressing the challenge of proving the efficacy of brain games – what psychologists call ‘far transfer’. With much debate in the arena between scientists and companies pertaining to their actual impact, Gazzley is positive the evidence will come.

He says; “I think we will unlock the potential to optimize our cognitive abilities and our emotional regulation in a way that we have never seen before. I do believe that. Is that overselling it? Who knows. I’d rather be proven wrong in 15 years”.

What is certain, the amount of research addressing the challenges faced in ageing societies will continue growing. And if this finds ways to extend our health without the need for medication or surgery, this must be good.

In fact the same can be said for stories about ageing – a point echoed by Paula Span in her latest ‘New Old Age’ blog in the New York Times.

Fresh content

Often focusing on the challenges faced in caregiving, Paula’s blog regularly looks for fresh, personalised perspectives in what can be complex and sensitive issues.

In her own words; “The ranks of caregivers, both familial and professional, keep growing. Researchers and physicians learn more about ageing bodies and minds, what helps and what doesn’t; public policy changes, but not fast enough. There’s always more to talk about.”

What we may see less of however – as reaching the ripe age of 100 become the norm – are wonderful articles like this from Emine Saner in the Guardian – ‘How to live to 100 and be happy (by those who have done it!)’.

As the article states; “According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people aged 100 or more has quadrupled over the last two decades, and there are now a record number of centenarians in the UK: 14,570 at the last count”.

Which leads us to our final article – a recent interview between Appello UK’s Tim Barclay and Agile Ageing’s Ian Spero asking ‘Are housing providers ready for a revolution in long term care?’

In it, Ian outlines the big challenges and opportunities faced. But also, how small changes like imagining we are talking about ourselves when we talk about ageing can play a part in helping design the future we want to see.

As Ian says; “Let’s face it – we are all ageing and it makes more sense to think about what we as individuals will want and expect in terms of our lifestyle, care and housing provision in later life”.

That’s it for this month. If you enjoyed the stories you saw here then be sure to follow us on twitter, where we share daily the best stories pertaining to agile ageing from around the world.

Until next month, #BeAgile!

Image used with permission: Copyright.

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Thursday March 3rd, 2016 16:12

In the News Feb 2016: Superheroes come in all sizes


The recent Huffington Post article from CSL’s Ian Spero revealed how the weight of research around living well as we age, could be used to inform a formula for Agile Ageing.
And as over-65s in England are ‘living longer than ever before’, then sharing these findings is more important than ever. But what of those at the start of their lives? What’s happening for younger people living with life-limiting conditions? Well in our daily search for stories connecting creativity, health and tech-innovation, this particular story about ‘superhero kids’ definitely stood out…


Kids love 3-D

After Kate Ganim’s sister was born without a hand, she saw how limiting prosthetics could be. That was, until in 2014, according to this HuffPost article, “Ganim heard about Robohand, a company that makes 3-D-printed machined limbs, and decided to connect the dots”.

The result was KidMob, a design firm that now runs courses helping kids to rethink their disability, and themselves, while learning design skills along the way. The results are as unique as the kids themselves, varying from tech-focused pieces to ones featuring water pistols.

The course, the article continues, “teaches kids to tackle community-based issues with skills like 3-D modelling and printing, technical drawing and using power tools – [where] children missing limbs get to swap their bulky prosthetics for superhero cyborg arms they create themselves”.

Now we’re sure this idea of redesigning your body might appeal to quite a few people, but what about issues that people can’t see? How might new technologies help us rethink a life-limiting condition like depression? Well it seems that’s where virtual reality is coming to the fore…


‘Virtual therapy’

According to this recent BBC article, “a new therapy which involves a patient embodying themselves in a virtual reality avatar of a crying child could help with depression”.

The project, a collaboration between universities in London and Barcelona, allows patients to “wear a headset that projects a life-sized image, firstly of an adult and then of a child, [and] by comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion”; the results of which project lead Professor Chris Brewin said had been “very powerful”.

The impact of VR is still being understood, but if computer games like Minecraft are any indication of their potential power, then it will be fascinating to see how it helps us understand ourselves, while tapping into our creativity.

Speaking of creativity, the recent dotMed Conference in Dublin showcased some inspiring examples of people within healthcare using creativity to challenge the status quo.


Venn diagrams show the way

Writing in eHospice, Dr Ros Taylor MBE of Hospice UK, gave a fantastic overview of the conference which “celebrates the interface between medicine, technology and the humanities”.

In it, we’re introduced to Professor John Greally, who has been led by data visualisation into a ‘very rich world of four-way collaborations with researchers, data visualisation experts, programmers and artists to transform big data from ambiguous evidence into something that can be decoded and understood.’

Other speakers discussed the power of social media to help us learn and build communities, how medicine can be seen as a ‘performance’ with medical school being where it is rehearsed, the educational and literary potential of comics, and the power of photography to show the physical toll on doctors after 24-hr shifts. We’ll be keeping our eyes of for the talks, which were filmed and should be up on their site soon.

Using a data ‘visualisation’ of our own, it seems a Venn diagram overlap of health, innovation and creativity might be very potent indeed. And the fact that the event was organised by doctors (rheumatologist Dr Ronan Kavanagh and medical journalist Dr Muiris Houston) prove it’s not just organisations like CSL who want to see more live discussion around its potential.

Probably one reason why this recent, and very eloquent article from Alain de Botton on the purpose of music caught our eye…


What is the point of music?

Well according to de Botton, writing recently in the Guardian, we should ask Peter Gabriel. De Botton writes that music should (and to quote Gabriel), “provide us with “an emotional toolbox” to which we can turn at different moments of our lives, locating songs to recover, guide and sublimate our feelings”.

He continues; “the great musicians – and Gabriel is among the very best – stock our emotional toolboxes with what we most need to endure life’s journey. Though they don’t always say it themselves, they are in the very best sense the therapists of our souls.”

And if you want to know how musicians like Gabriel do it, then take a moment to read this great article in the New York Times on how MIT tracked down the “neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music”.

The very area this Zika-fighting doctor in Jamaica was no doubt targeting when he “used his creative talents to deliver a public health message with a difference”. Enjoy!


So that’s it for February’s news review. Until next month’s, keep up with all the best stories landing in the centre of our Venn diagram, on the CSL twitter feed.

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