Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
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.
Christmas is a great time for showing the love of God and telling the salvation story. It’s when you’ll see people who don’t normally come to church turn up for the Carol service, and often to church social events. Church members go to a lot of trouble putting up posters around town and invitations through letterboxes. The angels must smile at their warm hearts and their Christmas time outpouring of mince pies, cups of tea, cakes, goodness and kindness.
But sadly, there are many older people in every community who don’t respond to invitations like this. Research by Age UK found that nearly a million older people have a low view of themselves and their life rarely or never has any meaning. Many have absorbed damaging ageist attitudes.(1) They tend to be under nourished because they eat their meals alone and can’t be bothered most of the time. Some end up in hospital severely undernourished. In a leaflet on loneliness the Church Urban Fund said they are isolated because they have the wrong view of others, in other words, they fear they will be judged and rejected. Some great work is being done by befriending programmes where volunteers visit people who are referred to them by a GP or social agency, usually in crisis.
But there’s a programme that has been working quietly for some years now that can be a vehicle for reaching shy older people at grass roots level. Where individuals get to know each other and create ‘safe spaces’ for their older folk.
It’s called ‘Street Associations’ (SA) and has been working for some years in Birmingham. (Google ‘Streetassociations’). It sees lonely people drawn out and into community on individual streets. Neighbours get to know each other, and people build relationships. 98% of people surveyed said it had brought generations together and 99% said it had made their street feel friendlier. (See http://streetassociations.org/the- )
How would this work for churches?
Each Street Association is run by individuals on their own street. Someone gets the vision and forms a committee. They are sent a Starters’ Pack which explains the how-to and contacts with the organisation. Many SAs have been running for years now: streets where people once were anonymous and isolated are now communities where people smile as they pass and talk to each other. There are stories on the SA website of people who rarely spoke to others before their SA was started. They organise community events and generally work as communities used to work before they were fragmented by modern living.
For Christians it’s an opportunity to obey what Jesus said was the second most important commandment – to love your neighbour as yourself. It also follows Jesus’ pattern of going out to where the people are. It isn’t a church plant as such, which again, relies on drawing people in, and looks first and foremost to preaching the Gospel: it’s about individuals building relationships. Older people are best reached with the Gospel in relationship. If only a few people from a local church were involved in a SA on their streets they would quickly reach isolated older people in a natural, every-day, way. They would begin to see their value, and as relationships developed, be drawn to Jesus.
A couple saved up all year to be able to attend a friend’s wedding in a different part of the country. The invitation had said that their presence was more important than their presents, but ‘however if you do want to give us a gift can it be cash please?’ or words to that effect. It left them in a bit of a quandary because they couldn’t afford the travel and accommodation cost as well as a gift. They asked (on Mumsnet) which was the most important?
When it comes to the older people in your life there’s no question about it. Your presence will be more precious than gold. Because, while older people have accumulated many possessions, many have less of what matters most of old – relationships with others. One of the sad things about older people, a GP told me, is that they lose the cohort of their generation – the friends and people they have had in their lives.
So, buy gifts for grandma and grandad, but don’t spend much on them. Instead invest in spending time with them over Christmas. It may be that the best option is to have them stay with you. To make the most of it here are a few tips from former care home manager and psychogeriatric nurse, Janet Jacob:
Make them feel welcome and part of the family.
‘Make a fuss of them,’ says Janet. ‘It’s the little things that make a difference. A little chocolate on their night-stand, with a comforting Bible verse, and a cup of tea in the morning.’
It’s the same when you are visiting older people, in their own homes or in a care home. Janet advises, ‘Go and spend an hour with that person, help them to feel valued, not just a quick visit in and out. The gift of time – giving that time, sit with them, let them know that they’re valued – they are important, and they’re not forgotten.’
Whether at home or visiting, remember that older people benefit from spiritual support. Janet once took a box of ‘After Eight’ chocolates and wrapped a Scripture verse around each one. ‘They had a sweet taste on the tongue and on the heart,” she said.
It’s as this old song says – little things mean a lot! Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zie4K70DZdk
A little stress is not a bad thing. A looming deadline is guaranteed to get me writing, and a little stress, now and then, boosts energy as you rise to the occasion. But having continual stress, even at minor levels, is so bad for you it can lead to chronic disease, according to researchers at Harvard University. They explored the question ‘What impact does stress have on the brain in physiological and cognitive terms?’ and reported their answer in the journal Neurology. They found that being stressed raises levels of the hormone cortisol, which causes inflammation. Several other leading research are investigating cortisol and inflammation and its effects on the brain’s immune system, which they suspect may be a cause of dementia. Harvard researchers found that consistently raised cortisol levels affects memory and causes the brain to shrink. Cortisol also affects the body’s sleep-wake cycles, blood pressure and the way carbohydrates, fats and proteins are metabolised.
Harvard’s Dr. Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui said ‘it’s important for people to find ways of reducing stress, such as getting enough sleep, engaging in moderate exercise, incorporating relaxation techniques into their daily lives, or asking their doctors about their cortisol levels or taking a cortisol reducing medication if needed.’
Staying closely connected with friends and family could be the most important antidote of all. A large Swedish study of people ages 75 and over concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives. Churches with house groups, or life groups as they’re sometimes known, bring all good things together – cups of tea (and perhaps cake), a Bible study, (sometimes peppered with vigorous argument!) and fellowship and laughter. Other studies have shown that people regularly attending a place of worship tend to live longer than others.
There’s also the power of the Word of God, which we tend to forget. It’s not just words on a page (Hebrews 4: 12 – 13). God knew that in a fallen world there would be stress. Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, ‘but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,’ (ESV). And the following verse promises, ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Older people have usually lived through more experiences than younger, and and many will tell you how God took them through times of stress, and distress, with His peace. If you have older people in your church why not ask them how God brought them through the bad times?
Listening to the program on BBC radio four about loneliness this morning was very interesting. I stopped and took notes. Loneliness is a big and growing issue, with millions of over 50s said to be vulnerable. And of course, younger generations are not immune.
The BBC has done some quite extensive, countrywide research, and they’re sharing their findings in a series of programmes.
Sometimes, research shows, people are lonely because they are not able to socialise easily. They are not trusting people, often because in their lives they’ve experienced discrimination. The programme included a woman who had experienced it at school: she was blind and remembered how her teachers didn’t accommodate this and make sure she was included in learning groups.
Discrimination is particularly true of older people, many of whom have experienced it for decades, because of ageist attitudes. They can feel ‘less than’ others, and fear being rejected by them. Part of the answer, said an expert on the BBC programme, is exposing people to more ‘trust terms’; language that is about trusting people, so they increase their trust in others, which then has a knock-on effect in reducing loneliness. It’s also about building confidence in oneself.
The Internet and social media can help, but only a little. The BBC study noted that people who are lonely tended to post negative comments, which only reinforced their feelings and doesn’t help to establish relationships online.
Several months ago I blogged about 90-year-old Derek Taylor from Manchester, who felt isolated and alone after the deaths of his partner and sister. He said, ‘”The older you get, the less people seem to contact you… and I thought what can I do to stop being lonely?’ His tips, which include having local coffee clubs and being in more contact with neighbours, have been distributed by Manchester City Council. You can read about him here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-manchester-38804340/loneliness-tips-from-90-year-old-published
So what can we, as Christians, and in our churches do about loneliness? I believe it begins in our churches, by making sure we speak to one another, and that no one is left out. Those of us who find it easy to engage socially can speak to those who don’t. And pastors can encourage this kind of interaction, beyond the pause for ‘the peace’. When we have teas and coffees before and after services, make sure no one is on their own. Take a genuine interest. Also, note when someone isn’t coming to church, and don’t let them drop off the radar. Find out if they’re alright. These are only little things, but little drops make an ocean.
And how about this tactic? In my friend Janet’s church, the pastor asked everyone over 60 years of age to stand up. Then he invited the others over the age of 30, to choose an older person to partner with – to get to know. Janet and her husband Peter are partners with John and Sue, a married couple in their thirties. Janet said they enjoy each other’s company and are learning so much from each other. Such a simple thing to do! But so effective!
Grandparents are GOOD for their grandchildren. Most of us know this, of course, as do our bank managers, but now it’s official. ‘Research shows that kids who grow up having a greater emotional closeness to their grandparents end up being far less likely to struggle with depression as adults,’ says research published by the Illinois Association for Infant Mental Health. ‘Raising your children near your parents and giving them the opportunity to form their own strong relationships is the greatest gift you could give them, it says.’ It helps them develop emotional intelligence (which gets you further in life than IQ), and also results in most grandparents involved like this living longer.
And the grandparent effect lasts a child’s whole lifetime. I’ve lost count of the times someone responds to the Gospel message with,’My grandmother used to say things like that,’ or, ‘My granddad used to take me to church.’ Talking about his career options with a 30 year old recently, I said how God had everything planned out for him, before he was born, even. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘My grandparents used to take me to church. They used to say things like that.’
Grandparents are just one of the reasons God designed old age. Our latter years are no mistake. They are full of purpose, and blessing grandchildren is one of them.
There’s a story in the news today about a man whose who suffered life changing depression after being misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t an immediate diagnosis, but one that came after two years of tests and scans. Alarming aspects to this story are that the diagnosis was based on a hypothesis that has been proven to be false, and that misdiagnoses like this are happening all the time. *1
Over a period Martin became anxious that he was forgetting things, and his GP referred him to a dementia clinic at a London teaching hospital. The diagnosis came because the consultant wanted to diagnose a medication that is prescribed for Alzheimer’s, but needed first to make an official diagnosis. She told him that scans showed that his ‘hippocampus was riddled with sticky plasma of the kind indicating Alzheimer’s.’ Although he felt he had to trust the consultant’s judgement, he and his wife asked to see the scans showing how the disease had progressed over the past two years. She said she didn’t have the equipment to show them, so Martin asked for a second opinion.
His wife said the diagnosis had a profound effect on him. He said, ‘from the moment I saw myself as an Alzheimer’s patient I began to dismantle my life and my dreams of the future.’ He retired from his job, terminated a contract with a client he worked for four decades, cut back on plans he had made that included voluntary work and adventure holidays.
Eventually he saw consultant neurologist Dr Catherine Mummery, at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Dr Mummery said she sees several cases a month where the diagnosis should either be of another dementia,’ or where we have to retract the dementia diagnosis altogether.’
‘Martin was given a diagnosis based on a PET scan of his brain; however there are a number of conditions from menopause to depression or schizophrenia where changes may take in brain metabolism, so caution is needed.”
It’s interesting to see that protein deposits on the brain are still being seen as the cause of Alzheimer’s when this theory was publicly discarded last year, after increasing studies showing that older people can have quite large deposits but no dementia at all. The ‘amyloid B hypothesis’ was finally dismantled by a leading neuroscientist, Dr Bart de Strooper, at a major European neuroscience conference. A front-page headline in The Times blazoned how, after 20 years of failure to find a cure, the ‘amyloid B hypothesis’ was now abandoned. Instead, researchers in eight research centres in the UK and Europe are now looking into the effects of inflammation on the brain’s immune system. (See https://blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/big-turn-around-alzheimers-20-years-failure/)
The head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK says that only 60% of those estimated to be living with dementia have a formal diagnosis. It could be that among the numbers diagnosed, 534,621, there may be similar misdiagnoses. (I wrote last year about the 88-year-old wrongly diagnosed who sold her house and went into a specialist unit only to be told a year later that she had mild cognitive impairment, caused by depression.)
The figure commonly quoted for people with dementia in the UK is 850,000 – 315,379 higher than the actual number of 534,621. That 60% estimate – and that’s all it is – is based on projections calculated in the 1980s, that have not been realised. The rate of new cases of dementia has dropped by 20% over the past two decades. *2
Arguably, the advertisements that the Alzheimer’s Society produces are fear-based. ‘I wouldn’t want my daughter to go through what I’ve been through with my mother,’ intones a current radio commercial.
So it’s not surprising that the dread of dementia is such that, when an older person finds themselves becoming forgetful, they assume it is dementia. And with the push for more diagnoses and the use of misleading figures, even the experts are getting it wrong.
Once I made a mild protest to an Alzheimer’s advertisement on social media, pointing out the inflated figures used. Back came the sharp retort that I was being mealy-mouthed about the figures because dementia was bad, never mind the actual numbers who have it, and people should donate to research into it.
Yes, we do need research. Two leading pharmaceutical companies have dropped their research budgets because of the failure of the past 20 years. But is it right to put out fearful advertisements and articles that are pushing people into misdiagnoses?
*2 (See https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/study-reports-20-drop-in-uk-dementia-incidence-over-two-decades/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwof3cBRD9ARIsAP8x70PoMS0YFazUITkt2KqryQZXTI8YzVC5JiFIdpbcqmWTqsNq4SMzWS4aAk0sEALw_wcB)
If you were visiting your mother with dementia in her care home, how would you feel if you found her having an animated conversation with a 4-foot-high robot, which was responding empathetically, and creating a warm dialogue that was obviously engaging her?
It may sound like science fiction, but it’s already here. Last November, Southend Council paid £15,200 for one of the robots, called ‘Pepper,’ to free up time for human carers running a “reminiscence group” to stimulate sufferers.[i] It’s the first commercially available robot with the ability to recognise a person’s mood and adapt its behaviour accordingly. He can change his eye colour and voice to match happy and sad emotions. Pepper can speak 12 languages and is also connected to the internet, which means he can keep users up to date with the latest news, weather, recipes and videos.
Artificial intelligence is coming on in leaps and bounds. In a TV programme on Channel Four recently we saw computers forming new neural networks to expand their intelligence – exactly as human brains do. We saw a computer programme beat the world champion in a complex game called ‘Go’, which involved learning on the spot and thinking ahead with strategic moves. Although the world champion had an inscrutable expression, he was clearly astonished. The programme was the work of Deep Mind, the London based company that is leading the world in artificial intelligence.[ii]
So the little androids will be able to find out about an older person’s likes and dislikes and tailor conversations to them, just as ‘two people might do in a normal conversation’, according to Dr Chris Papadopoulos from the University of Bedford.”[iii] Dr Papadopoulos is working with Advinia Health Care, as part of a £2.5 million EU funded project. Chairman of Advinia Health Care and research partner in the study, Dr Sanjeev’s Kanoria, said that there’s a pressing need for support in the social care of the elderly, and robots can help in many ways. They can also share what they learn about individuals with carers, ‘enabling them to do their task better.’
He said, ‘Particularly for dementia patients, agitation can be reduced by offering culturally-appropriate care support.”
The idea has appalled some. Judy Downey, of the Relatives and Residents Association charity, said: “This is treating people like commodities. The key to looking after someone is having a relationship in which you might notice if someone is upset after a phone call or if they look unwell. What matters is the smile, the human touch.”[iv] It also begs the question whether it is ethical to encourage people with dementia, with impaired cognition, to engage with a robot that converses like a human, although they do not have a humanoid shape. Conversations develop relationships.
Her concerns were echoed by Dr Jonathan Sacks, who looked at the moral challenges that the new AI is bringing, in one of a series of radio programmes about morality. He said that we need these systems to be answerable to our values,’ [v] and discussed ways in which our values could be defined, which would include discussions with religious leaders and others, and be embedded into the systems.
The debate is taking place in a care system that is in crisis to the point of collapse, say some, not only because of severe underfunding, but a chronic shortage of care workers. A survey showed that almost seven percent of jobs in the social-care sector are vacant, while projections show that the care workforce needs to grow by 2.6 per cent a year to keep pace with rising the elderly population. However, the workforce is only rising by 2 per cent at the most – meaning the shortage will only increase.[vi] Another commentator has pointed out that at £15,200, a robot costs less than the annual salary of a care worker.
A newspaper article[vii] shows how the robots can be a great, practical help to frailer older people in their own homes, and it’s clear that, to an extent, they can help support carers in residential care homes. The question is how far we are prepared for them to interact at a deeper, personal level with residents, especially those with dementia? God designed people to develop in relationship with one another, the scriptural ‘I – Thou’ principle espoused by philosopher Martin Buber in his classic work published in 1923, that deeply influenced the trail-blazer in person-centred dementia care, Professor Tom Kitwood (Bradford University). Kitwood referred to it in his ground-breaking book, ‘Dementia Reconsidered’ that is still the gold standard of dementia care. What would Kitwood think of residents and robots?
In our care homes we have trained ‘hummingbirds’, staff who come alongside residents with dementia to engage them in conversation on topics that are meaningful to them. And we are blessed by volunteers from local churches who come in to share their time, and give spiritual support. If there’s a ‘take-away’ thought from this article, it’s to pray for more staff, and more volunteers, not just for our homes but all those others who are doing their best.
[v] BBC Radio 4, September 6th, 1028
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