The National Center on Elder Abuse of the Administration on Aging has declared June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Go to this link to find a local activity. Yes, since this is a “World” day, there is also a United Nations declaration and such commemorations started in 2006 – in case you’re wondering. The U.S. HHS Administration on Aging suggests three ways to be involved:
(1) Developing an educational program or press conference;
(2) Volunteering to call or visit an isolated senior; or
(3) Submitting an editorial or press release to your local newspaper to create awareness of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
I hope this blog post meets the third criterion!
You can find excellent resources and stay posted on Colorado developments by going to the website of the Colorado Coalition for Elder Rights & Abuse Prevention and you can sign up for their e-newsletter there. In my recent visit to the site there was a link to a page entitled “culture change” which addresses person-centered care. You can click here for my blog post refresher on that topic and its originator, Tom Kitwood. The culture change that the CCERAP site describes is about focusing on the needs of the individuals requiring care and those working closely with them. This challenge is one we face on personal, community, national and global levels with the ever-growing number of elders in our communities. It forces us to think about how we would want to be treated in similar circumstances.
So on the topic of elder abuse and the vulnerability of a particular group of elders – those experiencing cognitive decline associated with a dementia disease process, I will take a look at Alzheimer’s Disease and Recent Observations from Biophysics.
Okay, I don’t think I’ve ever typed the word “biophysics” but there it is. I subscribe to Scientific American’s email news and there was featured a guest blog post by Frank Ferrone entitled “Dangerous Braids that Tangle in Brains and Veins.” You can read it here. This article is about the importance of research, the accumulation of scientific knowledge and connections that can be made at a later date when more research is accomplished or perhaps investigatory techniques, often technological, allow more thorough information to be gathered. Alzheimer’s Disease is a very particular type of dementia and it is only conclusively diagnosed post-mortem of those who had the disease. Its calling card is the beta-amyloid protein molecule which causes the plaques and tangles associated with the shrinkage of brain function. It turns out that these braided molecules share a lethal trait with the deadly molecules associated with sickle-cell disease, which allows both of these molecules to quickly build their housing (polymers) and spread their disease to a wider area. What Ferrone concludes, hence the biophysics moniker – is that the two diseases [Alzheimer’s and sickle cell], disparate in manifestation, obey the same fundamental rules. This is what Biophysics is all about, the discovery of fundamental physical laws that govern the behavior of diverse biological systems. Ferrone’s discovery (made with others), published back in 1985, was relied upon by Alzheimer’s researchers at Cambridge University for their new discovery.
Biophysics and biochemistry figure prominently in research in dementia – its proper diagnosis, treatment and of course prevention. Interested in the aging process in terms of entropy, mitochondrial decay? Read this excerpt.
All this overlap reminds me of a blog post I did for SoloinColo on The Hero’s Journey, in the Facebook for Lawyers context. . . . where I described our networked society in the mythological term “special world.” That post (part of a twelve part series) can be read here and referred to an article by a mathematical biologist. Perhaps Alzheimer’s research will continue to be a cooperative proving ground in helpful ways. If research on the disease can promote cooperation in substantial and significant ways and our ideas about identity and functioning are challenged with an ever-growing number of elder-boomers – then perhaps there is hope for us!
Yes, I could publish this post without a poem, but with no shortage of beautiful sources . . . why would I? This one (known as II,16) is by Rainer Maria Rilke (yes, he is one of my favorites):
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.
Life is uncertain and old age – even more so. Perhaps old age and its inward pulling-ness is a kind of gravity, a force that we all share but one that isn’t easily recognized or understood. Is this because we each live our own lives, separately and pulling away, or perhaps as a result of that long-term denial. How difficult would it be to trust that gravity, that heaviness that we can look at things – our lives and our relationships – in new ways . . . even in our oldness (or perhaps only as a result of it).
©Barbara Cashman www.DenverElderLaw.org