People are living longer and enjoying better health, and today's 90 year olds are mentally sharper than their predecessors, reports the Lancet. This is great news for many!
What's more, the numbers of over 80s with dementia in Australia may be set to fall (currently stats stand at 25%). A new study has found that dementia rates among people 65 and older in the UK have plummeted by 25 percent over the past two decades, a trend that researchers say is probably occurring across developed countries and is linked to a healthier and better educated population.
These findings dispute the alarming predictions by advocacy groups and some public health officials of escalating numbers of dementia sufferers, as baby boomers age.
For the hundreds of thousands of dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers and their families around the world at the moment, there is also good news. Health care workers and researchers are discovering that innovative therapies based on compassionate care and love are "reaching" them in ways unheard of previously.
"Each time we approach a deeply forgetful person with a kind tone of voice, a reassuring facial expression, and call them by name with a smile we are participating in an intervention that is as significant as any biotechnical one of which I am aware", writes Prof Stephen Post, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Founding Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stoney Brook University in the USA. He continues, "Carers are the beacons of hope to be acknowledged and celebrated in their depth of commitment …. [their] daily small actions done with great love".
He prefers to use the kinder term "deeply forgetful" for someone being diagnosed as having dementia or Alzheimer's. He also emphasises the need for compassionate care as we face a world intent on the dehumanisation of medical and psychiatric care, and stresses the importance of treating the deeply forgetful with dignity, helping to reveal their value to them by providing attention, concern and tenderness.
At the Compassion, Spirituality and Health Conference held in Adelaide in July, Post told delegates that "there is not one person who can't be reached on a spiritual level". He gave the example of a man who had been in care for ten years. A moving YouTube videoshows the elderly man who is unable to recognise his daughter being roused enough to engage in conversation after being given his loved music to listen to on an iPod (Music and Memory Project).
Neurologist Oliver Sacks MD explains: "Henry, who is normally mute and unable to answer the simplest "yes" and "no" questions' [becomes] quite voluble… so in some sense Henry is restored to himself, he has remembered who he is, and he has reacquired his identity for a while through the power of music."
When I spoke with him at the conference, Prof Post called such deep change "a resurrection of a sort for the deeply forgetful", as we connect with them on a spiritual level.
Such thought-provoking results provide a growing body of evidence that we should never give up on an individual. Compassionately fostering spiritual pursuits like music, art and poetry appreciation, introducing comedy and brain training activities, as well as interacting with pets produce encouraging results.
Other meaningful activities include fostering spirituality, meditation and prayer. In 2005 researchers concluded that adopting a spiritual or religious lifestyle slows down the progress of Alzheimer's.
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