Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Later life can be full of fun & mental stimulation. In February we focus on adult care and our moving interview with Sir Jackie Stewart as well as initiatives from silverswans.
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE
Inspired by his wife’s diagnosis, Sir Jackie Stewart has launched a £2million funding drive in Race Against Dementia, writes Karen Neville.
Motor racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart is embarking on the greatest and most personal challenge of his life. His wife of 56 years, Lady Helen Stewart was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia four years ago, driving him to establish the Race Against Dementia (RAD).
The three-time Formula One world champion has launched a £2million search for new scientists to develop breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of dementia. RAD aims to find a solution that will allow millions of people to live longer with dementia.
There are 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and millions more carers and family members who struggle to cope as their loved one suffers.
Unless a cure is found, one in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. However, behind each statistic such as these
are the real people dealing with the disease and its effects on a daily basis, each with their own unique heart-breaking story – memories, passions and ambitions that are slowly fading away.
The £2m of research funding to find a solution to this will be administered in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK and will support innovative new ideas in dementia research through research fellowships.
Sir Jackie says: “The Race Against Dementia is the greatest challenge of my life, but with the right people and the right approach we can encourage and accelerate a new way of thinking and cross the finish line with success.”
The chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, Hilary Evans said they were very grateful for the support of Sir Jackie and his sons, Paul and Mark. She says: “It has been inspirational to see Sir Jackie and the family step up to this challenge and to pour drive and determination into taking on the greatest medical challenge.
“We’re proud to have been working with him in setting up these ambitious global Race Against Dementia fellowships.
“These new fellowships are targeted at up-and-coming scientific global talent and will stimulate the careers of researchers with the drive and ambition to make breakthroughs possible that will transform lives.”
Sir Jackie hopes the fellowships will attract talent from all over the world and open the door to a new range of opportunities to “beat this horrendous illness”.
He adds: “Helen has always been my rock and her razor-sharp mind was one of the first things that I fell in love with. Four years on from her diagnosis, she’s still the same Helen, with the same sense of humour, but with a gradual decline in memory and mobility that throws up all sorts of challenges that she, and we, have had to learn to cope with.”
Admitting that his family’s world has been turned upside down, he also acknowledges that they are very fortunate to be able to afford 24-hour specialist care. He says: “I know this is not possible for millions of other families touched by dementia. The cost of care can be enormous and, from a medical point of view, there are very few treatments that can make life easier. This has to change.”
The couple’s sons are ambassadors for Race Against Dementia. Paul has written a song to his mother, entitled Praise You, as a gift to thank her for everything she has done for the family over the years. He says: “I wrote the words as a way to trigger special moments that we have shared together. Dementia has impacted not just my mother but all of us and in particular my father.”
Mark says his mother has always been a strong and loving parent, dedicating herself to the family. He adds: “Sadly we have seen up close what this terrible disease can do. Race Against Dementia is our family’s way of turning a negative in to something positive.”
70 per cent of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease or any other type of dementia
Five times fewer researchers choose to work on dementia than on cancer
GLIDE THROUGH AGEING
Become a Silver Swan and improve your body and mind through ballet.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Darcey Bussell or have two left feet, dance improves your quality of life. Specially designed for older learners, Silver Swans ballet classes will not only help you keep fit and active physically but also help keep your mind in shape.
Silver Swans teachers are trained specifically to teach a range of abilities and ages over 55. Joining a local class will help improve your mobility, posture, coordination and energy levels.
Dance can improve your life in a variety of ways including improving energy levels and balance, helping to reduce stress and supporting weight loss as well as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving the immune system. Dancing increases cognitive ability by promoting new connections in the brain and it may even help stave off dementia in later life
If you’re an older learner, the social benefits of joining a dance class will also increase your sense of wellbeing – it’s a great way to expand your social circle and meet new people.
That’s certainly been the case for 74-year-old Anna, who says she lived for dancing when she was younger and then, having done nothing for more than 50 years, was thrilled to find Silver Swans. Anna considers ballet a wonderful discipline, both mentally and physically.
While most of those at the classes are women, 60-year-old Ian, who joined a class in Leatherhead 18 months ago, says he decided to do it when looking for exercise that didn’t involve the gym. He laughs: “I am told I’m getting better and I think I am, but it is a very long way to the Royal Opera House.”
Another dancer, Jane, 63, had long been wanting to find an adult ballet class, mindful of how it can help body and mind. She was further inspired after seeing a a 70-year-old woman perform, recalling: “She danced with such grace, within her own limits but demonstrating how beautiful old age could be. She was very moving. A role model to be all you can be at any stage of your life.”
For more details, visit www.royalacademyofdance.org/silverswans
Studies have shown that dancing plays a role in helping diminish the symptoms of depression
Research has found 75% of the factors which affect quality of life and longevity are related to your lifestyle
SINGING FOR THE BRAIN
Music is key to unlock memories when it comes to dementia care.
Singing is about so much more than hitting the right notes and making a good sound – it can improve brain activity, wellbeing and mood.
For the Alzheimer’s Society it means much more even than that – singing can unlock memories and kickstart the brain, an increasingly key feature of dementia care which is why the society’s Singing for the Brain sessions are so beneficial.
Run in dozens of different locations across the country, it aims to boost confidence, self esteem and quality of life by involving people with dementia and their carers in singing sessions.
Singing for the Brain groups allow people with dementia to express themselves and interact creatively with others. The idea sprang from Singing for the Brain founder Chreanne Montgomery-Smith who when working in a nursing home noticed how residents responded positively to music.
Beginning with a quiz which used familiar tunes, Chreanne noticed how gradually everyone joined in, including one woman who couldn’t remember her name but knew every song.
She explains: “It made me realise that people with dementia had a special ability to remember songs. Even if people with dementia can’t talk, they may be able to sing, whistle, clap or tap their feet. It helps them – and their carers – to feel life is worthwhile.”
The positive effect of Singing for the Brain groups has been proved by talking to those involved. “Dementia is a devastating condition, slowly stripping people of their memories, relationships and identities. It’s so important to still include people with dementia in social activities – no one should have to face it alone, “ says Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society.
He added: “This study suggests that this transformation could be in part due to parts of the brain connecting better for a brief time after hearing music.
“Further research is needed to help understand the longer-term effects of music and help show that it’s not only drugs that can help people manage with dementia.”
Professor Paul Robertson, an academic and concert violinist who has made a study of music in dementia care said music tends to stay with us to the end and that the auditory system is the first to fully function at just 16 weeks. He says: “This means you are musically receptive long before anything else. It’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”
For exact details about locations and dates go to www.alzheimers.org.uk/find-support-near-you#!/search
Singing can reach parts of the brain in ways other forms of communication cannot
ADAPTING YOUR HOME
We’ve teamed up with the experts at Age UK to help you consider some simple changes to make your home safer & more comfortable.
Change is seldom easy. And it’s not always easy to know where to start – especially if you’ve lived in your house a long time. But the Age UK team can help you make the choices that feel right for you.
Answering the door
If it’s difficult to get to the front door, think about installing a system that lets you speak to visitors and manage who you let in. Modern door-entry intercoms can help you find out who’s there or you could install an easy-to-fit wireless doorbell that comes with an entry phone to keep near your chair. A video entry phone can help you see who’s at the door – some video entry phones allow you to press a button to open the door from where you’re sitting. Many DIY shops and high-street retailers stock wireless doorbells and key safes. You could ask a family member, handyperson or Home Improvement Agency to fit them for you.
Make sure your home is well lit. Think about motion-sensor lights that come on automatically when you get out of bed or enter a room. If you find you need a lot more room or want to keep all essential facilities (like the toilet or shower) on one floor, extending might be an option. Talk to a qualified surveyor or architect.
An extra banister rail or a stairlift can make life easier. Depending on the size and layout of your home, it might be possible to install a through-floor wheelchair lift. Remember, though, that if you rent your home or share access with other people, you may need permission from your landlord or your neighbours to make changes.
If you want to make some adaptations, you may be eligible for financial support from your council to make small changes. For larger adaptations, you can apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant. Your first step is to get a free care needs assessment from your local council who will send a social worker or an occupational therapist to assess your needs. If your needs are considered “eligible”, the council has a duty to support you. Specialist disability equipment is provided free of charge if recommended by your council and minor adaptations – such as grab rails, short ramps, a dropped curb or outside lights – are also provided and fitted free.
Call the Age UK advice line on 0800 055 6112. There are more than 140 local Age UK centres willing to help, too. Please visit www.ageuk.org.uk