Standards Wise International - Blog

Guest Blog: The ageing population, brain health & technology

The first person to reach 130 years old has already been born.

There are a number of reasons for the ageing population. One is that people are living longer due to advances in healthcare and nutrition. Another reason is that the number of births is falling. This is due to a number of factors, including women delaying childbearing to later in life, and couples choosing to have fewer children.
For this article, we are going to focus on people living longer. 
An ageing population has a number of implications for society. One is that there will be an increased demand for healthcare and social services. As people live longer, they are more likely to need help with day-to-day living, and to experience health problems. This will put a strain on already stretched resources. 
Another implication is that there will be more pressure on families and carers. With more older people living alone, or needing help to manage their affairs, families will need to provide more support. This can be a challenge, particularly for those who work full-time or have caring responsibilities for other family members.
By 2034, there will be more people over 65 than any other age group with an additional £400bn needed for senior care. That's 1m new workers needed over the next 5 years to care for the elderly.
Worldwide, around 55 million people have dementia, with over 60% living in low and middle income countries. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.
Because of COVID, people have had less interaction with others, interrupted sleep, poor quality food and less exercise. This will lead to more dementia down the road.
With that in mind, there is one thing we can thank Covid for: Lockdowns have created awareness across all age groups of the suffering associated with isolation, after all, loneliness is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Rutger Bregman).

Every 3 seconds someone is diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder like dementia. 
For many, the condition can be an isolating and lonely experience, as they gradually lose the ability to communicate and engage with the world around them.
However, recent advances in Virtual Reality (VR) technology are giving hope to those affected by dementia, by providing a way for them to connect with loved ones and re-experience cherished memories.
One company, called Reallusion, has developed a VR app called iClone that allows users to create 3D avatars of themselves. These avatars can then be used to communicate with others in a virtual world, providing a much-needed social outlet for those with dementia.
Another company, dementia specialists Reminiscence Therapy, are using VR to help people with dementia to recall happy memories from their past. The therapy involves showing patients VR images and videos that are relevant to their own personal history, which can help to trigger long-forgotten memories and bring about positive emotions.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that nostalgia can help with dementia. A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that nostalgia can help to improve cognitive function in people with dementia.
The study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK, found that nostalgia can help to improve memory, attention, and executive function in people with dementia.
VR can be a very powerful tool to activate the brain's reward system. It can provide a stimulating and exciting environment that can produce a feeling of satisfaction. The brain's reward system is responsible for releasing neurotransmitters that make us feel happy, motivated, and engaged. When we experience something pleasurable, such as eating a delicious meal or completing a challenging task, the reward system is activated and release neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Technology and dementia detection
Traditionally it is difficult to detect dementia as it is based on patient reports and observation. VR and other new technologies can change this.
VR has the potential to detect dementia through a number of different mechanisms.
First, it can be used to assess an individual’s navigational ability, which is often impaired in early stages of dementia.
Second, VR can be used to test an individual’s visuospatial ability, which is also often impaired in dementia.
Finally, virtual reality can be used to assess an individual’s executive function, which is often impaired in dementia.
Virtual reality provides a safe and controlled environment in which to assess an individual’s cognitive abilities. 
By using virtual reality to assess these cognitive abilities, we may be able to detect dementia at an earlier stage, when intervention is most likely to be effective.
Wearable technologies, such as the Apple Watch also have the potential to detect dementia in its early stages. The technologies can monitor changes in behaviour, cognition, and physical function that may be indicative of the disease. For example, a wearable device that tracks sleep patterns may be able to detect changes that are associated with dementia. In addition, wearable technologies can monitor changes in gait and balance, which can be early indicators of the disease. The data collected by these devices can be used to provide insights into the progression of dementia and to assess the effectiveness of treatments.

VR can create empathy for carers
Empathy is an essential behavioural competency required of healthcare providers & understanding how someone with dementia might be feeling is undoubtedly challenging.
VR can be used to help people experience what it is like to live with dementia themselves. The technology can provide carers with a valuable insight into the lives of people with dementia. It can help them to understand the challenges that people with dementia face and the ways in which they may be feeling. 

Other technologies to support the ageing population
There is a growing need for better methods of monitoring the cognitive and physical health of the elderly population. EEG glasses offer a potential solution for this problem.
EEG glasses are a new type of wearable technology that can measure brain activity. This information can then be used to assess the cognitive and physical health of the wearer.
The glasses are equipped with sensors that pick up on the electrical activity of the brain. This information is then sent to a computer where it can be analysed. EEG glasses are often used to diagnose and treat conditions that involve the brain, such as epilepsy and sleep disorders. They can also be used to study brain activity in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Additionally, EEG glasses may be used to help assess someone’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by identifying those at risk of cognitive decline.
Early detection of cognitive problems can allow for early intervention and prevent the decline from becoming more severe.
EEG glasses can also be used to monitor the cognitive and physical health of the elderly on a regular basis. For example if someone has been unusually active during the day or is not sleeping well at night. 

Some other examples of new technologies that can benefit the elderly are:
Wearable fitness trackers – these can help seniors to monitor their activity levels, heart rate, and sleep patterns. This information can be used to make lifestyle changes to improve health.
Smartphone apps – there are many apps available that can help with things like Medication reminders, tracking blood pressure, and providing emergency information.
Fall detection devices – these can be worn as a pendant or bracelet and can automatically call for help if the wearer falls and is unable to get up.
Home automation – the internet of things (IOT) can control lights, appliances, and even lock doors. This can be helpful for seniors who have difficulty moving around their homes. 
Smart speakers - voice assistants like the one from Constant Companion can provide companionship, reassurance and emergency assistance using only the persons voice if and when required.
Video doorbells – these can allow seniors to see who is at their door without having to get up. They can also be used to answer the door when someone is away from home. 
GPS tracking devices – these can be worn or placed in a car to help loved ones keep track of a senior’s whereabouts. This is especially helpful if a senior has Alzheimer’s or dementia and is at risk of becoming lost.

How do we reduce the stigma of ageing/dementia?
The way we think about ageing is changing. In the past, ageing was often seen as a time of decline, when people became less active and less engaged with life. Today, however, we are living longer and healthier lives, and ageing is increasingly seen as a time of opportunity.
There are a number of ways we can reduce the stigma of ageing.
We can challenge negative stereotypes about older people. We can celebrate the achievements of older people and show that ageing can be a time of growth and fulfilment. Finally, we can challenge the idea that older people are frail and inactive.
We can all play a role in supporting older people to live active, engaged lives. 
When we challenge negative stereotypes about ageing, we help to create a more positive view of ageing. 
Another way is to increase public awareness and understanding of dementia. This can be done through education and campaigns that aim to dispel myths and misconceptions about the condition. It is also important to create an environment that is dementia-friendly, and to provide support and services that meet the needs of people living with dementia and their caregivers. 
Another way to reduce the stigma of dementia is to encourage open discussion and conversation about the condition. This can help to break down barriers and to create a more inclusive society. It is also important to remember that everyone experiences dementia differently, and that each person has their own unique story to tell.

Thanks to Gemma Greenwood, New Business & Marketing Director at Greenwood Campbell, for kind permission to share this blog.