About Age Scotland

Age Scotland is the leading charity for all older people in Scotland. We campaign, we research and we fundraise to make sure we build a better life for everyone in later life. We ensure older people’s voices are heard, we challenge and change attitudes, we fight discrimination wherever we find it and we tackle elder abuse in all its forms. We put older people at the heart of everything we do.

Older People’s Champion: what’s in a name?

Guest blog by Cllr Elaine Thornton-Nicol, Older People’s Champion, Scottish Borders Council


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When I was elected as a Councillor in 2017, I had been employed for 16 years in the voluntary sector, the last four specifically managing services aimed at improving the lives of older people, so I suppose I was the best choice when Scottish Borders Council was looking for nominations for the Older People’s Champion.

This role is ambassadorial, authority-wide, non-political and an honour.

There is no budget line attached to this role so there is no cost to the council.

When I agreed to the nomination, I asked for a role descriptor, because there was no point in me bumbling about the Borders hoping I am doing what is expected of me.  Bizarrely enough, there wasn’t one, but one was provided very quickly.

At this point, please remember I was newly elected and had little knowledge of the machinations of my own local authority, let alone the others.  I assumed that every council had an Older People’s Champion.

I thought I would be able to join the network of thirty-one other champions, some of whom would be in their second term, who would be able to share their knowledge and offer opportunities to take their learning to the Scottish Borders.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  There are some who have the role but the councillor with the title is not proactive.  Some authorities claim to have an Older People’s Officer, but no description of what they actually do.  Others again have nothing and no one specifically tasked with ensuring that the voices of Older People are heard at every level.  I have to thank Simon Ritchie of Age Scotland and Diana Findley of the Scottish Older People’s Assembly for supporting me on this journey of discovery.

I see my role firstly as a listening one.  The best people to shape and inform Older People’s services are the older people who will use them.  Their voice must be heard.

I work with officers across the council to feedback on various issues and concerns that older people have raised. And I must say they are listening, supporting and, where possible, acting.

There is an aspect of this role that involves sitting in meetings.  It could be anything from listening to third and voluntary sector organisations as they try to learn to work more closely, commenting on proposed services, helping others to understand the need to find out what older people need, want, miss and, let’s be very truthful – don’t like.

I’ve been involved in a range of activities in my role so far. These include, among many others:

  • Exploring the creation of an Older People’s Directory for the Borders
  • Organising dementia training for every elected member of the council
  • A seat on the Borders Community Transport Service Board
  • Supporting the council on campaigns aimed at older people, including Flu Vaccine uptake

I am the face of the Council to Older People, and I am proud of that.  I want to be the best voice I can be for them.

At every Council meeting, my fellow councillors are used to me referencing an older person in my speeches.  I want us to keep our Older People at the forefront of our minds when discussing and debating services.

My role also entails supporting the Council on campaigns relating to Older People – recently I had my photo taken receiving my flu injection to encourage the uptake and thus hopefully prevent illness

If there was a network of thirty-two elected members who were proactive Older People’s Champions for their local authority, listening to our Older People, feeding through to Councils and the Minister for Older People and Equalities, imagine the knowledge and information base we would have.  How much faster we could respond.

So here is my challenge to everyone in Scotland –

  • Contact your local authority
  • Ask if they have and Older People’s Champion
  • Ask to meet with appropriate officers if they have no OPC and share the role descriptor I use
  • Encourage them to use this opportunity to put Older People at the heart of what they do
  • Push them towards that network that can share skills, knowledge and learning.

This is the chance to take the first step on what I know will not be a short journey – change is not easy for any of us.

And lastly, please remember, an Older People’s Champion is not necessarily an Older Person – they could be as young as me!


Age Scotland is calling on every Scottish Local Authority to appoint an Older People’s Champion. For more information, please contact the Age Scotland Policy & Communications team on 0300 323 2400 or email communications@agescotland.org.uk.

 

Weren’t born on the same day as your partner? You’re still unlucky.

Blog by Age Scotland’s Policy Officer Ashleigh de Verteuil


In a previous blog post, we highlighted massively unfair changes being made to Pension Credit. Well there is another looming deadline for couples who may be affected by the changes: the 13th of August is the last day you’ll be able to make a backdated claim for Pension Credit. 

So what does this mean?

Pension Credit is an important top up benefit for older people who are on a low pension income. It is already a massively under claimed entitlement with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) estimating that 40% of those eligible for pension credit don’t claim it.

But now changes by the UK Government to the eligibility criteria will see more older people unable to claim and become poorer as a result.

This is the bit where you, and your dearest’s, birthday matters. If you’re what is called a ‘mixed aged couple’, in other words one of you is of pensionable age and the other is younger than their state pension age, you will no longer be able to claim pension credit. What, you mean you don’t have the same birthday and birth year as your partner? Weird!

To make matters worse, the basic Pension Credit rate for a couple is currently £248.80 a week, and the basic Universal Credit rate for a couple is only £114.85 a week.

And I hate to add further insult to injury, but Pension Credit is a ‘passporting benefit’. This means that it acts as a qualifying benefit for other forms of assistance, but as you won’t be able to claim Pension Credit until you both are of pensionable age then you can’t claim them. This includes cold weather payments, maximum help with housing benefit, maximum help with Council Tax Reduction and you’ll also be affected by the ‘bedroom tax’, will not have access to claim social fund funeral payments, and may not be entitled to the warm home discount.

What are your options? Well you can either wait until the younger partner reaches their state pension age, or they can claim Universal Credit in the meantime as way to boost your joint income. This will mean they’ll be subjected to Universal Credit conditionality, for example, needing to prove that they are a carer, or that they’re seeking work for 35 hours a week, or that they’re not well enough to work. If you decide not to claim Universal Credit, and have no other income then you would be £133.95 a week worse off, potentially for several years.

This move is hugely unjust. With pensioner poverty on the rise, 29% of people aged 75 and over living on or just below the poverty line, and fuel poverty likely to increase.

The Age Scotland freephone helpline, which provides free information, friendship and advice is on hand to provide support to people over 50, their families, and carers. You can still make a claim, which will be backdated, until the 13th August.

This is something we can help with, call our helpline and speak to one of our friendly advisors who can can give you a free benefit check to see if you’re getting everything that you’re entitled to. In fact they can help with just about anything, they’re very knowledgeable.

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Our advisors are here to help. Just call 0800 12 44 222 and one of our team will talk you through the process.

I implore you to call them, the changes to Pension Credit are a few months away and they can talk you through any entitlements you may be eligible for in great detail and how to claim them

If you’d also like to share your outrage about these changes, then we want to hear from you too. Sharing people’s real life stories is the best way to bring forward change so do get in touch with us.

Our helpline is free to call, and is available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm on 0800 12 44 222.

Staying sharp at the Edinburgh Fringe

If it takes a bit of effort to keep your brain healthy, are you willing to do that?

That’s the “dangerous idea” that Professor Alan Gow from Heriot-Watt University will be considering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.

In “This Show Will Make You Sharper!”, Alan will share what people would be willing to do to protect their thinking skills with age. His team found that out by conducting a survey called “What Keeps You Sharp?”, completed by over 3000 people aged 40 to 98 across the UK.

Another key thing the survey explored was what people said would make them change their behaviour to better protect their thinking skills…and the results might surprise you (but we’re not allowed to give the answers away)!

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As we age, we are more likely to experience general declines in our thinking and memory skills (these are referred to as our mental or cognitive abilities). Some people experience noticeable changes in their thinking and memory skills across their 60s and beyond, while others maintain these into old age. This variation suggests that a number of factors influence our brain health.

While the show is based on the latest research, this isn’t a traditional lecture. The show is part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas programme which has a simple rule – no slides! Comedian Susan Morrison returns to compere the programme, ensuring the academics keep on track and that the audience get a chance to have their say too.

For those who get along to the show, Alan will be interested in hearing what you think might be good (or bad) for “staying sharp” and where you get information about brain health from. The audience will therefore have a chance to share their own thoughts about thinking skills, compare those to the 3000+ people from the UK-wide survey, and hear how that all links back to what the most recent research suggests.

Alan and his team in The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt are exploring the factors that might protect thinking skills, and in the show you’ll hear about some of their own and others works focussing on the kinds of things we might do more of, or less of, to protect our brains as we age.

“This Show Will Make You Sharper!” is on twice during the Fringe at the New Town Theatre on George Street, on 10 August (1.30pm) and 14 August (8.10pm). You can watch a short trailer below or read more about the show and buy tickets here.

To get a flavour of what to expect, one of Alan’s previous Fringe shows was recorded as part of BBC Radio Scotland’s Brainwaves series which you can listen to here.

Book your tickets today!


“This Show Will Make You Sharper!” is part of Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2019: Debate, discussion and discourse at the Edinburgh Fringe.

 Catch the show at the New Town Theatre on George Street, Edinburgh on 10 August (1.30pm) and 14 August (8.10pm).

Whatever later life brings, we’re here to help

Rachel is an adviser with the Age Scotland helpline. She recently had a caller who lives on her own in a private rental property and is of state pension age. The caller was finding money quite tight and spoke to Rachel about getting a benefits check. Rachel identified £90 a week in housing benefits that the caller wasn’t aware that she could claim. The caller was also able to get the entitlement backdated and so will receive a lump sum to help her. That extra money will make a real difference to her quality of life.

Navigating entitlements and helping callers access them is just one of the ways that our team can support older people, their families and carers. The Age Scotland Helpline is the flagship advice service for Scotland’s older people to help with any challenges they may face.

Our Community Connecting service is also based within the helpline. Volunteers work to combat loneliness and isolation by supporting older people to explore interests and take up new hobbies. Through regular calls of support and encouragement and by doing research into what is available, our volunteers help older people to get involved in lunch clubs and social activities in their local area. There is no typical caller. It could be someone who has recently retired and wants to pick up a new hobby. Or it could be someone who has been socially isolated for months and is ready to take that first step and meet new people in their area.

One caller who got in touch said that her life had been turned upside down by the death of her husband. She felt incredibly isolated. She had never contacted a helpline before but was looking for any kind of support she could find. Through regular calls our volunteer was able to get to know the caller’s interests and encourage her to try a local club. The caller went on to sign up for a befriending service as well as an I.T. class to help her develop skills online.

Later life can bring many challenges but it also brings opportunities. If you or someone you know could benefit from the support offered by our helpline or community connecting teams, please get in touch on 0800 12 44 222. It’s free to call and open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

We’re here to help.

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Books, chats and Big Knit hats

Many of us can’t imagine going for weeks without speaking to another person. Unfortunately that’s the reality for thousands of older people across Scotland, who are socially isolated and dealing with the horrendous experience of loneliness. 

For these individuals, services like the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service can be life-changing. The service delivers books, audio books and large print materials to any person living in Falkirk who is unable, for whatever reason, to go to one of their eight libraries. The service promoted the Big Knit campaign to their users and at the end of last year we had already received nearly 1000 little hats of all shapes and sizes from them – just amazing!

One of these incredible knitters is Marion Deans. Marion’s husband sadly passed away last year and as Naomi Kenny from the Falkirk Community Trust informed us, by being involved with the Big Knit, Marion felt she was able to knit through her grief as well as contributing to meaningful causes. Naomi also told us that Marion is proud of the hats she has knitted and we have to say she definitely should be!

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

By making sure that people are still connected to their libraries, often hubs of local communities, the home library service arguably is helping to prevent loneliness and isolation. Campaigns like the Big Knit help us at Age Scotland work with similar projects and make sure that those who are unable to, or perhaps less likely to, get out and about don’t feel isolated in their own home. It’s much better to dissect the plot of the latest Scandi-noir book you have read with someone, even if it is lovely Dave who delivers you books, than mull it over on your own.

That’s why, we are asking you or anyone you know who loves to knit to get involved in this year’s Big Knit and help us make sure that wee discussion over book is a possibility for everyone in Scotland.


Find out how you can get involved in the Big Knit here: http://age.scot/BigKnit

Find out more about the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service.

 

 

 

Older veterans’ adventures online

Age Scotland Veterans’ Project is proud to support Lothian Veterans Centre in establishing a computer club in Dalkeith for older veterans.  Our new video tells the club’s story.

The club began this April.  Once a fortnight it convenes after the centre’s regular Friday get-together for veterans, most of whom are older and some of whom would otherwise be quite isolated.

Computer club members are kitted with free iPads courtesy of the Royal Naval Association’s Project Semaphore.  Project Semaphore tackles loneliness and isolation using digital technology.  While its home-based support is solely for older Royal Navy and Royal Marines veterans, it is open to approaches from organisations planning group-based digital-inclusion initiatives with older veterans from across the armed forces.

The Computer Club is also supported by a volunteer from AbilityNet.  AbilityNet offers free training to older and disabled people for PC’s, laptops, mobile phones and tablets, with volunteer support at arranged locations or in the home.

Age Scotland Veterans’ Project is encouraging groups and services that support older people in using digital technology to be more veteran aware.  As our best of the net for older veterans resource illustrates, learning that an older person is a veteran allows you to introduce him or her to online content that could be of great benefit – from specialist support services to money saving opportunities.  We offer free older veteran awareness training to groups and services that support older people, to help them identify veterans and ensure that they offer a veterans’ warm welcome.

Size matters

Dr Sabina Brennan is a research psychologist, neuroscientist, filmmaker, award-winning science communicator and author of the No 1 bestseller 100 Days to a Younger Brain. In her guest blog, Dr Brennan shares with us why brain size matters.


Some people are able to tolerate more Alzheimer’s disease-related pathology than others while still maintaining cognitive function. We call this resilience reserve. Using a computer analogy we draw a distinction between brain reserve (the hardware) and cognitive reserve (the software).

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Dr Sabina Brennan

Brain reserve (the hardware) is the structural stuff: grey matter, white matter and the thickness of your cortex. Brain reserve refers to the actual differences in the brain itself that might explain how one individual has greater tolerance to damage than another.
Beth and Janet have the same amount of Alzheimer’s disease, but their brains are different sizes. Beth has more brain cells, denser brain connections and a larger brain than Janet. This means that Beth has more brain without disease than Janet has. It is not the amount of disease in the brain that accounts for differences in cognitive functioning between people, it is the amount of intact brain. Beth’s bigger brain will be more resilient than Janet’s to the effects of the same amount of disease pathology.

To put it simply: brain size matters. The larger your adult brain is, the longer you can resist the impact of disease on your functioning.

As the disease progresses the amount of diseased brain will increase and the amount of intact brain will decrease until a threshold is reached where the intact brain can no longer maintain normal cognitive functioning. Of course, the less Alzheimer’s disease pathology you have the better. However, if you do develop pathology the good news is that a brain healthy lifestyle can build brain reserves which will contribute to resisting its effects.

Cognitive reserve (the software) refers to the flexibility of brain networks in the face of disruption caused by ageing, injury or disease. Ben and Doug have the same amount of hardware (brain reserve). Ben can tolerate more disease-induced brain changes because the capacity of his underlying software (cognitive reserve) differs from Doug’s in a way that allows his brain to cope with or adapt to the disruptions.

Taking brain and cognitive reserve together let’s consider Jake and Peter, two fifty-five-year-old men. Jake has high reserve (high resilience) and Peter has low reserve (low resilience). Both begin to develop the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at the same time. Both die at the age of seventy-five. Peter’s cognitive function gradually declines, going from mild through moderate, to severe and ultimately to his death. In contrast, Jake, won’t manifest any perceptible symptoms. Even though the disease pathology is still progressing in Jake’s brain his high levels of reserve allow his brain to cope with and compensate for the physical damage that is occurring until his death at seventy-five.

Had Jake lived for longer his reserves would eventually have been exhausted and he would have manifested dementia symptoms. However, unlike Peter, Jake’s decline would be dramatic and severe. Like falling off a cliff edge. Jake would have experienced a precipitous drop in his cognitive functioning, bypassing the mild and moderate stages. Reserve built through brain healthy life choices allows people like Jake to spend a greater proportion of their life living independently in possession of their cognitive faculties and a smaller proportion of life with functioning devastated by this disease.
Your brain has the capacity to build reserves. Adopting a brain healthy lifestyle is like investing in brain capital that you can cash in at some point in the future to cope with or compensate for damage, disease or decline. It will also optimise your brain function in the here and now. Here are my top tips for building reserves

  • Cherish sleep
  • Manage Stress
  • Stay socially engaged
  • Go mental (challenge yourself, learn new things, embrace new experiences)
  • Love our heart
  • Get physically active
  • Adjust your attitude (be positive, enjoy life and keep smiling)

About 100 Days to a Younger Brain – maximise your memory, boost your brain health and defy dementia.

Jacket_Insta100 Days to a Younger Brain delivers, in clear everyday language, the basics on how your brain works and how to keep your brain healthy. The good news is that the life style changes, activities and attitudes that boost brain health can easily be incorporated into your daily life. The book is grounded in scientific research and filled with really practical tips to help you to do that. While there are generic tips that we can all follow to keep our brains healthy 100-Days to a Younger Brain acknowledges that your brain is unique, shaped by your life experiences and life choices. As you work through this life-changing programme you will gain a clear picture of the current state of your brain health and insight into what you are doing right and what needs fixing. Armed with this information you will set your own personal goals and create a bespoke brain health plan to optimise your brain function, slow brain ageing and minimise the impact of brain injury and brain disease