By Clive Lindley-Jones | August 2, 2012 11:13 am
What does Ageing look like in the twenty first century?
This is part of my challenge to both myself and you, can we change both the reality and the perception of age as the century advances, or are we doomed to be overwhelmed by the pressure of looking after an ever expanding cohort of older people who will need greater and greater care for longer and longer at an unsustainable cost?
I shall be asking you to support me, in aid of two of my favourite charities, in the coming months, as I try and highlight this issue with my own personal efforts to turn back the ‘age-ometer’ and leading by example, change my body composition a little to show what can be done, even by ordinary people like us, to shift some of those markers that take us towards, or away from, premature disability.
Please watch this space in the coming months when I will outline, both my fund-raising efforts, and what we already know about simple lifestyle changes that we can all adopt, that can significantly increase our chances of a healthy, high functioning and fun third age.
In other words, what you do matters.
How long we live and how well we live is largely in our own hands.
We baby boomers have trashed the financial system and burdened our children with mountains of debt, we owe it to them to do all we can to hold ourselves up, so that others don’t have to do it for us. To reshape and re-invent what it means to grow old. If we have messed with all the old ideas of music, jobs, shopping and sex, now we need to create a new vision of ageing. Innumerable studies, like the long running 84,000 nurses study, continually show that a few attainable strategies result in an astonishing 83 percent reduction in the rush for major coronary events, the leading cause of death and disability. Simple steps like:
1. Not smoking
2. Consuming alcohol moderately
4. Eating a healthy diet
5. Keeping your weight under control.
So as you see it is not that extraordinary. One might add to that list a stable relationship and rich social network as key protectors of our long term health.
As I am part of the first wave of The Silver Tsunami of baby boomers to start to hit pensionable age later this year I have a personal, as well as academic interest, in the subject. It is not so much that I fear death, if we can take anything from the findings of Near Death Experiences, like that in this months book of the month, there really isn’t anything to fear. Rather what is tragic is the number of us who, for want of a few simple lifestyle changes, choose not to hugely increase our chances of ‘rectangularising our functional curve’.
In other words, as John Bowden writes in his book:
The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer
“If you drew a graph showing age on one axis and function on the other (function meaning everything from how well your heart performs to your ability to have passionate sex), you’d see a depressing slope in which function decreases as age increases”.
Image from Bowden.2010.Fairwinds Press.
The goal, as Dr. Ron Rothenberg says in his book Forever Ageless, is to maintain all functions - heart, brain, muscle, lungs, etc. - at a high level to the end and then fall apart quickly all at once. This is the 'rectangularisation' of the function curve. The line, instead of inexorably dipping as it crosses the page indicating a long inexorable decline into, pain, handicap, drug dependency and cognitive impairment, holds up right across indicating a reasonable maintenance of function right into the eighth or ninth decades, with a steep and rapid decline at the end somewhere near 100.
Twenty five years ago there were 660,000 people over 85 in the UK, and this is the group, as Burne and Holford point out in there excellent book The Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing, that is a heavy and costly user of health and other social services. That number is now doubled to 1.4 million and is set to reach 3.6 million by 2035, when I am 88. No wonder economists and planners are having sleepless nights wondering how we might cope with the burden on society. But there are, as Bowden says, four specific processes that are unquestionably linked to the breakdown of systems within the body that contribute to ageing.
Over the coming months I plan to touch on all four and other reasons that seem to drive us either to a premature disability we often mistake for inevitable old age, or help us enjoy a high functioning third age before we move on. Remember genes may load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.
We will look at the things we can all do, whatever our age, (it is always easier to start young), to ensure that we stack the chances of us living healthier, happier lives, long into our advancing years. Just this summer the Alzheimer's Association International Conference AAIC 2012 highlighted a number of studies showing how by moving and strengthening our bodies we can protect against premature cognitive decline Weight Training, Walking Improve Cognition in the Elderly. So next time you go for a walk or lift some weights remember you are doing, not only your heart and muscles a favour, but also your brain!
The most useful question a Doctor can ask a patient
I am a fairly regular reader of Dr. Briffa’s interesting, mildly iconoclastic, medical blog and particularly enjoyed this one on the most useful question that a doctor can ask a patient. Briffa was interested in "Dr Des Spence (a British general practitioner/family physician) in this week’s British Medical Journal. He has chosen this week to lament the fact that modern medical practice has become more “tyrannical, hierarchical, controlled, intolerant, and dogmatic.” There is pressure on doctors to ‘follow the evidence’ even though the evidence may be deeply flawed and biased due to considerable conflicts of interest. Another concern is the fact that doctors are remunerated for doing certain things, which can make it difficult for them to take a truly objective stance of some of what they do.
It sounds less and less fun to be a GP these days. We all have to be careful about rejecting our patient’s suggestions as to what may be wrong with them, and not to feel threatened by such ideas. 'Dr. Google' may well get things wrong at times, but she deserves a hearing, at least before we scuttle off behind our professional shell. See what you think? Perhaps the most useful question a doctor can ask a patient
What are the risks?
We are often warned against the high risk of taking food supplements or worse herbal medicine, and there are those out there in the strangely fanatical sceptic lobby who would have you believe that the only safe way forward is to keep taking the drugs and rely on the veracity of the food and drugs lobbies for the truth about health and your risks of getting sick or dying.
We all know that there are a few times when some drugs can be life saving or that a trip to hospital is what we desperately need and are subsequently very grateful for. However as the work of the Alliance for Natural Health recently showed click here. Supplements and herbs are about 300,000 times safer than hospitals, where the risk of dying is not dissimilar from those in the armed forces in Afghanistan. Even the risks of cycling are 1721 times greater than taking nutritional supplements. Have a look at their excellent research on these risks, it is an eye opening and well researched account.
Book of the month
Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing by Anita Moorjani
Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) seem to have occurred in all times and in all cultures. As Michael Schroter-Kunhardt observed in his encyclopedic review of Near Death Experiences:
(Journal of Scientific Exploration,Vol.7,No. 3, pp. 219-239,1993 0892-3310193 O 1993 Society for Scientific Exploration)
The large body of NDE data now accumulated point to genuine evidence for a non-physical reality and paranormal capacities of the human being.
The Gilgamesh epic, the oldest written testimony of mankind, contains a near-death experience:
"Gilgamesh... began... his search for the other world. A long time afterwards he discov-ered behind the oceans at the edge of this world the river Chubur, the last barrier before the kingdom of the dead. Gilgamesh left the world and crawled through a dark endless tunnel. It was a long, uncomfortable way... but at last he saw light at the end of the dark tube. He came to the exit of the tunnel and saw a splendid garden. The trees carried pearls and jewels and over all a wonderful light emitted its rays. Gilgamesh wanted to rest in the other world. But the sun god sent him back through the tunnel into this life".
This new book by Anita Moorjani is in a long line of interesting accounts of NDE’s and is one to enjoy. As it reports on Amazon, "Anita Moorjani was born in Singapore of Indian parents, moved to Hong Kong at the age of two, and has lived in Hong Kong most of her life. Because of her background and British education, she is multi lingual and, from the age of two, grew up speaking English, Cantonese and an Indian dialect simultaneously. She had been working in the corporate field for several years before being diagnosed with cancer in April of 2002. Her fascinating and moving near-death experience in early 2006 has tremendously changed her perspective on life. Her life is now ingrained with the depths and insights she gained while in the other realm.As a result of her near death experience, Anita is often invited to speak at conferences and events to share her insights. She is also a frequent speaker at universities, particularly for their department of behavioral sciences, speaking on topics such as: dealing with terminal illness; facing death; psychology of spiritual beliefs etc. She is the embodiment of the truth that we all have the inner power and wisdom to overcome even life's most adverse situations, as she is the living proof of this possibility. Anita currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband, and when she's not traveling and speaking at conferences, she works as an intercultural consultant for multi-national corporations that are based in Hong Kong.
Divided into three parts, Moorjani sets the scene of her life and background and how this lead to her illness in the first part, then in part two she tells us the story of her NDE while in part three she tells us what she has come to understand and learn from this experience.
Although the NDE seems so all powerful and life changing for all who go through it, that they themselves are unlikely to attach it to any rigid dogma, inevitably some, who have not undergone such a life changing experience first-hand, may want to filter such experiences through their preconceived religious ideas. The beauty of this book, in its modest, simplicity and firm wisdom that comes from such direct knowing, is the way that Moorjani tells us her story and lets us vicariously make some of the learnings that she, in her greater experience, has learnt from this profound journey.
Whatever we want to do with the account is of course, up to us, but the message that she takes from this and offers to us is free of all dogma and is simply for us to know that every part of us is magnificent- our ego, intellect, body and spirit. Every aspect of who we are is perfect. there is nothing to let go, nothing to forgive, nothing to attain.
It is actually beautifully radical, as all such truths are. The only thing we need to learn is that we are already what we are seeking to attain. All we need do is express our uniqueness fearlessly, with abandon. That is why we are made like we are and that is why we are here in the physical world.
A book worth spending time with.