DEEP – The E-Magazine for Ordinary People [JULY 2008]

THROUGH WINDOWS IN THE SKY – From the Editor’s Desk

In the next fifty years, average global life expectancy is projected to be about 75 years of age – 10 years more than today. The percent of people 65 years or older is expected to more than double in this period, increasing from 7 percent now to 16 percent.

Improved nutrition and health care, greater awareness and availability of resources, lifestyle changes and advances in medicine have all ensured that we live longer. That the quality of life in our later years is something worth living for is for us to ensure. Modern medicine and the lifestyle industry are doing their bit. So are scientists and researchers. With technology and knowledge working hard to keep the aged in good health and spirits, it should not be too difficult to live longer, happily, independently.

In the July issue of DEEP, we take a peep into some of the latest research pertaining to the aged. However, we need to remember that the worst old-age disease is Loneliness. AIBO can never become a substitute for a real dog. Technological devices that help us keep in touch with our elders can never be substitutes for our flesh-and-blood presence. Let’s never forget that AGE and DEATH visit each and everyone who is born on earth.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome. Post your comments here on the blog, or e-mail me at

SANGHAMITRA                     JULY 2008 [Volume 1 – Issue 4]



A physically active lifestyle is a great protector against cognitive decline. A recent study reported the positive effect of sunlight and the outdoors on patients who were already suffering from dementia. A healthy cardiovascular system may even, to some extent, compensate for tiny defects in the brain, reported a study based on an examination of a group of nuns who had agreed to have their brains donated after their death. The study found that a third of the nuns’, whose brains showed clear signs of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s, also had healthy blood vessels. None of these nuns suffered from more than a normal loss of memory till their death. It is possible that, had they lived long enough, these nuns too might have suffered degeneration of their mental faculties. However, the fact that their mental health remained unaffected till the end suggested to the physicians that good vascular health may make it easier for a brain to work around the plaques and tangles rather than succumb easily to the budding Alzheimer’s.

Another study, based on a two-decades’ long survey of a large sample of elderly population in Bronx, New York, concluded that involving oneself regularly in activities requiring mental alertness decreased the possibility of the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“As far as our brains are concerned, learning something new or even retrieving something from memory is a plasticity response,” says Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging. To quote from a 2006 article in the Times by Christine Gorman, it may get harder as you age, but if you can teach an old brain new tricks, you just might be able to keep it functioning well into the 90s.



There is a growing recognition that investing in technologies for the aged is a commercially profitable proposition, as the world’s population is living longer and more and more of the aged are either opting to live independently or have to, for various reasons. While there are various tools and toys intended to make life easier for the aged, only a few of these actually improve the quality of life. Here are two such devices, both of which were featured in the columns of the New York Times in the recent months.

Portable Video Device – As we age, our visual faculty is one of the first to show signs of degeneration. Lightweight, portable video devices are like electronically-enhanced magnifying glasses. But, unlike ordinary optical devices, these gadgets can not only help read small print on tickets, tablets and such like, they can also help enlarge distant objects. Besides, the in-built high resolution video camera within the device and the electronics increase the contrast in the display of the device, making it easier to read. For more information, follow the link below:

Home monitoring device – Including a motion sensor and a remote monitoring system, this device allows us to monitor the movements of an elder relative even if he/ she should live far away from us. Sensors attached to the walls of the house recognise when a person awakes, when a person takes medicines from a medicine dispenser, and so on. An electronic report is generated and the family will find it in their e-mail every morning. If they notice any deviation from routine that they find suspicious, they can take corrective measures by immediately getting in touch with their relatives. A major plus going for this system is that it merges with the background and does everything without noise and fuss. Since there are no cameras, there is no invasion of privacy either, which is a major issue with many of the old people who would like to have the comfort of knowing someone is looking after them, though from afar, but would not like to be ‘spied’ upon all the time.

For the New York Times article on this, follow the link below:




June 26 was International Day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.

The United Nations World Drug Report 2004 says that 0.4% of all deaths, worldwide, was caused by drug abuse. If the measure of disability-adjusted life years is used, then drug abuse would have caused the loss of 11.2 million years of healthy life.

There are about 20 million drug abusers all over the world and 1.7 million drug users over the age of 50 in America alone. By 2020 the number of old age Americans misusing drugs is expected to cross 4 million. Though figures for the rest of the world are not readily available, there is no doubt that the old age population requiring treatment for drug abuse is climbing, all over the world.

Jane Gross, writing in NYT on March 6, 2008 says, quoting federal records, between 2001 and 2005 there was a 2% increase in the numbers of over-50 Americans admitted to drug treatment programmes. This is only a fraction of the 1.7 million older substance abusers recorded in 2001 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This number is expected to more than double by 2020.

Among patients over 65 alcohol abuse is the major problem as many allow social drinking to get out of hand, especially to come to terms with their sense of isolation after retirement or loss of a spouse. In the ‘younger’ older population, alcohol abuse is equally a problem as abuse of hard drugs such as opium, cocaine and marijuana. Prescription drug abuse, particularly anti-anxiety drugs and pain-killers, is increasing among all sections of the old age population.

Treatment providers are finding that this 50+ generation is not monolithic. There is a clash of cultures, depending on the socio-economic background, their upbringing and inclinations not to speak of educational background and behavioural tendencies.

While there are many programmes addressing young people who have become addicted and programmes aimed at preventing kids from becoming drug abusers, the question of old age drug abuse is not oft discussed. The question is, how much can and should the state provide to allow segregated treatment based on gender, age and sexual preferences, besides the kind of disorder required to be treated – street drug abuse, addiction to prescription drugs or alcoholism.

Jane Gross’s article received comments that ranged from those who felt that spending good money on old people who had none but themselves to blame for their condition was a waste, to comments pleading for greater compassion in treating adults with drug abuse problems.

I wonder what your take on this is. Please do post your comments.


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