Category Archives: Dementia & Culture

Building a better world: can architecture shape behaviour?

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US architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed Fallingwater, believed that appropriate architecture would save the US from corruption.
Via Tsuji

Jan Golembiewski, University of Sydney

In 1966, a British planner called Maurice Broady came up with a new term for the architectural lexicon: architectural determinism.

This was to describe the practice of groundlessly asserting that design solutions would change behaviour in a predictable and positive way.

It was a new phrase but the belief system behind it – that buildings shape behaviour – had allowed the heroes of architecture to make all kinds of outlandish claims.

A hopeful history

Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian Renaissance-era architect, claimed in the 1400s that balanced classical forms would compel aggressive invaders to put down their arms and become civilians.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the US architect who designed one of the most famous buildings in America, Fallingwater, similarly believed appropriate architecture would save the US from corruption and turn people back to wholesome endeavours.

British author and thinker Ebenezer Howard believed companies would be more efficient if their employees lived in village-like garden communities.

Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier made claims about how his Villa Savoye building in France would heal the sick – and when it did just the opposite, he only avoided court because of the commencement of the second world war.

It took a long list of failures over the millennia before postmodern theorists took to critiquing architectural fantasy with malevolent vengeance. The high-point of this trend was the delight shared over the demolition of the famously dangerous and dysfunctional Pruitt-Igoe urban housing complex in St Louis in the US.

It was designed by architects George Hellmuth, Minoru Yamasaki and Joseph Leinweber to provide “community gathering spaces and safe, enclosed play yards.” By the 1960s, however, it was seen as a hotspot for crime and poverty and demolished in the 1970s.

The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe in 1972 fuelled resistance to deterministic thinking.
Wikimedia

The loss of faith in architecture’s power has been regrettable. Architects’ well-meant fantasies once routinely provided clients with hope and sometimes even with results.

Without this promise, the profession was left inept before the better structural knowledge of engineers, the cumulative restrictions imposed by generations of planners, the calculations of project-managers and the expediency of a draughtsman’s CAD (computer-aided design) skills in turning a client’s every whim into reality.

Without fiction, architecture has become a soulless thing. But was determinism dismissed too soon? Is there a role for imagined futures without rationalist restrictions?

Restoring the faith

Just think of some of the ways architecture can manipulate your own experience. In his book, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, US author Charles Montgomery points out that some environments predictably affect our moods.

The fact is that environments do affect us, regardless of whether by design or by accident. In 2008, researchers in the UK found that a ten-minute walk down a South London main street increased psychotic symptoms significantly.

In my own research, I find that the healthier a person is, the more a good environment will affect them positively and the less a bad one will affect them negatively. Mentally ill patients show about 65 times more negative reactivity to bad environments than controls and all these reactions translate directly into symptoms.

The same patients have about half the positive responsiveness. That’s fewer smiles, less laughter and a reported drop in feeling the “fun of life”.

But that’s not all. The potential for architecture is richer still. The ease with which architecture can embrace sublime aesthetics makes it great for generating awe.

Psychiatrists have found that awe reduces the prevalence and severity of mood disorders. Could sublime architecture even potentially save lives?

The psychological effects of architecture are difficult to prove, but difficulty doesn’t dilute the value of a building that hits the right notes and creates a sense of awe. Each building type has different functions, and for each there’s an imperative to use the building to help create an optimal mood, desire or sense of coherence, security or meaning.

Awe reduces mood disorders: Gaudi’s Sacrada Familia church in Spain.
Wikimedia

Fortunately, there’s a resurgence of belief that buildings can change behaviour, led by a few architectural journals: World Health Design, Environment Behavior and HERD.

Most of these focus on health care design, because that’s where behavioural changes have life and death consequences.

But nobody dares make any promises. As such, research rarely opens the black box of environmental psychology, leaving findings unexplained and prone to failure.

To give architecture back its mojo, a new interest in how architecture changes us must be fostered. Clients have to learn to trust architects again and research funding bodies have to re-gear to encourage research into how buildings affect our mood, health and behaviours.

Finally, architecture schools have to teach students how they might predict psychological, emotional, healing and functional effects.

The ConversationAll innovation, ultimately, is led by the imagination – even if that means taking risks and sometimes getting it wrong.

Jan Golembiewski, Researcher in Environmental Determinants of Mental Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Older Adults Are Still Likely Underestimating Cognitive Impairment in Their Families

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News release

 Study Finds Racial Differences in Reporting and Overall Trend of Underreporting Cognitive Impairment

An increasing number of older adults are reporting cognitive impairment in their families over the past two decades, according to a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.

The study, which also finds ethnic and racial differences in reporting cognitive impairment, is published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The aging population in the U.S. is growing rapidly, with the number of people age 65 and over in 2010 (40.2 million) projected to more than double by 2050. With the rapid increase in the aging population, the size of the population with cognitive impairment and dementia will continue to accelerate, highlighting the importance of identifying cognitive changes.

“Cognitive impairment may serve as a precursor to future dementia. Early detection of cognitive impairment can facilitate timely medical treatments, appropriate care planning, and prevention efforts,” said Bei Wu, PhD, Dean’s Professor in Global Health and director of Global Health & Aging Research at NYU Meyers, co-director of NYU Aging Incubator, and the study’s senior author.

The study sought to examine the trends of self-reported cognitive impairment among five major racial/ethnic groups from 1997 to 2015 in the United States. The researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey, including 155,682 individuals age 60 and above in their sample. The large sample included people of a variety of races and ethnicities, including Asian Americans,  Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanic Whites.

Rather than using a screening test or clinical examination to evaluate cognitive impairment, respondents were asked to report if any family member was “limited in anyway because of difficulty remembering or because of experiencing periods of confusion.”

The researchers found an increasing trend in self-reported cognitive impairment: the overall rate increased from 5.7 percent in 1997 to 6.7 percent in 2015 among older adults in the U.S. This finding may suggest that awareness of cognitive impairment, perhaps from heightened public attention to and interest in Alzheimer’s disease, has improved to some extent.

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When looking at each racial/ethnic group, however, the increasing trend was significant only among White respondents. In Whites, the rate of self-reported cognitive impairment increased from 5.2 percent in 1997 to 6.1 percent in 2015. Asian American, Black, Hispanic, and Native American respondents had higher rates of self-reported cognitive impairment than Whites, but these rates did not significantly increase from 1997 to 2015.

Regardless of the overall increasing trend, the rates of self-reported cognitive impairment were still low, which may suggest underreporting. The researchers note that the rates of self-reported cognitive impairment are much lower than the estimated prevalence of cognitive impairment. For adults 65 years and older, the rate of self-reported cognitive impairment was 6.3 percent in 2000 and 7.5 percent in 2012, while the estimated prevalence of cognitive impairment in the same age group was 21.2 percent in 2000 and 18.8 percent in 2012.

These findings underscore the need to further promote awareness of cognitive impairment, especially in minority populations. Different cultures hold different beliefs and perceptions of disease and aging. For instance, research has found that compared to Whites, minorities are less likely to seek treatment for psychiatric symptoms because of lack of access to care or due to stigma.

“Culturally specific health education is needed in individuals, family members, and healthcare providers to improve awareness and knowledge of signs and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” said Huabin Luo, PhD, of East Carolina University.

In addition to Wu and Luo, Gary Yu of NYU Meyers coauthored the study.

Replacing care staff with robots… is this really the solution?

To be honest, I would not want to stay in a care home like this. I wouldn’t have a robot care for my child, why would I have a robot care for the elderly. Especially when we know that the human elements of social engagement and familiarity are an essential for cognitive function. How confusing would it be for a person living with dementia to be residing in a home fully run by artificial intelligence? Wouldn’t it be like being trapped in a Dr Who episode where the world is run by Cybermen?

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Japan offers us many lessons in embracing longevity

Japan offers us many lessons in embracing longevity

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With a quarter of the population aged over 65, Japan has had to be innovative in catering for their wants and needs.
Martyn Jones, Author provided

Marco Amati, RMIT University; Marilena Kavoura, RMIT University; Martyn Jones, RMIT University, and Robin Goodman, RMIT University

Japan is famous for the longevity of its citizens. A quarter of its population is older than 65. That is a proportion that Australia is likely to reach only by 2056. Japan’s experience makes it an interesting example to learn from in the area of aged care.

In 2000, following a decade of stagnant growth, mounting public debt and skyrocketing hospitalisation, Japan introduced the Long-Term Care Insurance Scheme (LTCIS). This universal and compulsory scheme provides support to assess and deliver care through institutional or community-based services for all people over 65. It provides sufficient funds to allow everyone to age in place – even those in public housing and with late-onset dementia.

The scheme represents one of the boldest social democratic experiments in aged care policy in the last 30 years. Yet with bold experiments come surprises.

To the chagrin of the scheme’s designers the LTCIS has been too successful. Cheaper to implement than the policy it replaced, it is still oversubscribed and contributing to Japan’s public debt (230% of GDP).

Happy Active Town in Kobe is a public housing estate where more than 50% of residents are older than 65.
Photo: Martyn Jones

The universal acceptance of the scheme contributes to a paradox: while Japan has the largest ageing population in the world, it is difficult to make a business of providing aged care, as the collapse of Watami, the food chain-cum-nursing home provider, demonstrates. So what can this experience teach Australia’s aged care sector?

Care happens within the community

The first set of lessons concerns community-based integrated care. Here, the LTCIS, following 2012 reforms, mobilises support through community general support centres.

Australia is seeking to improve integration of multi-level care. The support centre in “Happy Active Town”, Kobe, provides an example. This public housing estate houses many refugees from the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake. Its proportion of residents over 65 is more than 50%.

The LTCIS, with the local government, provides a care hub for volunteers, social workers and health professionals to provide services and respite care free to all residents on and off the estate. Community hubs such as these are designed to support a range of needs from intense support to community and family engagement in care across the life course.

Happy Active Town in Kobe houses many aged survivors of the devastating 1995 earthquake.

Harnessing technological innovation

The second lesson comes from watching and observing the Japanese experience of integrating technology in care provision. Dense, multistorey buildings of small units are typical in Japan. New, so-called “Platinum” housing integrates universal design and new technologies to ensure safe independent living for the elderly.

Retrofitting large areas of public housing to this standard is complex and expensive. A limited number of exemplary regeneration projects where the local municipality, private providers and the LTCIS work together guide the way. One example is Toyoshikidai, a public estate built for young families in the 1950s in Kashiwa to the north of Tokyo.

Alongside these urban changes a generational change is afoot. As the digitally literate generation reaches old age, smart home devices and new security and communication technology assume increasing importance. The business opportunities alone could amount to US$1 trillion by 2035.

The Japanese government supports this shift with its “Silver ICT” agenda. This includes a raft of e-strategies to bridge the digital divide between “active and inactive” elderly populations.

Yet in the nation where the development of robotic assistive technologies enjoys vast sums of research and development support, there is little sign of this in daily life. In Japan, applying technology in aged care is fraught with ethical, personal and logistical challenges. The solution, for now, centres on the involvement of humans.

The ConversationThe Japanese experience of ageing is unique and varied, but presents a foretaste of the future for many post-industrial societies. The “Happy Active Town” of Kobe, 20 years after a major natural disaster, is one example of a place where public policy, housing and technology converge to create solutions for an ageing society. Its mechanisms to support the passion and commitment of the people working and living there can teach Australia how to age with dignity.

Marco Amati, Associate Professor of International Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Marilena Kavoura, Manager Industry Linkage, RMIT University; Martyn Jones, Associate Professor of Social Work, RMIT University, and Robin Goodman, Professor of Urban Planning, Deputy Dean, Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trishaws anyone?

A beautiful intergenerational activity to celebrate the love of cycling, a spot of reminiscence, and the great outdoors.

 

How lovely is this? As a child, my mother and I use to jump on a trishaw after our trip to the wet market. I use to watch the spokes go round and round and I still can hear the “Tak tak tak” sound the wheels make as we head home. It’s always a magical experience no matter how short the trip was. Took less than 5 minutes to reach our home from the market on a trishaw and I’ve sat in it for years and years with my mum, but it never grows old. With the wind in my face, the clicky round of the rickshaw, and just cuddled beside my mum with all our groceries at my feet, the world was our oyster.

When Cycling Without Age it just brought back all these lovely memories of my childhood. I wondered how wonderful would this be for it to be reintroduced into the community. There would be so many older adults in Asia whose main form of transport was the bicycle or the trishaw at a point of their time in their youth. As we aged and our physical abilities deteriorate, we lose our abilities to cycle and with it, our memories of freedom, that wind in your hair, the road just beneath your feet, to go wherever you wanted to go and be wherever you wanted to be.

Such an intervention can only bring generations together, a real intergenerational project of adventure and bonds. To bring people closer through the love of freedom and the outdoors.

I’m so glad to see this in Singapore and I hope that more Singaporeans will jump on board to support this movement!

If you have time, have a read of these 21 inspirational stories from Cycling without Age http://cyclingwithoutage.org/book/

Ageing in Place? Yes, we can!

Article: Why it’s good to be old in Wakabadai estate, where nearly half the residents are elderly

Read about a community that has come together to age together at the Wakabadai public housing estate.

Recently Channelnewsasia did a piece on the Wakabadai housing estate in Yokohama, Japan. It’s a really interesting estate and the means in which the estate has been configured bears many similarities to the high rise housing estates found in the big cities where we all live a wall away from our neighbours. However, despite living in the same building for 30 to 40 years a lot of us may just be acquaintances, saying the passing “hi” and “hellos” as we greet each other at the elevator or when we pass each other along the corridors.

A few years ago, I visited a couple who lived alone in a little apartment with two bedrooms, their children had moved out and the husband was caring for his wife with dementia. She is very quiet and apathetic. His greatest worry was that he may suffer a stroke or a heart attack and is unable to get help in time and both of them may pass away in their apartment despite being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people living in the building. He cited a neighbour living a few floors below them, who had passed away without anyone noticing until a number of days later. He talked about the need for services for families like them, and many services assume that because they have children, there would be someone watching out for them. However, with the busy lives that his children lead, looking after their families and juggling work, they could only call in on the weekends and rightly so with the changing landscape of the economy.

His son offered to have them stay with him but leaving their much familiar neighbourhood might be too much for his wife. Even now she would get agitated if they left the vicinity. For them this is home, this is where they had built their lives, house their memories, thrived in their love, and they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Why is it that when we grow old, we have to move away? We have to sell our home, move into a retirement village and start all over again. I want to live in a place that will evolve and age as I age, that grows old as I do.

Back to Yokohama, the Wakabadai public housing estate is just that, with slightly less than half of the residents 65 years and older, the people living in the estate are ageing in place together. To date, there is a total of 14,658 residents living in the estate in 6,304 units. To ensure that they needs are met, they have come together with organisations and council to organise a range of services.

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Map of Wakabadai

Social Engagement for Older Adults:

The Wakabadai Non-Profit Organisation enables social activities such as health, music, cultural and sporting events to be held in the vicinity. Himawari provides a space for volunteers to interact with older adults over a cuppa. Residents are also keenly aware of “kodokushi”, which refers to people who are living alone and have passed away and their deaths have gone unnoticed by the community. In Wakabadai, residents band together and keep a keen eye out for the sudden build up of mail or newspaper in the mailboxes of older residents and the mail continues to be left unattended with no notice that the resident might be away.

A paid service is also available at the Himawari Community Centre where they can have a staff to ring their phones to ensure they are alright. They can also have a spare key stored at Himawari for approximately 500 yen.

In addition, celebrations during festive periods are arranged by the organisation to encourage engagement among the residents. Sports events are also organised regularly to encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle among residents.

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Wakadabai Estate

Creating an Intergenerational Community:

To encourage engagement from children and younger adults, a facilty for mothers group known as Wakaba Family Plaza Soramame can be found in Wakadabai. A safe space for mother’s of infants and toddlers to interact, support and exchange vital parenting information with each other and older adults. Older adults with early childhood qualifications can find work as advisors, helping to support young mothers, sharing with them their years of wisdom. Coming into Wakaba Family Plaza Soramame, you may find three generations interacting and hanging out together.

Meaning Occupation:

The Wakabadai Non-Profit Organisation also helps to find jobs for older adults.

Older adults can also showcase their culinary skills at Haru Dining, a restaurant staffed by older women living in the area serving up old school, heartwarming home cooked meals.

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Assistance with Activities of Daily Living:

Residents can also tap on a home help service at the cost of 490 JPY per hour which covers everything from house chores to transport to get their food or groceries delivered. Transport is highly efficient with buses running every 3 mins to the major train station, currently, residents are campaigning for a train station to be built close to their vicinity.

Other accessible facilities in the area include a post office, supermarkets, salons, restaurants, shops, gyms and parks.

Healthcare:

When it comes to healthcare, the Community Centre run by the Yokohama City Council also provides exercise classes for older adults, a care facility for older adults during the day, and medical staff such as nurses are available to provide older adults health and medical advice.

In addition, Asagao, a district nursing service consisting of nursing and medical staff from an acute hospital in the area man an emergency hotline that is accessible for residents in the estate at all times of the day or night. On top of the hotline, staff also provide and provide home care to the residents in the community.

When it comes to high care needs, residential aged care facilities are also located in the estate for residents who are too frail to reside in their own home.

With all the facilities to encourage a positive ageing in place, it is no wonder that the rates of older adults requiring nursing care much lower than the average rates found in other estates in Yokohama. In Wakabadai, the rates of nursing care currently stand at 12 percent whereas, on average 17.5 percent of older adults in each estate is found to require nursing care at home.

Wakadabai has shown that ageing in place is possible and it is achievable in the big cities with high-density living. With key elements in place, council and community support, we all can grow old gracefully in the luxury of our homes.

Stories waiting to be told

Why we need to open our hearts & listen to the people we care for

I wanted to share this beautiful video of Raelene and Soo Ren, who opened their hearts poured out their life story in this short 11-minute film. Raelene touches on the challenges in their life of being an inter-racial couple in the UK, their life settling down in Singapore in a house with 30 members of the family and later as a caregiver for her husband who is living with cognitive impairment. No matter the challenges both Raelene and Soo Ren continue to move forward in life, sharing every day together.

I also apologise for not blogging as much and not having any new articles of late. I’m currently 29 weeks pregnant and soon to start a new chapter our lives with a baby boy. In a way, Raelene and Soo Ren’s story strikes a deep chord in my heart because much like them, me and my husband are an interracial couple as well, with me being an Asian and my Husband being a Caucasian. We do face similar stigmas but possibly not those as aggressive as what Raelene and Soo Ren had experienced in the 60s and 70s. I do ponder the needs and the types of assistance that an interracial couple may require in the areas of dementia care, be it bilingual literature on dementia, or even training especially for expatriates and immigrants, hearing their stories. Most of us will become aware of the cultural differences that both will have to overcome to be together and as cognitive impairment and dementia sets in, can we say that we can we deliver care services that can meet the needs of interracial couples? Is there more that we can do?

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On top of the discussions on inter-racial couples, it is also important to recognise that everyone, everyone that you see has a story. As a nurse and a personal care assistant, I have heard of stories of women who worked in the times of war in the UK, wearing their hair in “victory rolls” and working on machines, the life of a submariner and the experiences of a WW2 Vet. There was a lady who took 7 months to sail from Australia to the UK, which to me was an incredible feat in itself. A man who knew more about the history of Singapore than I did, having visited Singapore in the 70s and 80s. A lady who thought me that when it comes to fashion quality far surpasses quantity, pulling out a teal dress she bought 20 years ago for a wedding that continued to look stunning on her at 80. A teacher who taught me all about baking and I’ll never forget five women who agreed in unison that a home cooked meal was the heart and gut of marriage. They opened their heart, they brought me smiles and laughter, sharing with me their adventures, their lives and their memories. I’m here to provide care, and yet it feels like they are providing me with the knowledge and care that I need to mature and grow, learning from their experiences and their stories, nourishing my mind and my soul, an experience that no money can ever buy.