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

Creative Ageing: The Luminate Festival is back for 2019

Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation, delivers a diverse programme of creative events and activities throughout the year. Their projects bring together older people and those from across the generations to explore our creativity as we age and share stories and ideas about what growing older means to all of us.

The biennial Luminate Festival is back for 2019, running from 1–31 May. Ahead of the festival, we spoke with Luminate Director Anne Gallacher

Anne Gallacher, Director of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation © Eoin Carey

Anne Gallacher, Director of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation © Eoin Carey

Why do we need a creative ageing festival?

Older people are very active in Scotland’s vibrant cultural life, and there are some wonderful arts projects and groups all over the country.  The Festival was set up to showcase this inspiring creative work – you can attend performances and exhibitions of work by older people, or take part in a workshop where you can try your hand at something new.  We also have a growing strand of dementia friendly events.  The Festival celebrates older people’s creativity in its many forms across the country, and we hope it will inspire more older people to take part in arts activities not only during May but also at other times of year.

What can we expect to see in 2019’s Festival?

Every year the programme is really diverse.  This year you can try clog dancing in Edinburgh; visit an exhibition by older artists in Easterhouse; join our massed community singing event in Aberdeen; take part in dementia friendly art workshop in Ullapool; or attend a social dance event for older LGBTI people in Glasgow or Inverness.  There’s also a film tour featuring some great films with ageing themes.  This is just a flavour of what’s on offer, and we hope there’s something for everyone!

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A Craft Café workshop in Govan

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Festival? 

The Festival month is a real privilege for me.  I am lucky enough to travel around Scotland attending lots of Festival events, and meeting the people who organise them as well as those who attend as audiences or participants.  I am really looking forward to my travels and to the activities I will have the chance to take part in. Particular achievements in past years have been learning to crochet and learning to do a quickstep, neither of which I could do till I started in this job!  I don’t know yet what my new skills from the 2019 Festival will be, but I’m looking forward to finding out!

What creative thing do you love to do?

I have sung in choirs since I was in my teens, and it’s still something I love doing.  There’s something very uplifting about singing in a group of people, and I have made many good friends along the way. For the last five years I have sung in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, and we have a busy concert programme across the year.


You can browse the full festival line up on Luminate’s website

Consultation – what’s the point?

Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer, Simon Ritchie, spent 2018 consulting older people in Scotland on transport. He reports here on his findings.

“Is this actually going to change anything?”

As I toured Scotland asking older people for their views on transport, this question came up a lot. My task was to work with Transport Scotland, the transport arm of the Scottish Government, to make sure that older peoples’ interests were accounted for in the new National Transport Strategy (NTS).

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Simon Ritchie – Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer

People had taken part in consultations before, they said, and it never seemed to change anything. However, as the consultation process went on, and after some reflection, I know the answer: yes, this will change things for the better. Let me explain.

Scotland’s population is ageing. The number of people aged 75+ is set to double in the next two decades. That’s great news – people are living longer, healthier lives – but as the demographics of our society changes, so too must our infrastructure if it is to remain fit for purpose. If the transport system doesn’t work for older people, it doesn’t work. Full stop.

So what works, and what needs to change?

Through a series of twenty transport workshops in every corner of Scotland, I and the civil servants I brought with me learned a great deal. Some findings were not surprising:

  • 2/3 of older people say they use public buses frequently
  • Reliance on cars is more prevalent in rural areas
  • The top three reasons for travelling are shopping, socialising and attending medical appointments.

Amongst the more striking findings were that

  • 1/3 of older people use public transport to commute to voluntary work – offering their valuable time, skills and experience to society.
  • 1/3 of older people say they’ve experienced difficulty getting to a medical appointment because of transport problems.
  • 1/2 say they’d use public transport more if services ran more frequently, and 1/2 of those living in rural areas say they’d take the bus if services ran later in the evening. Indeed, several older people who cannot drive said they felt under curfew in the evenings due to having no transport.

We now have a much better idea of what older people think about transport, and what they think should change. So how will this information and insight be used?

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Firstly – all our findings have been passed on to Transport Scotland in full. Already, many of the policy proposals we have put forward have been adopted into the draft NTS. From late 2019, the NTS will be the document that all levels of government should refer to whenever they make a transport-related decision. Age Scotland will hold them to it.

Secondly – we are using our findings to shape our position on the Scottish Government’s new Transport Bill, which gives Councils more power to improve local bus services. So there is a broader use for this information.

And finally – consultation matters because older people’s involvement in policy development keeps government on its toes and older people’s interests on the agenda.

A huge ‘thank you’ to all who took part in the 2018 Age Scotland transport workshops around the country. It’s been worthwhile and we know that the Scottish Government is listening and acting. If Age Scotland is a vehicle for change, it’s older people who are in the driving seat.


For more information please visit the Age Scotland website or contact Simon Ritchie – Policy Engagement & Campaigns Officer at Age Scotland – at simon.ritchie@agescotland.org.uk or on 0131 668 8047

The Big Knit is back!

Striped, spotty, glittery…it’s that time of year again where we receive bags full of little woolen hats of all shapes, sizes and colours. Yes, that’s right – the Big Knit is back! We have already received close to 20,000 hats and are so grateful to everyone who has taken part in the campaign so far. The final deadline is the 31st July 2019 so we are really excited to see what other wonderful creations we receive!

Many of our ‘Big Knit knitters’ are Age Scotland member groups and we’d like to shine a spotlight on them and the amazing things they do. One of these member groups is Forever Young, based in Renfrewshire. It is a sheltered housing group that does a wide variety of activities such as keep fit, coffee mornings and of course, knitting! Residents have been meeting over a cup of coffee and nattering away while creating some beautiful designs.

Last year the group knitted over 2000 hats for the campaign, with many residents becoming competitive over who could knit the most! This year they are back it again, having already knitted a fabulous 1900 hats, with the aim to knit over 3000! If the competitive streak of the resident’s is similar to last year, we are sure they will smash that target.

Forever Young’s group coordinator is Sally Logan. Sally’s mother is a member of the group, joining last year after suffering a stroke. For those living on their own in sheltered accommodation, groups like Forever Young give them the chance to socialize and reduce feelings of isolation. Sally told us that knitting hats for the Big Knit gave her mum focus and stopped her from sitting in on her own.

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Nessie, a member of Forever Young, has knitted over 1500 hats so far!

Think about it this way, would you want to spend most of your time sitting alone in your room or would you rather have a wee blether with Mary from three doors down about who got kicked out the Rovers Return this week? We’re sure it’s the latter so, if you knit or know anyone who does please get involved with this year’s Big Knit Campaign! You can have a chat and a cuppa while making some lovely little hats that will ultimately help support groups like Forever Young across Scotland.

 


Find out more about the Big Knit on the Age Scotland website

If you know anyone in the Renfrewshire area who would like to get join Forever Young, contact them on 01505 328864 or email Sally at sally.logan@renfrewshire.gov.uk

 

Networking, Inspiration and Celebration: Age Scotland’s fifth National Conference

2018 was Age Scotland’s 75th anniversary and through our ‘Speaking Up For Our Age’ project we learned a lot about the fantastic efforts of local and national older people’s groups and organisations in Scotland over the years. Looking back, a number of themes stand out as having been important to older people and continue to matter to us today. These themes – Homes, Health and Happiness – were the topics for discussion at our 2019 National Conference.

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Professor Rose Gilroy said we should demand better housing as poor housing has a detrimental effect on our welbeing.

We were delighted to welcome Age Scotland members and guests to the Radisson Blu in Glasgow for a day of discussion, networking and celebration. In the morning we had three fascinating presentations. First, we had Professor Rose Gilroy from the department of Ageing, Planning and Policy at Newcastle University, who shared how our housing stock has changed over the years and the impact it has on our wellbeing. Professor Gilroy went on to say that our housing options should not be determined by our age and that we need housing that works for all age groups.

We then had Dr William Bird MBE, Founder and Chief Executive of Intelligent Health, who spoke passionately about the difference being active makes to your physical and mental health. Dr Bird went on to explain how combining physical activity and being socially active can be life-changing and told us about the role of social prescribing in getting communities active.

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“Most people don’t become healthy for health’s sake. Combining physical activity and being socially active makes all the difference.” – Dr William Bird MBE

We were then joined by Dr Melrose Stewart, Lecturer at the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham who shared some heart-warming stories from her work on the award-winning Channel 4 TV documentary ‘Old Peoples Home for 4 Year Olds’. Dr Stewart spoke about how intergenerational practices not only encourage empathy and tackle ageism, but also make a big difference to our well being and encouraged all of us to foster intergenerational bonds in our communities.

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Dr Melrose Stewart was one of the experts that worked on the award-winning Channel 4 TV documentary ‘Old Peoples Home for 4 Year Olds’.

We broke for a delicious lunch and had a little unexpected excitement when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate! It didn’t dampen our spirits though and when we given the all clear by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service we returned for our afternoon workshops and a browse of the exhibition stalls.

The conference culminated in the presentation of the 2019 Age Scotland Awards. The Awards recognise and celebrate the exceptional commitment and contribution of individuals and organisations working to ensure Scotland is a great place to grow old in and we were shown a short film about each winner. It was wonderful to hear about the fantastic work going on in communities across Scotland. You can watch each of the films on the Age Scotland YouTube channel.

This year’s awards were presented by special guest Anita Manning who congratulated our winners on their efforts and also remarked what an incredible energy the wider conference had.

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Antique expert and TV Presenter Anita Manning joined us as a special guest for the Age Scotland Awards

This year’s conference was our biggest yet and it will be a tough act to follow. We would like to thank all our members, invited guests and speakers for joining us and making it such a fantastic day.


Find out more about becoming an Age Scotland member.

MILAN is a part of my life

As part of Age Scotland’s Speaking Up for Our Age project marking 75 years of older people’s groups and organisations in Scotland, Milan Social Welfare Organisation in Edinburgh organised a special event for members, staff and supporters to celebrate their history and their work today.

Milan means friendly meeting place and started in 1991 providing day care, educational and social activities and information advice for older members of the Bangladeshi, Indian, Mauritian and Pakistani communities in Edinburgh and Lothians.  The word is common to the languages of all four communities.   Over the years the charity has grown to also provide company and support to older people who are housebound and isolated, and a space for informal carers to have some quality time outwith their caring role.

Mrs Farooq is one of the founders of Milan.  Born in India before partition, Mrs Farooq moved to Edinburgh in 1968 to join her husband who was an automobile engineer working with Ford. In the late 1980s she helped to set up Shakti Women’s Aid to support black and minority ethnic women and children experiencing domestic abuse and also started a number of Asian women’s groups in the city with support from the Council’s Community Education Service and other voluntary organisations in the city.

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Representatives of MILAN accepting the 2014 Age Scotland ‘Services for Older People’ Award

“We started women’s groups in community centres, in the Southside of Edinburgh and Leith Walk, and by managing those women’s groups we realised that there were older people who had nowhere to go.  The parents were living with the families of the women we were working with.  The name Milan means place for a meeting. We thought that there is a need for Milan – where the older people can meet.  At first it was for one day, then we made it three days.  The Tuesday and Wednesday groups are mixed groups but the Thursday group is especially for very old people and people who are vulnerable, who use wheelchairs, and need more comfort and patience.  It is a very good idea to have this group on Thursdays.”

Part of the success of Milan is that from the very beginning the charity welcomed older people from across the Bangladeshi, Indian, Mauritian and Pakistani communities.  Mr Choudhry first joined the Milan Thursday lunch club three years ago on the recommendation of his sister, and now attends three days a week. As well as being able to eat a hot nutritious meal, he enjoys the varied activities, the games, the information talks on keeping healthy, the group walks and the trips, but the biggest difference he finds is the company.   “We open our hearts and listen to each other”, he explains.  Before attending the lunch club Mr Choudhry sat in the house focussing on his troubles and feeling stressed.  One of the recent additions to group activities is a garden plot where members are enjoying growing vegetables and herbs such as coriander for cooking.

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Mr Miah, Mr Choudhry, Mr Kapoor, and Mr Masih enjoy playing dominoes when they meet on Thursday

Older members who are unable to attend events and outings are not left out either, thanks to Mrs Mirza, a Milan member and volunteer.  For the past 15 years Mrs Mirza has been writing about Milan’s activities for the charity’s newsletter which is distributed regularly to members. It all started with a request to write about the holidays to Bradford and Liverpool organised by Milan. Mrs Mirza speaks several languages and writes in English, Urdu and Hindi languages and enjoys putting her skills to use so that as many members as possible can keep up with the news at Milan and remain connected to the charity when they are unable to join in some of the events.  “I live alone. I have nothing to do, just watching television all the time.  It’s better to come here and talk with friends.  Milan is a part of my life.”

All members are full of praise for the staff and volunteers.  The main challenge the charity faces is their need for better premises so that they can expand, open up spaces to people on the waiting list and run activities every weekday.

Milan has so much to be proud of and celebrate and members, volunteers and staff did so in style on 30th August 2018 at their Speaking Up for Our Age event.  There was a history display and quiz, music, dance, tasty food including Lentil Dahl (the popular dish from the 1990s) and a minute’s silence in memory of past members.


To find out more about MILAN, visit their wbeiste or call 0131 475 2307.

To find out more about becoming an Age Scotland member, visit our website, email our Community Development team at members@agescotland.org.uk