Staying safe and well at home

Age Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) are working in partnership to highlight the dangers householders face from fire, and to provide information on how these can be reduced. 


We hear from Deputy Chief Officer (DCO) David McGown, the SFRS’s Director of Prevention and Protection. “Fires within the home can develop quickly and they can be fatal while others can cause injury. They can also devastate homes and result in the loss of precious family items that can never be replaced.

SFRS routinely attend fires within the home and we see the consequences of such incidents. So, while we can fight fires we believe that prevention is key – and we will make every effort to stop them from happening in the first place.”

There are over 5000 accidental house fires in Scotland every year.  Cooking is the number one cause of these. If you’re distracted, or have left the cooking on to go and do something else, fire can spread very quickly. Very often it is when people are tired, under the influence of alcohol or on medication that a cooking fire results in someone being injured or killed.

Over the last five years three-quarters of preventable fire deaths in Scotland were people aged 50 years or over – and almost a third of people injured through fire were aged 60 or over.

DCO McGown continues “We are determined to drive down the number of house fires in Scotland.  Many house fires in Scotland could be prevented by taking a few simple steps.  Too often people are injured or killed by fire when, for example, working smoke alarms could have prevented a serious fire.  Our staff are working in the community every day providing advice and assistance as well as fighting fires.  By working in partnership we can make a difference. ”

SFRS offer a free Home Fire Safety Visit service.  The visits only take around 20 minutes and help householders spot possible fire hazards and make sure that their home is safer.  Firefighters also help residents plan what to do if fire does break out, provide essential information about smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms and identify any other agencies who could provide useful support.

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Home Fire Safety Visits are completely free and can cut the chances of a fire in the home.

You can cut out the chances of a fire happening in your home by booking a Home Fire Safety Visit, or if you know a person who could be at risk, then please tell them about our service or call us to see how we can help.

To request a free home fire safety visit for yourself, or someone you know, just call 0800 0731 999 or text ‘FIRE’ to 80800. You can also call the Age Scotland helpline who will link with the Fire Service to arrange the visit for you.

To find out more about keeping safe and well at home, please visit www.firescotland.gov.uk 

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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.

 

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).

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

Autumn Voices: exploring creativity in later life

Age Scotland are grateful to be receiving proceeds from the sales of a new book, Autumn Voices. The book has been published as part of a project exploring how ageing relates to writing and other forms of creativity. We hear from the book’s editor; author, dramatist and lecturer Robin Lloyd-Jones.


Three years ago, for the first time in our history, there were more people over the age of 60 in Scotland than under 18. This trend is increasing. The percentage of elderly people in the population of Scotland becomes greater each year. robinOur economy will not survive unless we stop regarding our elderly citizens as a burden and start seeing them as potentially productive and useful people whose maturity, greater life experience and insights are valuable assets. A society that is better for older people is better for people of all ages. To address the problems and the opportunities of the elderly is to benefit the welfare of our society as a whole.

This was my motivation for undertaking the Autumn Voices Project (funded by Creative Scotland). When I began the project, in 2015, I was 80, and 83 when it ended.  During this time I interviewed twenty Scottish writers ranging in age from 70 to 92 about their later lives and their continuing creativity. The majority of these men and women had made for themselves a benign circle. That is to say their creativity contributed to their health and wellbeing, and their health and wellbeing, particularly their mental health, was an important factor in maintaining their creativity.

It has certainly been my own experience that to forget self in a worthwhile project is like a tonic. Being completely immersed in what you are doing, having the mind fully engaged, having a purpose in life, waking up with something to look forward to, and knowing that you are still doing something useful to, and valued by, society – these things contribute massively to a happy, healthy and fulfilled old age.

These twenty autumn voices represent a total of over 150 years of varied, fascinating and colourful life experience since passing the age of 70. They are certainly proof of the saying: ‘You don’t grow old, you become old when you stop growing.’ I learned a great deal from them – not only about creativity in later life, but also about successful ageing.

Many of those to whom I spoke thought they had become more accepting and more tolerant not only of self, but of others. This, they reported, had opened the way to being able to forgive. Instead of huge amounts of mental energy being tied up in feelings of hatred, annoyance, suspicion and other negative feelings, it became available to channel in creative directions.  They spoke, too, about having a new relationship with time and about a heightened appreciation of everything around them. As hunger sharpens the appetite, so age had intensified their awareness of the beauty and wonder of the world, of love and of blessings.

One thing they definitely did not accept was the negative stereotype of the elderly – the self-fulfilling prophecy of old folk as people whose useful life is over and who no longer have the physical or mental capacity to be productive or creative. We live in a culture that is still learning how to age. Through their writing and their example, the remarkable men and women I was privileged to meet are at the frontier of this learning process.

Autumn Voices (Edited by Robin Lloyd-Jones, PlaySpace Publications, June 2018) can be ordered through the project website: www.autumnvoices.co.uk

Hearing Forces: a new service for Scotland’s Veterans

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s new Scotland wide Hearing Forces service is part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium, which offers advice and support to veterans aged 65 or over, their families and carers with hearing loss or tinnitus.


Hearing loss is a common health issue in the armed forces. Many veterans have been exposed to loud noise from gun fire, engines and other machinery, and explosives. The 2014 ‘Lost Voices’ report, collated by the Royal British Legion with support from Action on Hearing Loss, found that veterans under the age of 75 are around three and a half times more likely to experience hearing loss than the general population.

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Veterans William Smith and Elizabeth Mitchell 

Through the Hearing Forces service, we can offer a service regardless of where veterans are in their hearing loss journey. This can include:

• Hearing checks and screening
• hearing aid maintenance and support on using your aids
• advice on useful equipment to improve every day life (e.g. amplified
• telephones, personal listeners)
• support both before and after hearing aids have been fitted.

We are currently delivering the service in a variety of settings across Scotland, (in particular with Unforgotten Forces partner’s venues) including Scottish War Blinded centres, Erskine, Poppy Scotland welfare centres, British Legions, ex service clubs and many more! We can also visit veterans in their own homes if they struggle to get out or we can see them at a local location convenient to them.

We are also currently recruiting for volunteers to help us deliver the service, across the whole of the country – if this is something of interest to you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

To contact us, to make a referral or if you would like us to visit your group or venue, get in touch using the dteails below:

Tel: 07388 227407
Email: hearing.forces@hearingloss.org.uk

Supporting veterans with sight loss – a fantastic boost for Paisley

Age Scotland is proud to be part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium – a partnership between 14 leading organisations that deliver a range of new services and enhancements for older veterans living in Scotland. In this guest blog we hear from Scottish War Blinded about their work with older members of the veterans’ community.


Scottish War Blinded are part of the Unforgotten Forces Consortium to raise awareness of the increasing range of support and activities available to older veterans with aged related sight loss, or visual impairment as a result of any cause.

The Hawkhead Centre opened in Paisley in October of this year, and is for military veterans with sight loss – irrespective of the cause of their sight loss. It has become a hive of activity since the doors opened.

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Hawkhead Centre, Paisley

Many of the veterans who have regularly attend the centre’s activities and classes have age related sight loss such as macular degeneration.

The focus of the centre is on supporting veterans to regain confidence and skills they feel they might have lost following their sight loss.

Veterans who find it difficult to travel alone can make use of the free door to door transport, which has become a lifeline for many who live further afield from the centre. Veterans from across the West of Scotland are using these free transport links to come together at the centre on a regular basis.

A great opportunity available at the centre is one-to-one sight loss assessments to support veterans in getting the most out of their remaining sight. The Rehabilitation team work at the centre to provide specialist equipment, and get equipment which is best suited to each individual.

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The charity provides financial assistance so that veterans can take life changing pieces of equipment home, such as magnifiers to read the mail once more or screen readers to listen to the newspaper again.

Activities such as I.T training have opened up a new world for many older veterans in particular, many of whom felt that the online world was not for them. Guidance on assistive technology means many have sent their first email and completed their first online shopping.

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For many older people struggling with sight loss, falls have become an issue. The strength and fitness classes at the centre are a social way to gain better balance and improve mobility.

Cooking and baking sessions are a way to pick up old skills and learn new recipes, using specially adapted equipment which supports people with sight loss to cook safely and with more ease. Such equipment which enables veterans to be more independent at home is available following individual assessment.

The centre has proven to be a life affirming part of older people’s lives in a short space of time.

Scottish War Blinded welcomes new referrals to the new centre in Paisley, or to the Linburn centre in West Lothian. The organisation also provide an outreach service which supports people in their homes all over Scotland.

If you would like to refer a veteran with sight loss call 0800 035 6409 – it doesn’t matter the cause of their sight loss, Scottish War Blinded are for any veteran with sight loss.