Defying Dementia Update

Dear all,

You are invited to a Walk to Defy Dementia on Sunday 18th October at Lancaster University to raise money for a groundbreaking drug which combats Alzheimer’s disease. So far, we have raised over £32,000 and need your help to reach our target of £165,500 to get this drug through safety trials before it can reach Phase I human clinical trials.

This two mile woodland walk is located around the University campus and there are many fun pit-stops along the way. There will also be some entertainment at the end and the walk is suitable for all ages and abilities. The registration fee is £5.96 with £5 going straight to the lab to help with their important research.

The day will start at 11am and finish at 4pm. If you would like to register, please click here. For more information on the work that Defying Dementia does, please follow this link.

The HELPCARE team in Thessaloniki!

The HELPCARE team are currently in Thessaloniki in meetings to discuss the data generated by the project thus far. All partners have been busy with their individual responsibilities that has lead to a fruitful debate regarding the nature of employment in the care industry and how this will affect the planning of the education and career guidelines. Anticipation of the outcomes of our current and imminent activities are also contributing to the development of a robust impact pathway, which will increase in both size, significance and scope as the project progresses.

Do you care for someone who has been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia?

Or are you caring for someone with any long-term mental or physical illness or disability?

A new support group is starting soon in Morecambe, especially for you.

carers_group‘For those who care for someone with a long term illness, such as Early Onset Alzheimers, Alzheimers disease or any other physical or mental condition needing ongoing care. We are hoping to create a space and atmosphere where we can get together for talks, workshops or discussions or even for a cup of coffee and a chat. All ideas are welcome and I hope that this will be a special couple of hour each month, where those who care for others can get together to share experiences and ideas.’


To find out more, please contact

Tel: 01524 414984


EU funded project case studies new programmes 2014-2020


This collaborative transnational partnership project, selected for support under the first call for proposals for the new Erasmus+ Programme in 2014 is delivered by a partnership involving organisations from five countries, as follows:-

Lancaster University, UK

Lancaster and Morecambe College, UK

South East Europe Research Centre, Thessalonki, Greece

University of Lodz, Poland

Znanie Organisation, Bulgaria

Commune di Ortona, Italy

Staff at Lancaster University Management School had previous experience of the EU Lifelong Learning Programme, having been involved in Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci projects.  They had, therefore, previously worked with the colleagues in Greece and Poland.  In developing the HELPcare project, the existing partners recognised the need to involve experts in vocational education and training.  Colleagues at Lancaster and Morecambe College with expertise in the health and social care field were approached and they agreed to participate.  The College suggested the involvement of two of their trusted partners from Bulgaria and Italy.

Project Summary

The overall aim of HELPcare is to develop and transfer innovative practices in education for the qualification and professionalization of health and social care workers that can be adapted and adopted across the EU28 to make better use of the existing workforce through training, as well as encourage young people to view health and social care work as a career choice with recognised routes for progression.

In developing the HELPcare project the partners first identified several key problem relating to care of the elderly in their own homes:-

1. There is no EU-wide training standard or regulation framework for care workers, making it difficult for those recruiting workers to know what benchmarks good quality.

2. Many care workers find it difficult to access CPD training and career development, even though there is significant potential for such workers to progress through to professional healthcare roles such as clinical support workers, nurses or physiotherapy.

3. As care workers are not seen as a professionalised workforce (with many working as undeclared labour) their skills are often poorly utilised in the community.

4. The impact of the migration to middle-high income countries by young people engaged in care work has been to exacerbate the impact of care worker recruitment problems in accession countries planning for the care of an aging population, while not solving the shortage of care workers in receiving countries.

6. Unless care work becomes a more attractive career option, with clear routes to progression it will be difficult to attract young people even in a period of high youth unemployment.

The problems defined the objectives of the project, as follows:-

1. To develop a model based upon best practice for training and regulation standards for existing home / healthcare workers that can be adapted and adopted across the EU either nationally, regionally or locally dependent on setting

2. To work with those currently providing home /health and social-care services  (via undeclared labour or via provider organizations), VET/HE establishments and users and commissioners of homecare to develop a model of CPD  to develop pathways to professionalization and provide new routes for progression from home /healthcare work into the wider range of health and social care.

3. To explore existing health and social care qualifications in partner countries and develop a new model of work-based/VET/HE-based learning outcomes for health and social care that will fit into the HELPcare framework for professionalization.

a. Includes developing skills mapping tools for existing care workers to assist in their effective CPD & the development of a careers guidance portfolio aimed at highlighting the possibilities of a career in home health care

4. Develop a transnational network and community of practice comprising service commissioners, policy makers and VET providers to disseminate best practice in health and social careworkers education and progression through the EU.

Institutional benefits and fit with strategic objectives

Lancaster University is very much an international institution and European projects assist in the development of wider international relationships.  The University also as a policy of reaching out to local education establishments, which applies to Lancaster and Morecambe College.   As a research-led university projects such as HELPcare help in developing high-quality research that can be developed into international academic publications which again help to raise the profile of the university.  The project also leads to new ideas developing, and in the case of HELPcare the team have built on the initial idea to put together a bid to Horizon 2020.

In terms of the benefits for the institution, participation provides staff with the opportunity to participate in international collaborations.  This helps staff to build new skill-sets and learn from other partners.  An important aspect of this project is the variety of partners, enabling the team to work with SMEs, third sector organisations, municipalities and so on, this allows for knowledge exchange that is far broader than is generally the case within higher education.  In turn, this helps staff to identify new problems and consider new solutions.  There are also benefits in terms of raising awareness of Lancaster University around the EU, through partner visits and the various multiplier events associated with the project.

Lessons learned from the Erasmus+ application process

That all aspects of your application should be clear and concise. Targets should be identified and should be realistic. There should be sufficient time left to construct the budget carefully and get required institutional approvals.

– See more at:



Underweight people face significantly higher risk of dementia, study suggests

10/04/15 – Sarah Boseley writes in The Guardian.

Research involving health records of 2 million people contradicts current thinking, sparking surprise among authors and health experts.

People who are underweight in middle-age – or even on the low side of normal weight – run a significantly higher risk of dementia as they get older, according to new research that contradicts current thinking.

The results of the large study, involving health records from 2 million people in the UK, have surprised the authors and other experts. It has been wrongly claimed that obese people have a higher risk of dementia, say the authors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In fact, the numbers appear to show that increased weight is protective. At highest risk, says the study, are middle-aged people with a BMI [body mass index] lower than 20 – which includes many in the “normal weight” category, since underweight is usually classified as lower than a BMI of 18.5.These people have a 34% higher chance of dementia as they age than those with a BMI of 20 to just below 25, which this study classes as healthy weight. The heavier people become, the more their risk declines. Very obese people, with a BMI over 40, were 29% less likely to get dementia 15 years later than those in the normal weight category.The Guardian - Getty Images
Prof Stuart Pocock, one of the authors, said: “Our results suggest that doctors, public health scientists, and policymakers need to rethink how to best identify who is at high risk of dementia. We also need to pay attention to the causes and public health consequences of the link between underweight and increased dementia risk which our research has established.“However, our results also open up an intriguing new avenue in the search for protective factors for dementia – if we can understand why people with a high BMI have a reduced risk of dementia, it’s possible that further down the line, researchers might be able to use these insights to develop new treatments for dementia.”Lead author Dr Nawab Qizilbash from Oxon Epidemiology told the Guardian that the message from the study was not that it was OK to be overweight or obese in middle-age. “Even if there were to be a protective effect in dementia, you may not live long enough to benefit because you are at higher risk from other conditions,” he said.The study, published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, looks only at data, correlating BMI with dementia diagnoses in general practice records and making allowances for anything that could skew the picture. “We haven’t been able to find an explanation,” said Qizilbash. “We are left with this finding which overshadows all the previous studies put together. The question is whether there is another explanation for it. In epidemiology, you are always left with the question of whether there is another factor.”

Many issues “related to diet, exercise, frailty, genetic factors, and weight change” could play a part, says the paper. There have been small studies that suggest a deficiency of vitamin E or vitamin D may play a part in dementia, but these are purely speculative, said Qizilbash. But the study “opens up an avenue to look at the protective effects on dementia of diet, vitamins, weight change as well as frailty and potentially genetic influences”.

Others were cautious about the results, while acknowledging the scale of the study, which gives it greater power than previous pieces of research. Dr Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said further work is needed. “This study doesn’t tell us that being underweight causes dementia, or that being overweight will prevent the condition,” he said. “Many other studies have shown an association between obesity and an increased risk of dementia. These findings demonstrate the complexity of research into risk factors for dementia and it is important to note that BMI is a crude measure – not necessarily an indicator of health. It’s also not clear whether other factors could have affected these results.”

The best protection against dementia, he added, is “eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure in check”. Prof Deborah Gustafson from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, USA, in a commentary with the study in the journal, writes: “To understand the association between BMI and late-onset dementia should sober us as to the complexity of identifying risk and protective factors for dementia. The report by Qizilbash and colleagues is not the final word on this controversial topic.”

Read the original topic here.


Face to face contact matters

Post Sardinia20/03/15 – In villages in Sardinia, 10 times as many men live past 100 than the average. Why? A key reason is that they are not lonely. Psychologist Susan Pinker on the importance of face-to-face contact in our era of disbanded families and virtual connections

Last month the Church of England asserted that a big slice of British society feels “unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed”, a view confirmed by recent population surveys. A third of British citizens over 65 now say that they have no one to turn to, and a significant swath of those under 25 say they also feel disconnected from the people around them. Has loneliness become the new normal?

As you start humming the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby”, realise this: feeling untethered is not only uncomfortable, it is bad for your health. Research shows that people who feel socially disconnected are at a greater risk of dying young – especially if they are men. Women are more prone to seek out and build longstanding, intimate personal relationships: within their extended families, through lifelong friendships, in their neighbourhoods.

That is one reason – there are others, of course – why in every industrialised country, women outlive men by an average of five to seven years. This gender imbalance is visible wherever older people spend their time; in parks, libraries, churches, community halls and seniors’ tour groups, women over the age of 60 outnumber men in their age group by three to one.

But this is not the case everywhere. There is one place in Europe where both sexes are living long lives. It is an area where, for better or worse, no one is left alone for very long. In what has been dubbed the Age of Loneliness, it’s worth asking what they have that we don’t.

The residents of the hilltop villages of central Sardinia are among the world’s only exceptions to the rule that women in developed nations live longer than men. Almost everywhere else, including on the Italian mainland 120 miles away, there are six female centenarians for every male. Elsewhere, most men don’t make it to 80. But once Sardinian men in this region have survived their dangerous, risk-taking adolescent and young adult years, they often live as long as their wives and sisters – well into their 90s and beyond; 10 times as many men in these villages live past the age of 100 as men who live elsewhere. Despite living hardscrabble lives as shepherds, farmers and labourers in an inhospitable environment, Sardinians who were born and live in these villages are outlasting their fellow citizens in Europe and North America by as many as two to three decades. Many of these centenarians remain active, working well into their 90s and living in their own homes, usually with the help of people they’ve known their entire lives.

These villages comprise one of the world’s “Blue Zones” – a handful of mountainous regions where more people live to the age of 100 than anywhere else. This zone has nearly the same landmass as Switzerland but with less than a quarter of its population; just 1.5 million people live in the towns dotting the rugged shoreline and pastoral mountain villages in the Ogliastra region, the epicentre of the Sardinian Blue Zone. Centuries of invaders and regular attacks from North African pirates drove residents away from the coast inland, beyond the rugged Gennargentu mountains. This geographic isolation bonded the area’s families and communities. That is the upside. The downside is that always having to defend your boundaries created a longstanding mistrust of strangers, aptly illustrated by the local saying Furat chie benit dae su mare: those who come from the sea come to steal.

That hostility to outsiders is one reason why I flew into Alghero – a Moorish-looking seaside town with an airport and a university – instead of heading straight to the Blue Zone. I was travelling with my daughter Eva, to record the life stories of these centenarians for a radio documentary. Our first step was to meet an expert in Sardinian super-longevity, a local physician and biomedical researcher named Giovanni Pes, accompanied by a geneticist colleague, Paolo Francalacci, who told us that genes account for perhaps 25% of the variance that leads to male super-longevity in the region; culture and chance accounted for the rest.

Pes immediately included us in his lively circle of close friends, family and colleagues, and this sense of inclusion turned out to be a crucial piece of the longevity puzzle. Every centenarian we met was supported by kith and kin, visitors who stopped by to chat, bring food and gossip, provide personal care, a kiss on the cheek. Time-pressured grown-up children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews – some of them senior citizens themselves – took time off from work to look after their elderly family members.

Despite a packed clinical and research schedule, Pes told me it was normal to spend every Sunday with his mother. “Of course we have to balance our careers with family life,” he told me. “But as a Sardinian, I never forget to visit my mother. She lives 70km from me, but every week I visit her. She is 87 now but is fantastic mentally. I talk to her about my work at the university and she always gives me interesting advice.”

Given that his father lived to 105 and his great-uncle to 110 and that the biology of ageing has inspired his research career, Pes is well versed in the multiple conditions that foster extraordinary longevity in Sardinia: the isolated gene pool, the mountainous terrain, the local diet and red wine. But he also emphasises the buffering effect of social factors – the impact of face-to-face interaction which is so central to Sardinian village life. “Everybody is in close contact with other members of the community. My great-uncle was no exception. He used to visit friends and relatives and was fond of going hunting until he was 98 years old. And if I remember correctly, he was able to shoot a wild boar at that age.”

Caring for fragile relatives seems motivated by more than duty. Obligation is mixed with pride, a sense of ownership and identity. The contrast to how families behave elsewhere is stark. In other parts of Europe and in North America, looking after ageing family members can be seen as grunt work. Yet when I asked Maria Corrias, a woman in her 60s who lived with, and cared for, her nearly deaf, housebound, irascible, 102-year-old uncle if she felt frustrated by her situation, she became annoyed with me. “No, no! I do it with pleasure. You don’t understand. He is my heritage. The seniors of this village are our heritage. We do it with love.” I asked her 25-year-old niece, Sarah, if she would do the same for her elderly relatives when the time comes. “Certo, of course I will,” she replied. “Everybody does it.”

Our survival hinges on social interaction, and that is not only true of the murky evolutionary past. Over the last decade huge population studies have shown that social integration — the feeling of being part of a cohesive group — fosters immunity and resilience. How accepted and supported we feel affects the biological pathways that skew the genetic expression of a disease, while feeling isolated “leaves a loneliness imprint” on every cell, says the American social neuroscientist John Cacioppo. Women with breast cancer who have expansive, active, face-to-face social networks, for example, are four times as likely to survive their illness as women with sparser social connections. How might that work? Research led by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that social contact switches on and off genes that regulate the rate of tumour growth (and the level of cancer-killing lymphocytes in our bloodstreams).

Fifty-year-old men with active friendships are less likely to have heart attacks than more solitary men, and people who have had a stroke are better protected from grave complications by an in-person social network than they are by medication. Working with a large British sample, the Australian researchers Catherine and Alex Haslam have found that people with active social lives recover faster after an illness than those who are solitary – their MRIs show greater tissue repair – and that older people in England who participated in social gatherings kept their memories longer.

And it’s not just about pensioners. When the daily habits of nearly 17,000 utility workers in France were monitored throughout the 1990s, researchers discovered that their degree of social involvement was a good way to predict who would still be alive at the end of the decade.

The studies on the benefits of face-to-face social contact, almost all of them published during the last decade, leave us with the question: why isn’t there more buzz about getting together? One reason is that when it comes to what drives health and happiness, we’re obsessed with more concrete concerns: food, money, exercise, drugs. We recognise that cigarettes, salt, animal fat and being overweight can shorten our lifespan, while antibiotics, physical activity and the right diet can prolong it. This knowledge has changed the way most of us eat, work and spend our leisure time. But despite evidence that confirms the transformative power of social contact, our routines have become more solitary. Since the late 80s, when social isolation was first earmarked as a risk for premature death in a landmark article in Science magazine, the number of people who say they feel isolated has doubled if not trebled, according to population surveys in Europe, the US and Australia.

Britons of all ages now devote more time to digital devices and screens than to any other activity except sleeping. Photograph: Olaf Speier/Alamy
The questions how and why loneliness has increased have been much debated. Communities have disbanded for a variety of reasons. And while the internet allows us to ignore geography in our search for the like-minded, it has further stripped away the need to talk to our neighbours. Most commercial and social transactions have migrated online, where they’re cheaper and quicker, and for many people, the workplace and the classroom are now virtual, too. If electronic media informs and entertain us, who needs all that forced person-to-person chit-chat?

Certainly digital computation has eclipsed raw brain power when it comes to searching, gathering and sorting information. But when it comes to relationships, our electronic devices can give us the illusion of intimacy without the hormonal rush of the real deal.

In 2012, the University of Wisconsin psychologist Leslie Seltzer and her team asked pre‑teen girls to solve maths and word problems in front of an audience. Before testing them, the researchers measured the participants’ salivary cortisol, a hormone that registers levels of stress. They were then divided into four groups. Each received a different type of social contact immediately after the test: one quarter of the group had a visit from their mother, one quarter got a phone call from her, one quarter an encouraging text, and one quarter had no communication at all. After the test, the cortisol levels were measured once again, along with the levels of oxytocin in the blood. The girls who saw their mothers in person became the most relaxed afterwards, as shown by the biggest drop in their cortisol levels. A spike in oxytocin, often called the “cuddle chemical”, showed they felt reassured. That phenomenon, though attenuated, was shown in girls who heard their mother’s voice on the phone. But a text from their mother had no impact. There were no physiological signs that the participants felt less anxiety than they had before. Indeed, their hormone levels were indistinguishable from the girls who had no contact at all.

Recent MRI studies led by neuroscientist Elizabeth Redcay tell us that personal contact elicits greater activity in brain areas linked to social problem-solving, attention and reward than a remote connection. When the identical information is transmitted via a recording, something gets lost.

Just as we all require food, water and sleep to survive, we all need genuine human contact. Digital devices are great for sharing information, but not great for deepening human connections and a sense of belonging. More socially cohesive societies – such as the Blue Zone of Sardinia – suggest that we should use our mobile devices to augment, not to replace, face-to-face interaction – that is, if we want to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Britons of all ages now devote more time to digital devices and screens than to any other activity except sleeping; a lot of those hours are spent alone. No app exists that is as effective as one year with a highly trained teacher, or the cumulative effect of regular family meals spent together.

A quarter of Britons now say they feel emotionally unconnected to others, and a third do not feel connected to the wider community. If men are to live as long as women, if urbanites hope to live as long as Mediterranean village dwellers, they need to live in a place where they know and talk to their neighbours. But there is no need to trash your smartphone and move to rural Sardinia. Once you recognise that you need more than pixelated, electronic ties, and more than a handful of close friends and family to keep you healthy and happy, you can stay where you are. By cultivating a community of diverse, person-to-person relationships, you can build your own village, right where you live.

Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters is published by Atlantic.

Please read the full article on the Guardian website here.

It’s Time to Care…

09/04/15 – The home care crisis is not only a European issue, the below video demonstrates similar a situation in New South Wales, increasing demand needs to be met to provide the resources the vulnerable deserve.

Please visit Its Time to Care’s website for more information.

The Heart of the Home Care Issue

Post - Professionalisation27/03/15

‘Professionalisation will get to the heart of the home care issue’

Dr Carolyn Downs discusses the need to professionalise the home care industry in order to address quality concerns and labour supply.

The new HELPcare project at Lancaster University hopes to find the right model of continuing professional development and training for care workers across the EU, writes Carolyn Downs.

A shortage of home care workers is a global problem and one the UK is already feeling the implications of. With an ageing society and health policies that aim to move the pressure way from hospital care, the situation is only going to become more problematic.

Part of the solution to shortages has been the use of immigrant workers from within the EU. But this approach has only exacerbated the central issue: the low status, low skills and low standards of home care work. There’s no EU-wide standard or regulation for these workers and recruiters have no benchmark for good quality.

Care work needs professionalisation and we’re hoping to kick-start this with the HELPcare project (Healthcare Workers Employability Learning and Professionalisation). This is an EU-wide scheme funded by Erasmus and led by Lancaster University Management school, with partners in Greece, Poland, Italy and Bulgaria.

‘Reaching out’

We’ll be reaching out to those involved in home care and health care for older people, as well as family members providing care for relatives, to learn more about their experiences. We’ll do this through participatory action research, where ‘co-researchers’ are recruited from among these groups to approach their peers and carry out the interviews.

Care workers often don’t feel comfortable talking to researchers because of language barriers, confidence or willingness to be open about their situation – so this research method will help us to develop a strong network and consult with a range of people.

The first task will be setting up a professionalisation and regulation framework for care work that can be adapted and adopted across the EU. The Care Certificate, which will be introduced in the UK next month, will provide a useful starting point. But we need an EU-wide standard to make it easier for care workers to develop a portfolio of training.

A training portfolio could be used to develop a career pathway in caring or as an entry qualification for other aspects of health and social care such as nursing, or social work. Recruiters will also have a clear idea of what benchmarks good quality.

‘Breaking the cycle’

By working alongside existing services, commissioners and providers, we’ll develop the right model of continuing professional development and training that works on a practical level. That means capturing best practice, as well as looking at co-operative approaches to support voluntary carers and low-wage employees band together to access training.

Employees will be able to see a genuine career ahead of them and a professional future that’s worth working towards. At the same time, employers will get more applicants and more motivated staff and the standard of care for older people will improve.

Professionalisation will get to the heart of the home care issue – but it’ll take concerted action from everyone involved to break the cycle of low status and worker shortages.

Read the article by Community Care here.