Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
I’ve learnt something today that has blessed me hugely, so I thought I’d pass it on to bless you too. It’s a story of God’s grace and wonderful ways, and how He can transform a ‘bad place’ of despair into a place of blessing. You’ll remember Sarah and Hagar and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and how Hagar was sent away by Abraham because Ishmael mocked Isaac at the boy’s weaning ceremony (Genesis 21). Not just light teasing; the word indicates intense derision.
You’d think that Hagar would have prevented him because years earlier she’d run away after being badly treated by Sarah after mocking her childlessness (Genesis 16). A rather nasty thing to do, you might think, laughing at someone who longs for a child but can’t conceive. (The pain of childlessness is often still felt in old age.) Hagar suffered because of her own pride and insolence. But God had His eye on her and found her sitting near a spring in the desert. He told her to go back and submit to her mistress, and because of that, the well in that place is called ‘Beer Lahai Roi’ meaning ‘the One who lives and Who sees me.’
The wonderful twist in the saga is that years later, Beer Lahai Roi was the place where the grown up Isaac was meditating and where his new bride was brought to him (Genesis 24: 62-62). And it was there that he chose to live (Genesis 25:11), bringing community and life to the place where ‘God sees’. God kept His promise to Hagar (Genesis 16), and turned what had been a tragic place into a blessing.
People sometimes say that they are ‘in a bad place,’ when they are experiencing depression, or sorrow, or grief. Bereavement is an especially ‘bad place’. But Hagar’s story brings hope, because it shows that there is ‘One Who Sees’ and who will, in time. turn it into a place of grace and communion.
(With thanks for the insight to Roger Hitchings, an inspirational Bible Scholar who will be speaking at our AGM in Leicester on May 11.)
Deaths from influenza amongst the elderly have risen sharply in recent years, and it’s known that flu vaccinations don’t work for everybody. In 2017 researchers at Nottingham University found that being in a good mood before having a ‘flu vaccination increases its protective power.
Now they are planning another trial to discover whether laughter before the flu jab has the same effect. People taking part (aged 65 – 85) will have their mood measured and then will watch 15 minutes of Michael McIntyre, after which their mood will be tested again to see if they feel happier. Their blood will then tested before the jab and four weeks later to see if they have higher levels of antibody responses.
Health psychologist Prof Kavita vedhara said that improving protection was vital. The aim is to see fewer older people develop flu, ‘which can be a devastating condition in the elderly.’
Michael McIntyre was chosen because he is considered one of the least offensive of current comedians. (Times, 10th February). Which is another way of saying that he can make people laugh without being coarse and using foul language.
He may be worth watching whether or not you need a flu jab!
We know, from our work with older people, that God has a purpose for each life right until the very end. Sometimes it’s clear, as it was with 96 year old Jean who lived in our retirement housing in Mirfield. When it seemed that she was dying the district nurse came in, and to her surprise Jean clasped her wrist and said, ‘Do you know where you’re going when you die? I do, and you need to know Jesus!’ Jean went on to live to be 100.
We heard from a couple who were having a tough time trying to support an elderly aunt with dementia. She enjoyed living alone in her flat and couldn’t see that there was anything wrong even when she cooked food for so long in the microwave it caught fire and set off the building alarms. Her niece and her husband were doing everything they could to keep her safe. Neighbours, and members of the local church had formed an ‘Aunt Maud watch’ and on occasion brought her back home when they found her in town. Her family installed sensors in her flat so they could tell if she’d fallen or if she’d gone out and left the door open. Then Maud discovered the system’s main plug and switched it off.
But if the technology had been as helpful as that promised by scientists in Washington who are working on one especially for people with dementia, Maud may have been pleased to keep it. At Washington State University (WSU) they are developing a Robot Activity Support System (RAS) that includes sensors and a robot. The sensors are embedded around the home to track where the person is and detect whether he (or she) needs help with daily tasks. If Maud needed help the robot would go to her and give instructions on how to carry out simple tasks or lead her to important things such as medication or food. Future robots may even cook the food.
The development is in its early stages, but this and the Japanese ‘Pepper’ robot being trialed in care homes in the UK look promising. So far the American system has been tested by students, and the next step is to try it with elderly users.
Hopefully, in the next 10 or 15 years the technology will be so advanced that domestic robots will be available for everyone. Amazon’s Alexa is being installed in homes as part of domiciliary care in some parts of England, and in America, the market for technical products for aging baby boomers is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2020.
I quite like the idea of a robot who can vacuum the stairs, put the rubbish out and make cups of tea. If I should ever have one, I would call it Herbert, and would train it to do all sorts of things.
Sadly, Herbert will come too late for Maud, which is a pity because it’s becoming harder and harder to recruit people into care work. Perhaps future Herberts could help by taking the strain and the bulk of the care work, freeing carers to do what they like best – spending quality time helping people. Dr Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society said she welcomed new ideas, but warned against cutting human interaction. She said that there is evidence to suggest that robots can boost social engagement, improve mood and reduce agitation for some people with dementia, but nothing ‘can or should replace human and social interaction’. It’s good to see how many Christians are stepping into the gap as volunteers. For those who are interested, my colleagues and I run training workshops.
In his book, ‘Happy Ever After’, behavioural scientist Professor Paul Dolan says that we’ve been ‘lied to’ about what makes us happy. Speaking with Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4 this week he said that it’s not success, or money, or status, that makes us happy. People at the top of the tree can be the most miserable. An example is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai, one of the richest men in the world. These days his photographs in the press show a deeply unhappy face, so different to when he was younger. (I lived in Dubai for many years, was a journalist there, and met him a few times.)
Science journalist Linda Geddes talked about the effect of sunlight on our minds and bodies. Going for a walk in daylight increases the light value a thousandfold, and it doesn’t even have to be in full sunshine. Studies have pointed out the benefits of going for a walk, especially in the countryside where there are trees. Perhaps GPs should write walks in the country as part of their social prescribing.
Our mood is affected by our bodies, as well as our mind, said Prof Edward Willmore. He has studied the link between mental health and physical inflammation. Where there is inflammation the immune system in the brain can overreact and cause depression, he said. (Interestingly, researchers are studying this same inflammatory response as being a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.) He mentioned studies looking at whether taking anti-inflammatory medication could reduce depression. Stress is said to start an inflammatory pathway.
The most striking story was writer Laura Freeman’s account of how she cured herself of anorexia. Anorexia is a notoriously difficult condition to treat. She did it by reading books, she said, ‘books and books and filling my mind with good things.’ Which is exactly what the Bible tells us to do – fill our minds with good things.
I often think (and probably say!) that if we followed our Designer’s Handbook, the Bible, we would be a lot healthier and happier. ‘Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise,’ the apostle Paul told the believers at Philippi (Philippians 4:8, NLT). Note that he says FIX our thoughts. As a counsellor I found that many people believe they have no control over their thoughts, but we do. We can choose what we want to dwell on. Going over and over negative thoughts (ruminating) is a major cause of depression – ruminating, it’s called.
Surely, Paul summed it up best when he said that in every situation (and he found himself in some pretty horrible ones) he had learnt to be content. He had also learnt that he could do ‘all things through Him who strengthens me.’ He didn’t wake up one morning feeling content – he had to learn to be, rather like Laura Freeman, who filled her mind with good things.
Let’s do that this year, then! Let’s not look for this elusive happiness, but learn to be content, whatever …
Imagine; every Christmas morning, for years and years, you’ve been up before the rest of the family, making sure everything is as it should be. This year is the same; everything runs like clockwork till you turn to make the gravy as you’ve done on automatic pilot for years. Then suddenly, looking at the ingredients you’ve laid out you don’t recognise any of them and you realise you don’t know how to make it. You’ve no idea what you’re doing, or how you’ve got there. That’s how it was for a mother interviewed for a story in a Sunday newspaper recently. For her, the Christmas gravy was a clear warning that there was a major problem in her head. It led, ultimately, to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
For Dr Jennifer Bute it was exploding bananas – which happened years after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In her book, ‘Dementia from the Inside, a Doctor’s Personal Journey of Hope,’ she describes how hearing the bananas explode rescued her from disaster, and highlighted the need for warning systems. She writes,
‘The Internet delivery man had very kindly put everything in the kitchen for me, including all over the cooker hob. Normally, I just put the items away. But on this occasion, I didn’t. I just moved enough aside, turned on the hob and put on a saucepan – but turned on the wrong hob. Then I turned all four hobs on fully, with the plastic bags of shopping still on top. I could see the red hobs, and I could see the plastic melting, and the cardboard turning into carbon – I could see everything happening but did not realise its significance. And then I could smell it, the burning and the scorching, so I just thought ‘hallucination!’ It was only when the bananas exploded – when the third sense, hearing, came in – that I realised what was happening. Even though I could see it and smell it, it didn’t mean anything to me.’ She realised that ‘I need to have systems and precautions in place, so that I can continue to live independently.’
In the book Jennifer describes the systems that she has in place. She also tells of things that help others living in her dementia friendly village, not just in their daily routines but in ways that help them cope with dementia, with examples in the form of real-life stories. As leading neurologist Professor Peter Garrard wrote, ‘The observant physician shines through in Dr Bute’s book, while her practical advice reveals the resourcefulness of an inventor.’
It’s this that makes Jennifer’s book unique in the annals of dementia. It’s not just her personal story, rivetting though that is. It’s inspirational and practical at the same time. It’s easy to read -‘beautifully written’ said Susan Macaulay, famous author, blogger, dementia care advocate. It’s the perfect gift this Christmas time for anyone who is coping with dementia. It’s available from usual outlets, including Amazon, but you can purchase it with free delivery from www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk
‘Is it true that doing puzzles or crosswords won’t prevent metal decline’, asked James, talking to me earlier this week on Transworld Radio. (A good, well-balanced station – worth listening to.) He was referring to a news item in the media that day.
The answer, say the experts is no, they won’t prevent mental decline. Brain training games do what they say – they train in the techniques of the game, but they don’t boost cognition. (Though some say that games that train in shape recognition and spatial awareness can help, because they also help cognition.)
So what is meant by ‘cognition’? Cognition, says the dictionary, is ‘the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.’
At the risk of inflaming debate, that’s what I’d call ‘the mind’. And there’s strong evidence for ‘the mind’ being much more than the physical part of us we call the brain. For example, there’s still no medical explanation as to how someone whose brain is very damaged by dementia can suddenly come back to themselves for a little while. It’s like seeing someone emerge through the fog, and it’s not uncommon.
The experts say that we should develop a high level of cognition as early in life as possible, so that we have a reserve to see us through in old age. We do this through learning, reading, and in relationship with others.
How to boost cognition in later life?
First – enjoy the company of others as often as you can. Experts such as Professor Robin Dunbar, anthropologist at Oxford University, insists that our social interactions are more important than anything else. Our brains light up with synaptic connections more when we are face to face than when we are reading, or learning, and definitely more than our screen time.
Second – consider our Brain & Soul Boosting for Seniors programme. They do what they say on the cover. Group leaders give us such positive evaluations. The sequence of each session encourages engagement, affirmation, and building on participants’ life experiences to unpacking the Scriptures.
Thirdly – discover how sticking to a handful of key practices reduced the onset of dementia by 64% in the men living in a Welsh valley. Google ‘Caerphilly Study, BBC) and up comes a very readable report, with photographs.
Most importantly, we’d all benefit if we simply did what the Bible tells says – to renew the spirit of our minds. (There’s a good link here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-renewed-mind-and-how-to-have-it .) (Ephesians 4:23)
There’s so much stress and chaos in life today, and stress induces an inflammatory process that is now being researched as a cause of dementia.
Some interesting answers to the question WHAT WOULD YOU DO? asked in an earlier blog. It was about parents moving to a retirement area in a coastal town, a four-hour drive from their grandchildren and their daughter and her husband, who are worried how they will cope if one of them gets ill or they became frailer and need help. They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on them. Should the daughter persuade them not to move?
Some of the answers here: –
From Janet: you have to accept it’s what they want to do! If it’s a retirement area there are probably plenty of activities for older people, and more facilities too. You can find out about them. There’s an interactive map on the Faith in Later Life website with a lot of information about what’s on in the different regions.
From Derek: if they haven’t already got it, you can set them up with Skype, or one of the other ‘face to face’ software communications programmes.
From Margaret: Even though it seems a long drive, you can arrange to visit regularly. Make it an outing for the children, something to look forward to!
From Gwyneth: if they join a local church you can make a note of the contact details. When you visit make a point of going to church and meeting people with them. That way, if you can’t reach your parents and are worried about them, you’ll have someone to call.
From Tim: There’s a new device that’s a doorbell with a camera that videos everyone who comes to the door, and sends a video to your mobile phone. It’s called ‘Ring’. It can be connected to the parents’ phones so they can see who’s at the door, even when they’re away from the house, and can also send the videos to you. You will be able to see when they go out and come back and you’ll be able to see how they’re looking.
From anonymous: don’t anticipate trouble. If they get that frail there are probably agencies in that area that can help. There will be organisations like ‘Friends of the Elderly,’ Age UK, and probably more.
Loneliness is a problem for many older people, but having families keeping in touch, makes a big difference.
Feel free to leave your suggestions!
A number of studies have shown that people who go to church tend to live significantly longer than those who don’t. And a leading professor has said that it isn’t simply because of the social support that churches give, but because worshippers are flexing spiritual muscles.
A study in two American States surveyed 5,449 people with 64 per cent being regular worshippers. It was led by Professor Marino Bruce, a social and behavioural scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
The study reported that men and women aged 40 to 65 years old, who attend church or other places of worship reduce their risk for mortality by 55 per cent. The effects remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into account.
Professor Bruce said. “We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support. That’s where we begin to think about this idea… of compassionate thinking, that we’re… trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.’ [i]
He added that, ‘being in a place where individuals could flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.’
‘Compassionate thinking’ is an effective practice in cognitive behavioural therapy. Studies have shown that it helps individuals banish unhelpful, negative thinking, and that repeated compassionate thinking helped establish a healthier view of themselves and their lives.[ii]
It’s interesting how secular research often seems to stumble across a biblical truth that’s been there all the time. ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,’ says Ephesians 5:32.
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.
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