Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Scientists at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg have grafted neurons reprogrammed from skin cells into the brains of mice for the first time with long-term stability. Six months after implantation, the neurons had become fully functionally integrated into the brain.
This implantation of neurons is successful because it is stable – and it raises hope for future therapies that will replace sick neurons with healthy ones in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients, for example. Perhaps, also, for people with Alzheimer’s, whose neurons have become damaged?
The Luxembourg researchers published their results in the current issue of ‘Stem Cell Reports’.
For the research minded, the reference is
Stem Cell Reports, accepted, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stemcr.2014.06.017
Hemmer K., Zhang M., van Wüllen, T., Sakalem M., Tapia N., Baumuratov A., Kaltschmidt C., KaltschmidtB, Schöler H. R., Zhang W., Schwamborn J. C. (2014) Induced neural stem cells achieve long-term survival and functional integration in the adult mouse brain.
For the not- research minded, but for those who love technology – this interesting piece was passed to me on the phone of the young man on the next treadmill to mine at the Gym today. ‘You’re interested in brain research?’ he asked, propping it up in front of me. I read it at 4.6 mph. ‘Email it to me?’ I suggested. ‘I’ll pass it to your timeline’, he replied. And here it is!
I hope that when he reaches forty there’ll be cures – and better yet – prevention – for these brain diseases.
John Stott and Billy Graham said they were unprepared for old age. Dying, yes, and life hereafter, but not for old age. If those two much loved evangelists, steeped in biblical truths, could say that say that – what about the rest of us?
The thing is that most people have no idea of what it is really like to be ‘old’. We never think about it – we push it away from us.
But those of us who work with older people find many (not all!)who have learnt the secret of being content even in physical frailty and mental fragility
There are myths about older people, and a great lack of understanding. These will be addressed!
This morning there was a great time of pray here and it’s going to be a really good seminar. Because God wants us to know these things! It’s all by His grace, halleluia!
And the good thing is that so many people are wanting to know these things now!
Running for just five to 10 minutes a few times a week could add three years to your life, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recently. They were reporting on a 15 year study of 55,000 people aged 18 to 100. The only exercise mentioned was jogging.
However, not everybody likes jogging. Even when I was skinny as a fork it didn’t suit me, and it doesn’t suit thousands and thousands of people, who prefer walking.
But there’s hope! Apparently any exercise will do. The aim is to get your heart rate up on a regular basis, said Oliver Monfredit, of the University of Manchester. For some time now research coming through has shown the benefits of regular walks.
And yesterday I found a way of increasing heart rate during a brisk walk. Youwill need a treadmill, but if you watch an exciting sport that you really like at the same time, your heart rate soars. Yesterday it was the Womens’ Squash Championship on screen.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many people really do want to live as long as possible. Most of those I know are more interested in living as well as possible, while they’re here. It probably depends on what you think happens once you’ve left here, as everyone is destined to do at some point.
The Bible promises that our ‘hereafter’ is better than we could ever imagine. The apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Corinth, said, ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV.
Very often a resident in one of our care homes will say that they are ready to go to their eternal Home, any time! Most have had good, long lives, but are now frailer. Sometimes, a manager told me once, they have to be persuaded that God hasn’t forgotten about them, that there is a purpose in them being here, even if they can’t see it themselves. The tug of Glory is strong when your eyes are on Jesus!
More and more people want to know about others who are conquering dementia.
In my books on dementia I mention Christine Bryden, a little lady who was a high flying executive with the Australian government until diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 46. She’d written two books by the time I ‘discovered’ her and when I emailed for permission to quote from them she said, ‘Use anything you like!’
We’ve corresponded over time, and last November we met here, in Wales, when she and her husband, Paul, were on the last leg of their speaking tour and holiday in the UK. She’s coped with dementia for twenty years now, and aims to encourage others with her talks and books: she said she was writing another one. From her books you’ll see that Christine and her husband are lively Christians, which is, perhaps, why the books aren’t as well known in the secular market as they could be. (‘Who will I be when I die’, and ‘Dancing with Dementia.’)
She told me that when her consultant looks at her brain scan he tells her that she shouldn’t be able to function as well as she does. ‘What do you reckon?’ I asked . ‘It’s the Holy Spirit’, she replied.
In an interview with the Daily Mail she describes how the brain ‘rewires’, finding its way around damaged areas. It’s so encouraging to read – see it here at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2674496/Woman-survived-20-years-dementia-new-love-astonishes-doctors.html. At conferences and exhibitions people come and talk to us about their journeys with dementia, both as caregivers and the person with the condition. It’s good to be able to point to stories of hope. And there’s more than one.
The oldest person I’ve interviewed was 112 years old. She had been a teacher, and she used to be visited by grandchildren and even great grandchildren of her former pupils. She’d loved being a teacher, she said. She was the sort of person the Bible describes as being ‘full of days.’
Not everyone wants to live to a great old age. But as long as we keep breathing, that’s exactly what will happen.
Best prepare for it then! Next Wednesday afternoon, at New Wine, Shepton Mallet, I’m speaking on exactly that – looking at the five key steps to enjoying a contented old age. Would be good to see you there!
The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has already appointed an Older People’s Commissioner. Now it has adopted a Declarion of Rights for Older People. Enshrined in the delcaration, based on the UN Principles for Older Persons, these rights include: ‘I have the right to be who I am; I have the right to be valued, I have free will and the right to make decisions about my life; I have the right to decide where I live, how I live and with whom I live, I have the right to work, develop and contribute and I have a right to safety, security and justice.’ What about Responsibilities of Older People? I have my own little list, but I’d be interested to know what others think these should be. I live in Wales, but personally, my Declaration would be more a list of ‘wants’: ‘I want to be more like Jesus: I know my value rests on my worth to Him, I look to God for direction and guidance in what I do, where I live, and with whom I live, I know that God has planned my ‘good works’ based on how He has equipped me beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), and as for safety, security and justice – I dwell under the shadow of His wing and have all His promises about safety, security and justice.’
Winifred Vanderberg was an 83 year old who gave up her right to live comfortably in her own home after her husband died, after a long debilitating illness, in one of our care homes. They’d both been in the home for months before his death, not wanting to be separated. Winifred wanted her life to count for God, not herself. She’d been a nurse, and although she knew she couldn’t be ‘official’ at her age in the home, she asked the manager if she could stay on to help where she could. And she did. She encouraged the others, prayed with them, and encouraged staff too. She did a million little things that made life brighter, and when she died a few months’ ago the manager said it was as though a little light had gone out in the home. Declarations such as the WAGs worry me a little because they’re issued with no ‘Responsibilities’ counterpoint. Or any real weight in law, as far as I can see. On that note … it’s a hot afternoon and I am just about to exercise my right to a huge mug of tea. Then I’m going to the gym.
At a New Wine conference, one year, we took part in a competition for the children on site. They’d come to our stand in the market place and answer a few questions to get little stars on their score cards. Among the questions was, ‘How old must you be to be old?’ The answers were varied and interesting. A six year old said that his brother was quite old – his brother was sixteen. Another said that his Dad was really old – the Dad was 39. A Dad standing behind his three children, aged from 6 to 12, whispered to me over their heads, ‘I hope they don’t pick my age!’
But old age can take people by surprise. Evangelist Billy Graham said he hadn’t been prepared for it, and it was hard. English evangelist John Stott said the same. We don’t even think about being old – we kind of drift into it.
As a rule, our churches don’t prepare us for old age. God designed it to be a time of harvest for us, of enjoying the fruit of the Spirit we’ve allowed to develop in us over the years. Of being a source of experience and wisdom for others, of being loved and respected in our communites. It’s completely opposite to the secular view which says older people ‘have had their innings’ and should move over for the young. I’ve never understood that: it shows that the attributes of the young and those of the old haven’t been recognised or evaluated, and it seems to see people as character-less dominoes in a moving line.
Over the years I’ve interviewed many, many older people. There was 103 year old Ron; once a handsome young man who’d saved up the ship fare so he could follow his girl friend to Canada, where she’d gone to look after an elderly Aunt. He proposed, and they came back to Surrey where they lived in a house he built himself, for most of their married life. They’d been married for 81 years when Babs fell out of bed and broke a hip, and died in hospital.
There was 92 year old Mrs English, a former missionary still translating parts of the Old Testament into Tamil Nadu, and 93 year old Dr Ben Walkey, doing the same! Diane, 94, and Constance, 93, taking Bible Studies in their care homes. Looking through the media recently shows others too. Fauja Singh, 103 years old was the first 100 year old to finish a marathon (In Toronto, in 2011). Among my favourites are the 105 year old Sheila Thomson, whose GP wrote to magistrates asking them not let her keep her driving licence after a ‘bump’ lost Sheila her 71 year no-claims bonus. It would be terrible if she couldn’t drive, she said, adding ‘I would have to give up church and a lot of things, and who would take the old folk?’ And Bernard Jordon, the 89 year old war veteran who ‘absconded’ from his care home to travel by himself to the D-Day reunion services in Dunkirk in June, this year.
Among those I’ve met who were enjoying their lives in old age, there were common themes. It was the same with those who weren’t enjoying their lives – but not the same themes,.
If we would to enjoy a great old age we should be preparing for it now! It’s the title of a seminar I’m taking at New Wine next week and the week after – on July 30th and August 7th. People are living longer and longer, and as long as you keep breathing , you will too! So come along to New Wine in Shepton Mallet and hear how to do it well.
The Assisted Dying bill, debated in the House of Lords on July 18th, passed a major hurdle and has been put forward for debate in Parliament. In essence, the Bill, if it became law, would enable a doctor to prescribe a medication for a patient knowing that it is intended to kill them. Proponents of the Bill claim it will lead to ‘dignity in dying.’ Having such a law would put an intolerable pressure on elderly people. It would be largely silent, but it would still be the language of ageism. Driving it would be many motives, money, convenience, all sorts of things. But the underlying premise would be, ‘He/she has had a good innings, and it’s time to let go.’ Older people hate the thought of being a burden, and would opt for what they thought was the best thing to do.
Writing in the Independent, Lord Tebbit, whose wife was left paralysed by the IRA bombing in Brighton in 1984 said, ‘This Bill would provide a route to great pressure on the elderly, the sick and the disabled to do the decent thing and cease to be a burden on others,” he said. “Those who care for such people are all too familiar with the moments of black despair that prompt those words, ‘I would be better dead, so that you could get on with your life. This Bill will be a breeding ground for vultures, individual and corporate. It creates too much financial incentive for the taking of life.’ Read what Lord Tebbit said here – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/assisted-dying-debate-speeches-on-right-to-die-move-a-full-house-oflords-that-is-left-divided-and-undecided-9615961.html.
Shouldn’t we be creating a culture of life, not death? I watched a video a few years ago made by a woman in her sixties who had been diagnosed with dementia. Speaking lucidly and purposefully, she said that she did not want to be a burden for her family and also wanted to avoid health care costs. The video was broadcast on Dutch TV. How much did depression affect her decision? Depression can be a major factor in dementia, but it can usually be treated. How would it have been if she’d felt that her family wanted to spend every last minute with her? That they didn’t see her as a burden, but as precious to them?
Dr Jennifer Bute was a General Practitioner when she was diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 63. She saw it as a ‘Glorious Opportunity’ to inform people about the disease, from a professional and personal point of view. She has set up a website packed with information, including videos. In May this year I shared a platform with her at a national conference and listened while she talked about how God sees each person, and how we have a purpose here on earth, right to the end of our lives. See her website here: http://www.gloriousopportunity.org/ Where Assisted Dying, or its equivalent, is legal, there is little palliative care. (Holland is an example.) But it needn’t be this way. In our care and nursing homes we are currently looking after frail, older people who are there because they can’t care for themselves. They are surrounded with love, respect, and spiritual support, right to the end. Our carers describe the satisfaction they feel from being able to look after them the way they do. See how it works for this carer at our home in Wantage, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1_K2D6oC08
My daughter says that when I die, she will have inscribed on my tombstone, ‘She has finally found the ‘safe place’.’ Not that I’m riven by a sense of insecurity, but that I have a life-long habit of putting things in a safe place. The trouble is that I forget where the safe place is, exactly. I’ve another mysterious talent, too: like the magician, Toomey Cooper, I can move things from one hand to the other and make them disappear. A colleague watched me sorting papers one day and noticed how I scanned each piece thoughtfully but put it down without thinking as though my brain had moved on without registering the landing place. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening – my brain moves on too quickly. Sometimes it takes itself to another place altogether. Listening to a talk on DVD of an American preacher with a California accent I was so drawn into the point he was making that, suddenly, I was back in my son’s kitchen in Menifee and instead of switching my electric kettle on I picked it up and put it on a gas hob, because that’s how we boiled water for tea over there. My expensive De Longhi kettle melted and I’ve mourned its loss ever since. Does this mean I’m a candidate for dementia? No it doesn’t. Among the thousands of people with dementia are those who have had a lifetime of more disciplined thinking than I have. Forgetfulness may be one of the signs that a person is developing dementia but it is usually a trait that is only recently developing. I mention it because it’s something my colleagues and I are often asked by participants at conference and seminars – ‘I’m forgetting things – could it be dementia?’ There are other signs that could indicate dementia, and I’ve described these in the books I’ve written about dementia, and in the Information Pack, ‘Putting the Pieces Together’. (www. pilgrims.friend.org.uk.)
Prevention better than cure. Dementia is one of the ‘greatest enemies to humanity’, said David Cameron in June, to an audience of 300 experts who have pledged to find a cure by 2025. Perhaps the biggest question is not so much the cure, as important as that is, but how to avoid it developing in the first place. Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing, and people want to know what they can do to prevent it. Kirk Erickson, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, found that regular physical exercise can effectively stimulate growth in the brain, helping to reverse early signs of neurodegeneration and improve performance on memory tests. Presenting his paper at the annual conference in Chicago of the American Association for the Advancement of Science he said, ‘The brain and cognitive function of older individuals remain highly plastic. It’s not the inevitable decline that we thought it was.” The exercise problem was a walk of 30 – 45 minutes three times a week. A Cambridge University study published in July (The Lancet Neurology) said that just one hour’s exercise a week can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half, according to a landmark study which ranks the seven lifestyle threats fuelling rising levels of dementia. Healthy habits Scientists at Cardiff University have been following 2,235 men since 1979, looking at the link between disease and regular exercise, eating fruit and vegetables, staying slim, light drinking and not smoking. Researchers said that only one per cent of the population had all five healthy habits, with numbers unchanged over three decades. Five per cent had four. People who followed four out of the five healthy habits were 60 per cent less likely to suffer from cognitive decline or dementia, with exercise accounting for a significant chunk of the effect. So far 219 of the men have shown signs of cognitive decline and 79 have dementia.
Psychological health More and more research emphasizes the vital link between negative thoughts and emotions and their physical effects. People do die from a broken heart! The stress hormones released by the shock and grief of bereavement can cause lethal conditions such as stroke and heart attacks. Researchers at the University of London published a study of thousands of patients over the age of 60 who had lost a partner, showing a doubling in the risk of heart attacks or strokes within 30 days of bereavement. Stress and depression are risk factors for dementia, according to research. A 10 year study of 70,000 people in the UK found that of the 10,000 who died, those with the highest mental distress scores were more likely to have died from dementia than those who were psychologically healthy. The link between psychological distress and death from dementia was independent of other factors that may raise dementia risk, including smoking, alcohol abuse, or physical ailments like heart disease or diabetes. (http://www.alzinfo.org/03/articles/diagnosis-and-causes/anxiety-depression-increase-dementia-risk). Other studies join the dots between negative emotions, raised cortisol levels, inflammatory processes and physical illness, including dementia. Dementia care pioneer Tom Kitwood wrote, ‘Neuroscience now suggests that there may be very great differences between human beings in the degree to which nerve architecture has developed as a result of learning and experience. It follows that individuals may vary considerably in the extent to which they are able to withstand processes in the brain that destroy synapses, and hence in their resistance to dementia.’ (Dementia Reconsidered, 2002). My italics.
What can we do, then? We can develop emotional resilience. Controlling toxic thoughts and emotions is the theme of Dr Caroline Leaf’s book, ‘Who Switched Off my Brain?’ She writes, ‘Researchers say that 87% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life … what we think about affects us physically and emotionally. It’s an epidemic of toxic emotions.’ Dr Leaf describes a ‘strainer’ that will only let through the thoughts we want to keep. A good tactic is to ‘take every thought captive to Christ’, 2 Corinthians 10:15. It is not events or things in themselves that disturb us, but the meanings we attribute to them. Hence the warning in Proverbs 4:23 to, ‘Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.’ Depression, especially in later years, should not be ignored – see your GP and/or or a good, Christian Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. CBT was themed at first specially to address the dysfunctional thinking in dementia, and there is a body of empirical evidence showing that it works.
Worship – most important of all. Worship helps us to hold ourselves together. In one of his devotional books, Selwyn Hughes, one of Wales’ best-loved preachers, pointed out that in worship we find unity, not just with God but within ourselves: How do we get the framework, the sense of structure we need to be able to move effectively from one day to another, in a world where everything that seemed to be nailed down is coming apart? It is to be found in our worship of God. We enter into the presence of the Lord and lo, His unity becomes our unity.
A few years' back one of our home managers was clearing his mother's house, after she had died, and he came across a letter written to her by the midwives who'd assisted at his birth in the local hospital. It was given to his mother as she left. It was only a small, hand-written letter, but among other things they'd written that their prayer was that this newborn boy would grow up knowing the Lord Jesus. (He did!). I thought of that when I saw this photograph in an article by Peter Hitchin a few days ago. (Then today again, on Twitter.) If nurses met to pray today they'd be sent for 're-education', that is, if they weren't fired. But oh, how sadly our country has regressed. Prayer is still central to our work, though, whether at head office, in our housing or homes, or in our conferences and talks. We commit it all to God.
Christian providers of respite, residential, nursing and dementia care. Also retirement apartments for assisted living and for extra care housing, and fully equipped houses for missionaries' home leave.
We share our experience and knowledge at seminars and conferences, at national and regional level.