Guest post by Dr. Jill M. Bjerke.
Yes, what goes around comes around. The child we once parented has now taken on the role of a parent to us with a complete role reversal. While it may seem that the greater percentage of seniors live alone, the fact is that many have now taken the step to move under one roof with family members.
Pew Research states, “Between 1900 and 1990, the share of adults ages 65 and older living alone increased nearly fivefold, from 6% to 29%. This growth was spurred by a host of factors, including improved health and longevity among older Americans and the economic security that came with social safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”
But since 1990 in the U.S. this same population turned away from living alone, often out of necessity sparked primarily by failing health and dwindling finances. More and more seniors are moving in to live with their children. The child steps into the role of parent where looking after senior family members is concerned.
This is an issue not faced by the U.S. alone as the effect of the housing and care situation for older adults is an international problem as well. How the global community addresses these problems is highly varied and many countries have recognized the growing need to protect the rights and lives of seniors in the course of solving the aging population crisis.
China passed an “Elderly Rights Law” mandating visits to parents by adult children or family, with fines – or even jail time – as punishment for neglect or failure to check up on older persons. Eastern cultures like China value the family as a unit, but the country’s rapid industrialization has forced many adult children to move farther away from their parents, which complicates things greatly.
Korea celebrates the elderly with roles that completely reverse once parents age, and in this culture, caring for parents is an honorable duty.
Although the Japanese also treasure the family, the rapid increase in elderly population is set to put a strain on adult children and is leading to a whole host of new problems. More than a quarter of Japan’s population is over 65. This is set to increase to 40% by 2055. But Japan does not have the younger population to care for this increase in the ageing demographic.
Western cultures like the U.S. and the U.K. are youth-centric, which diminishes awareness of the burgeoning senior population and the consequences of that shift. In both countries, retirement communities and assisted living facilities have burst onto the housing scene to address some of these issues.
France passed a law in 2004 requiring adult children to provide for aging parents who are incapable of caring for themselves. The law stipulates that adult children have a legal obligation to pay their parents an “allowance” or provide or fund a home for them. Violators can face fines or prison.
In Mediterranean and Latin cultures, it is common for multiple generations to live together, sharing not only the home, but responsibilities as well. The older family members are relied on to care for the youngest and the elders become integrated into family life right up to end.
But there are definite downsides that may go unrecognized by those wanting to remain alone in their homes. Those who live by themselves often feel more financially disadvantaged and social isolation can become a serious physical and mental health concern. And this seclusion can equate to less time spent with family and may make seniors hesitant to ask for help or guidance from their children. Living alone can mean less interaction with extended family members like grandchildren as well, which is a loss of generational experiences for all.
But for most adults, moving in with children or other family members brings its own stressors, like loss of privacy or confusion about how to contribute to household expenses. Jane Bryant Quinn, in an article for AARP, succinctly states what may not be obvious at first glance when contemplating this move:
Consider meals, chores, TV use, daytime appointments, religious services, music, pets and social activities (yours and your family’s). How much do you want to help and what will your child expect? Can you drive or will you need to be driven? Will you go on family vacations? Do you think your grandchildren aren’t being raised well? (Warning! Think about whether or not you can hold your peace.)
Around the world, how seniors and their families find solutions to the needs that an aging population brings with it has become a universal conundrum. Perhaps if we would, on a global basis, make more of an effort share the inroads and gains made in the struggle to provide the highest quality of life for people as they age, we would all benefit greatly. Aging is, after all, universal.
“The future has arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
– William Gibson
Stepler, Renee. “Smaller Share of Women Ages 65 and Older Are Living Alone.” Pew Research Center. Presocialtrends.org. 18 February 2016. Web. 17 August 2016.
Family Support in Graying Societies.” 21 May 2015.
Quinn, Jane Bryant. “When Parents Move In With Kids.” AARP. 6 September 2012. Web. 15 August 2015.
Guest post by Dr. Jill M. Bjerke.
The problem: delayed or incomplete wound healing in seniors and the elderly.
The solution: stitches that snitch!
There comes a time when we have to face the fact that one of the effects of aging on the human body is that we do not heal as fast as when we were younger. Scientists are continuously finding ways to address problems like this and one such success involves the stitches used to close wounds or surgery sites.
Researchers led by Tufts University engineers have found a way to incorporate microscopic-sized sensors into threads that can be used to suture through multiple layers of tissue. These sensors wirelessly transmit diagnostic data in real time.
The threads are first dipped in physical and chemical-sensing mixtures which are then connected to minute wireless electronic circuitry. The sensors in the threads collect data such as tissue health (e.g. pressure, temperature, stress, strain on the stitches), pH and body glucose levels. This information is then transmitted to a cell phone or computer to determine how a wound or surgery site is healing, if there is an infection brewing or even if the body’s chemistry is out of balance. Because the stitches are embedded into the tissues themselves, it becomes possible to catch and monitor data that is not consistent with healthy healing.
Up until recently, the only method for using such implantable circuitry was what is termed two-dimensional, limiting usage to flat tissues such as skin. With the creation of these specialized strands, three dimensions can be achieved, allowing for future uses such as organ transplants and orthopedic implants, as complex closure shapes can be created.
“The ability to suture a thread-based diagnostic device intimately in a tissue or organ environment in three dimensions adds a unique feature that is not available with other flexible diagnostic platforms,” said Sameer Sonkusale, Ph.D., corresponding author on the paper and director of the interdisciplinary Nano Lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts School of Engineering. “We think thread-based devices could potentially be used as smart sutures for surgical implants, smart bandages to monitor wound healing, or integrated with textile or fabric as personalized health monitors and point-of-care diagnostics.”
The future for this is exciting. Engineers behind this technology believe that they have only just begun to uncover the possible medical benefits. For example, if the threads were coated with drug-infused chemicals they could be utilized in medical tattoos. Or an electrical pulse could be used to release targeted disease-fighting chemicals.
While the research has been limited to animals and laboratory testing only, results are very promising and continued investigation into accuracy, reliability and long-term acceptance by the body is needed. But the probability of elevating patient-specific treatment to a higher level is on the horizon.
This presents an unprecedented myriad of achievements for improving the quality of life for seniors and the elderly as one of the hurdles we seem to have to jump when recovering from an injury, surgery or disease is improving the success of the healing process itself.
Jones, Orion. “Biomedical Smart Stitches Detect Infections & Speed Healing.” BigThink.com. The Big Think Inc. Web. 3 August 2016.
Collins, Patrick. “Researchers Invent “Smart” Thread That Collects Diagnostic Data When Sutured Into Tissue. Tufts Now. 18 July 2016. Web. 29 July 2016.
“‘Smart Sutures’ Could Send Real-Time Data to Doctors About Patient Health.” Online video clip. NewsBeat Social, 26 July 2016. Web. 10 August 2016.
Vincent, James. “Smart Stitches Send Doctors Information On Wounds As They Heal.” TheVerge.com. Vox Media. 21 July 2016. Web. 10 August 2016.
Guest post by Susan Hyatt.
When Hillary Clinton said, “it takes a village…” she could just as well have been speaking about our ageing parents as our children. The phrase reminds us of an earlier time when families tended to live in communities and relatives were nearby to help each other out. Neighbours had backyard barbeques and if your elderly aunt was home alone, someone would usually drop by for a cup of tea.
As Brian Bethune points out in Maclean’s,
“The evolving modern definition of a good neighbour is no longer someone who is part of your life, someone you chat with over the fence, a reliable shoulder in good times and bad, but someone who doesn’t bother you, either in your enjoyment of your home or by threatening its property value.”
Over the next 20 years, seniors will grow to make up about 25% of the population in Canada. One in three will be 80 years of age or older. The majority of working professionals in Canada are already in the “sandwich generation”, providing care for both children and parents. Many report their personal caregiving situation is costing them in terms of absenteeism, stress, and even workplace promotions. The economic contribution of informal caregivers is conservatively estimated at $25 – 26 Billion annually, according to CARP (New Vision for Caregiver Support, February 2014).
When a health crisis or death of a spouse leaves an elderly parent struggling, the burden of care often falls to one child alone for reasons that can be as complex as family dynamics, or as a simple as geography. For the parent, concerns about mobility, daily care, nutrition, and finances can be compounded dramatically by feelings of isolation and loneliness. Research shows that social isolation and loneliness correlate with mental health issues, low morale, poor rehabilitation, and admission to residential care (UK Loneliness Evidence Review, Wenger et al., 1996).
Susan Pinker, in her book The Village Effect argues that humans need face to face contact as much as they need air and water. Most seniors we know want to stay in their own home and in their own community. And there is evidence to show that intergenerational connections are probably more effective in combating loneliness.
So we know that aging, socialization, and intergenerational connectivity are linked. And it’s clear that these are community and societal issues, not just individual issues. So is there a way to address these issues, and to work with seniors “in their village?”
Connecting Generations was born out of findings by the National Ageing Research Institute and La Trobe University in Australia when they investigated the top concerns of seniors. Beyond worries about declining health and the accessibility of appropriate care, the major theme that emerged was a desire to maintain quality of life through independence and staying socially connected.
We set about finding partners who were interested in being “upstanders” – people who would buy into the vision of a community where we could reach elders where they live and empower them with technology.
Looking first to leading educators, we shared a model explored in the film, Cyber-Seniors. Next, we engaged teens committed to their community through a Grads Giving Back program. We rounded up local sponsors to donate iPads and other prizes. And then we had some fun teaching a group of people who knew the words but had never experienced the Internet, Facebook, YouTube, or email.
A tool as simple as a tablet opens a world of possibility for elders, enabling them to stay in touch with children and grandchildren, rediscover old friends and make new ones. Programs like Ontario’s Telehomecare go further, using iPads to help patients with chronic conditions such as heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to manage their health at home.
But it’s about more than technology. There’s so much more for us to gain. We know from experience that when elders stay connected to a world beyond their four walls, their well-being, both mental and physical, improves dramatically. We can build networks in our communities that work together to help seniors stay connected and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Imagine a community where membership means affordable access to home maintenance services, rides to medical appointments, social and educational programs, and a network of friends you can call on when needed.
We can create resources for over-stretched families juggling childcare, career demands, and their concern for older family members. In the process, maybe we will rediscover that seniors hold a lifetime of wisdom. People, especially children, have a thirst for knowledge and understanding. The possibilities are endless when you reconnect generations.
It takes a village. Why not connect with others, get involved, and start one where you live?
Susan Hyatt is the CEO and Founder of Silver Sherpa, a lifestyle transitions company delivering independent and personalized advice on smart ageing and planning for the elderly.