Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
They’d been married for fifty-eight years, and throughout all those years, Mrs Anne Limbert did the driving. Her husband, Keith, had some driving lessons in his 20s, but never took his test. It seemed to work out well, and they got used to it. He said that it meant that when they went out, he could have a drink or two. “I was chauffeur driven, to be honest.”
But when Anne, (also 79) had a stroke, and developed breast cancer, he realised he had to become the chauffeur. So he took driving lessons, and after two failed attempts, finally passed his driving test.
Now, as well as driving to hospital appointments, they can treat themselves to simple pleasures. She said, “I think he’s done brilliantly. We go to garden centres mostly, and I have a scone.”
It’s never too late!
Read the story here – https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/917964/retired-driving-lessons-attempts-stroke-effects-elderly
This morning on Radio Four, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks commented on a study showing that just one hour a week of social interaction helps people with dementia. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a philosopher, theologian, author and politician: it’s as a politician he shone this morning. Ever mindful to promote all things Jewish, he mentioned the man who invented Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Aaron Becks, now aged ninety-six. CBT is known to be the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety and depression, conditions which are common among people with dementia, and visiting Becks recently, Rabbi Sacks asked him if CBT could help people with dementia. Becks replied that, at first he hadn’t thought so, but evidence is mounting that it does indeed, help. If I had his email I would write to him and say of course it does, because CBT is uncannily aligned with Scriptural principles which, as far as human beings are concerned, are as irrefutable as the law of physics – perhaps more so.
Commenting on the research, Rabbi Sacks said that the Psalms spoke of the importance of people spending time with each other. In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further, with His second most important commandment to love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:31).
The University of Exeter trial involved more than 800 people with dementia in sixty-nine care homes in England. It found that spending more time communicating with residents could boost older people’s well-being, when combined with personal care. ‘As well as improving quality of life, the programme reduced levels of agitation and aggression.’ [i]
Sometimes I wonder if researchers live in their own separate silos. It’s been known for some time that social interaction, which really means people listening and talking with people, has a more profound effect on brain health than computer training programs. One research leader said that the brains of people in conversation light up like Christmas trees.
The leader of the study in question today, Professor Clive Ballard, reported that the average amount of social interaction for people with dementia in care homes was just two minutes a day. “It’s hardly surprising when that has a knock-on effect on quality of life and agitation. Our approach improves care and saves money.”
Just ‘two minutes a day’? For the life of me I can’t see how anyone caring for someone with dementia could spend just two minutes a day with them. One wife told me that helping her husband get up in the morning and get dressed took nearly an hour. In our care homes I’ve seen how helping someone with dementia to eat takes far longer, and our carers chat at the same time.
Saves money? Recently our care homes adopted an enhanced dementia care approach. We’ve called it ‘Hummingbird ’ because carers have frequent little conversations throughout the day. It’s personalised to each individual, as carers learn about each one’s personal interests, so they can talk about things that are most likely to engage them. It means that residents get far, far more than an hour a week of social interaction! Carers also learn about their faith background, so they can encourage appropriately with ‘a word in season’. All in a calm, family atmosphere.
It’s meant stepping out in faith because of the extra costs involved. It’s meant additional training and taking on extra staff at a time when recruitment in the care sector is at its most difficult. But the bottom line is worth it.
Music is a powerful, but underused tool for people with dementia, says an article in today’s Care Home News. The article mentions a Commission on Dementia and Music, set up by the Longevity Centre in Oxford, which found that music reduces agitation, stress and a range of psychological and physical behaviours. The Commission would like to see music used more widely in the NHS.
It’s interesting when secular wisdom catches up with what’s been written in the Scriptures for centuries, although it usually catches up only in part. The old Testament in particular sparkles with worship songs and psalms of praise. Jehoshaphat put the musicians in front of the army as they went into battle (2 Chronicles: 20) and they won! I’ve often wondered what the musicians felt about it and what it meant to the opposing army!
It was a battle won by singing. And we see something like this in our care homes, when residents who have dementia respond to the familiar worship. There’s a kind of breakthrough when the Holy Spirit touches their spirits. One manager described watching a resident who normally didn’t speak much, singing with her face raised in joy. When he mentioned the hymn to her afterwards she couldn’t remember it. The responses are so powerful that another manager has said she can’t understand how people can say there is no God.
There’s a touching clip on YouTube, showing an elderly man who hadn’t spoken for over two years, coming alive as he responded to music. The carer describes how she chose music about God because they knew he’d read the Bible before he became ill. And it worked beautifully! The man explaining what’s happened, in this clip, is (the late) neurologist Oliver Sacks, famous for his eloquent books about neurological conditions, in fact he is known as the ‘poet Laureate of neurology.’ He talks about music being the “quickening art”, and he’s right, although he’s missed something important – if you listen to the old man you’ll hear how the music brought God to him again, and how ‘God is love.’
You can watch the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKDXuCE7LeQ
In the book, ‘Dementia: Frank and Linda’s story’ you can read how Frank was blessed and calmed by the music CDs Linda played for him during the day.
Shakespeare wrote, ‘if music be the food of love …’ When it’s worship, music is so powerful that itbreaks through the limited cognition and go straight to the spirit of the person. It’s what the Psalmist called ‘deep calling to deep.’
A new report to Parliament by MP Frank Field shows that as many as 1 million older people are starving in their homes because of loneliness and isolation. (The Times, 22-01-18).
The report quotes a woman in her 80s whose husband went into a care home with dementia. The district nurse who’d been visiting her husband to help with food stopped coming, and with no one else visiting, the woman did not eat a proper meal for nine weeks. She went unnoticed until a neighbour came two months later. Among others, the report mentions a man in his 90s who was banned from his local supermarket because he fell twice and was an insurance risk – so he was unable to buy food.
Mr Field said that some malnourished older people entered hospital weighing 5 ½ stone, with an infection, or following a fall which kept them there for several days, if not weeks.
The report follows an announcement that the government is appointing a Minister to tackle loneliness, recommended by the Jo Cox campaign. Around 9 million people in the UK, mainly elderly and disabled adults, live very solitary, lonely lives.
Ten years ago, Meals on Wheels used to help around 155,000 people. For many this was their only point of contact with another human being. The services were mainly run by volunteers who were also befrienders, keeping an informal eye on frail older people. Today only 29,000 people receive Meals on Wheels – because of lack of funds. Yet spotting a problem early can prevent many elderly ending up in A&E, experts say.
So it’s hats off to the churches that are working hard to reach the lonely in their communities. They organise a whole range of activities, such as lunch clubs and afternoon activities of all types – anything that meets the need. All paid for by church members and run by volunteers who are often retired and older themselves.
In March, at our conference in March at Romford Baptist Church, one of the speakers will describe an effective community outreach program run by churches working together in the North. It’s seen to be doing such a good job that it’s attracting more volunteers and engagement with social services and the local police, who refer people who need befriending. It’s also attracted some charitable funding.
Wouldn’t the new Minister for Loneliness be wise to consider allocating funds to churches already doing such valuable work?
Like several other companies, Pfizer has invested heavily in developing treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s because of the potential benefits, but were disappointed when they failed to work during testing.
In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson halted development of an Alzheimer’s drug called bapineuzumab after it failed to slow memory loss in test subjects. And in 2017 Eli Lilley’s drug, solenazumab, failed to produce results in a trial of 2,000 patients in the UK, despite earlier reports of success in a smaller clinical trial. Other companies, such as AstraZeneca PLC, Biogen Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., keep pursuing Alzheimer’s treatment, but analysts consider the projects very risky.
For 20 years pharmaceutical development for Alzheimer’s disease has largely focused on removing the protein deposits in the brain thought to be responsible for causing neurological damage leading to dementia. In May last year it was announced that a new Dementia Research Institute would be set up in University College London and in three other research centres, headed by Dutch neuroscientist, Bart de Strooper, who was directing researchers to examine the role of inflammation and the brain’s immune system.
But there is good news. The incidence of dementia, that is the rate of new cases, has dropped by 20% in the last two decades in the UK and other developed countries. The decrease has been due to healthier lifestyles, including stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake to moderate, having a good diet, regular exercise and maintaining good social connections.
Often good things start in small ways. In my local paper today is a headline, ‘Youf Gang makes a big difference in community.’ It’s the first of a new series of monthly columns written by this particular Youf Gang. *
‘Hello, my name is Mohammed, and I am the chairman of the … Youf Gang,’ it begins. It goes on to describe how the gang helps the community with litter picking, doing things in the park and holding events to bring the community together. They’ve also held fundraising events and raffles to raise money for the group. They plan these events at regular meetings, where, most of the time, parents attend. They’ve also been taken on trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and to Buckingham Palace. There are 10 members and a supervisor, who works in Gwent Police. Smalll beginnings, but with big potential.
What a fabulous initiative! Whoever thought it up deserves an MBE. I loved the way the report begins with, ‘My name is Mohammed…’
I’m going to write and suggest that the youngsters could also get involved in visiting isolated older people in the community, and perhaps in local care homes. And pray that this initiative doesn’t fizzle out, as so many do, because of lack of funding. Last year the activities coordinator of a local care home noticed how residents’ moods improved when youngsters came in, with a depressed, elderly man coming right out of his shell, so she persuaded a nearby children’s nursery to arrange regular visits. But it meant the nursery had to employ someone extra to help. The care home appealed to some regional charities and raised enough cash, to keep it going for a while at least.
The best ideas usually come from people on the ground, those who are where the rubber hits the road so to speak, but raising money is tough these days. If we didn’t know the God of infinite resources we would despair at times. The closing verses of Chapter 3 in Ephesians lift our spirits:
‘Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.’
More than we can ask or think! Glory! The next verse says it well: ‘Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.’
Do pray for Mohammed’s Youf Gang, and for more funding for all good works like this, including care homes – and not forgetting us at Pilgrims’ Friend Society.
Many of us would not be here now if it were not for our National Health Service. And that includes me: I belong to the sisterhood that speaks from experience of biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, prostheses and wigs, although I didn’t experience all of them. Which makes what’s happening now so Kafkaesque that we can’t believe it’s not in a war zone but here, in our first world country.
I’m not going rehash the current news, even those that set my hair on end about elderly ladies with dementia discharged from hospital without their families being informed, still in their sleepwear with their clothes in a bag, deposited outside their homes – in this weather! – unable to find a key and rescued by neighbours. Thank God for good neighbours. (A recent story is here – https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5247580/gran-with-dementia-discharged-from-hospital-on-christmas-day-and-dumped-on-her-doorstep-in-the-rain-with-no-keys/) I say recent story because similar episodes are reported each year. One time I telephoned the press officer of the hospital concerned and she was as upset as I was. What sort of person puts a frail old lady into a taxi by herself without checking there would be someone at home for her?
Instead, I’d like to look at one the ways that older people can stay out of hospital. We all know the importance of exercise, diet, and staying socially connected. What we don’t hear about often is the importance of keeping a good sense of balance, even though falls are one of the major reasons older people end up in hospital.
There are physical reasons that balance becomes dodgy as we age. Inside our brains there’s a kind of gyroscope, a vestibular system that tells us where we are in space and which way is up. This deteriorates as cells die off and doesn’t give such swift corrections when we are older. So we can tilt over the tipping point before we know it.
Also, we lose muscle mass and strength as we age, and that means losing power — a function of strength and speed — which affects balance, too. If you start to trip, power helps you react swiftly. Exercise can help you rebuild strength and power, or at least slow the pace of decline. Walking is particularly good.
There are a number of other things, too, including low blood pressure, the effects of medication, and poor eyesight.
An easy to read article by Harvard Medical School give some very good tips for strengthening a sense of balance. They’re quite simple and easy to do – for example, standing up from a chair several times, and doing some easy wall planks. You can read it here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/our-best-balance-boosters?utm_source=delivra&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GB20180103-Balance&utm_id=763310&dlv-ga-memberid=10759978&mid=10759978&ml=763310
The most pessimistic about advancing years, in a survey by an American discount club for seniors, were young adults, while the most contented were the older group. On every aspect of ageing, the young ones were consistently gloomier than the older adults. The young ones were also the least satisfied with their lives.
It confirms a growing body of research showing that old age is a contented, even joyful time! You feel better when you’re older. Study after study reveals that older people are generally happier, more satisfied, less depressed and anxious, and less stressed than younger respondents. Improved mental health in old age could be due to the wisdom people acquire as they grow older, say researchers. It’s what the Bible refers to as ‘proven character’ (Romans 5: 4-6). Psychologist James Hillman wrote “let us entertain the idea that character requires the additional years and that the long last of life is forced upon us neither by genes nor by conservational medicine nor by societal collusion. The last years conform and fulfil character.” [ii]
An international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare, Dr William H Thomas, said, ‘I endorse ageing – because it is ageing that is going to save us.’[i] He sees older people as the elders of society, the balancing factor and the glue that holds it together.
Professor Laura Carstensen, Professor of Psychology and Professor in Public Policy at Stanford University, sees old age as being an enjoyable time. She said, ‘Older people are more positive in their outlook and less inclined to negativity, have increased knowledge and expertise, are more given to reconciliation than confrontation, and have better balanced emotional lives.’
Psychologist Arthur Stone (University Southern California) said “There’s lots of speculation about why older people are happier and having better moods even when their cognitive and physical health is in decline, but we still don’t have anything that fully explains what is going on,” he said. “It’s a big puzzle, and an important puzzle.”
But it’s only a puzzle if you don’t know that God deliberately designed old age, with special purposes for older people. He promised long life as a blessing (Psalm 96:16).
Living to old age creates the qualities that God intended to benefit the rest of society: those that psychologist Laura Carstensen and Dr William Thomas (and others) say must be recognised and ‘released’ for the benefit of us all. With contentment, wisdom, better emotional balance and more, it’s good for individuals, too!
The keys to an effective, purpose filled old age are described in Chapter 7 of the new book, ‘What’s Age Got To Do with It?’. Available from https://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/shop/whats-age-got-to-do-with-it, or Eden Books online, or Amazon.
[ii] The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, 1999
The power of hope was illustrated recently in a study published by the British medical Journal. Medical researchers in London and Brazil found that patients who were given hope were much more likely to have positive outcomes. The researchers defined hope as “a goal oriented way of thinking that makes an individual invest time and energy in planning how to achieve their aims”.[i]
Hope includes expectancy, and expectancy has a positive effect on the brain. Sukhi Shergill, professor of psychiatry and systems neuroscience at King’s College, London, said: ‘Being treated with a placebo during pain the brain will release opioids, which is the same transmitter as when you take strong painkillers such as codeine or morphine. So the way you send the message [of hope], the person who’s communicating that, changes the expectancy in the patient who’s receiving that, and we know that expectancy changes the brain’s neural transmitter systems.’
In ‘Dementia: Pathways to Hope’ I begin by asking what we mean by hope? It’s a word used in a kind of aspirational way today to mean wishing for an outcome; looking forward to something that may or may not be fulfilled. But ‘hope’ in the biblical sense means more than wishing that something might happen, it’s a kind of confident expectation, of looking forward to something that we know will happen because God is in it. See Hebrews 11: 1-6. In the book I give examples of how expectations have led to amazing outcomes. (If you haven’t read it yet, do get a copy – imbibing hope and building expectation is a good way to start the year!)
So although a happy New Year sounds good, a HOPEFUL New Year would be better!
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