Archive by Author | Olivia Biermann

Retirees on Speaking Exchange with Brazilian English students

Ideas sometimes seem so simple and obviously great, so you ask yourself ”Why has nobody come up with that before?!”

I came across the innovative Speaking Exchange project, which is about lightening up the lives of elderly, while at the same time giving Brazilian students the opportunity to practice their English skills. Reports about this case seem to go viral on the web these very days (see links below).

The idea was established by FCB Brazil, and put into practice together with the CNA language school in Liberdade, Brazil and the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago.

I was so surprised and fascinated when I watched this clip about the Speaking Exchange:

The man shows the boy an old photo. “Is this your dad?” the boy asks. “No, It’s me and my wife when we were young”, he answers. “Oh you were good-looking when you were young”, the boy says – pause – “and you are still good-looking!”. Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 18.30.04

“I look like I’m only 25”, another man says. He and the boy a are laughing, “but I’m 88”. The two are having a nice conversation. In the end, they share a big, virtual hug.

The school uses its own digital tool for video chatting where conversations are recorded and uploaded privately for teachers to evaluate the talk language-wise.

But there is much more to this than just the language…

It’s fun and warms my heart to listen to their conversations about all the World and his brother.

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Read more:


2050 – Projecting the magnitude of demographic change worldwide

“I see old people” is how this chapter begins. I’m reading “The new North – The World in 2050” by Laurence Smith. Without having finished the book, I’m excited to share some of the thoughts. This chapter really struck me.


Smith is a young professor in geography and earth and space sciences at UCLA. In his book, he analyzes four key “megatrends” – population growth and migration, natural resource demand, climate change and globalization – and projects how our world could look like in 2050.

The world is filling up with old people. Smith begins by describing the four stages of the demographic transition, which is happening everywhere in the world: 1. High and similar rates of birth and death (e.g., the preindustrial era, with a small and relatively stable total human population); followed by 2. Falling deaths but not births (initiating a population explosion); followed by 3. Falling births (still exploding, but decelerating); and finally 4. Low and similar rates of birth and death (population stabilization at a new, higher total number.

He states that most OECD countries have now passed through these stages – except for those allowing high levels of immigration like the USA – and have stabilizing or even falling populations. Most low- and middle-income countries are still in stage 2 or 3 though.

Smith summarizes that urbanization, modernization, and the empowerment of women push fertility rates downward. In other words, the urbanization of society (if associated with modernization and women’s rights) helps slow the rate of growth (with exceptions). In low-immigration developed countries like Italy and Japan, and regions like Eastern Europe, populations are falling. Consequently, if fertility rates continue to drop as they are now, the world population might be around 9.2 billion in 2050 – the population will still be growing, but about half as fast as today.

One of the most profound long-term effects of women having fewer babies is to skew societal age structure toward the elderly. Of course, improving healthcare also extends our life spans. This aging will hit some places faster and harder than others. Today, Japan is the world’s most elderly country with a median age of 44.6 years. In Pakistan, in contrast, the median age is just 22.1 years. Korea, Russia and China will join Japan as the world’s geriatric nations. Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Iran will age radically by fifteen years or more. Countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo will still have youthful populations in 2050. Image

Smith asks: Is an elderly population a good thing or bad? He describes a possibly wiser and less violent society, which at the same time strains healthcare systems, and raises the economic burden on younger workers. The whole concept of “retirement” is about to undergo a major overhaul – people will have to work later in life. Big cultural shifts will be needed in the way we treat and value our elderly. Society must learn that aging and youth should be valued equally.

As the world grays, skilled young people will become a more and more craved resource, Smith concludes. Thus, those countries best able to attract skilled foreign workers will fare best. These young workers might come from Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, the West Bank and Gaza, Ethiopia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, which will offer our world’s youth in 2050 based on current population structures.

Finally, the critical but open question that Smith poses is whether our poorest countries will be able to turn their forthcoming demographic advantages into the new skilled workforces needed to help care for an elderly world. This would require enormous improvements in education, governance and security. Women would have to start attending school and working in places where this is uncommon today. Terrorism would have to be sufficiently quelled. The countries that need young workers would have to accept immigrants from the countries that have them.

Hopefully, these things can be achieved.

PS: Check out Laurence Smith on Vimeo:

Innovating health through just-in-time evidence-based information

Hearing the term health care innovation, most people associate it with new technologies like robotic caregivers, digital imaging or breakthroughs in chronic disease treatment. The decision-making process towards the use of any of those innovative choices is based on the physician’s knowledge and experience.

“Healthcare innovation can be defined as the introduction of a new concept, idea, service, process, or product aimed at improving treatment, diagnosis, education, outreach, prevention and research, and with the long term goals of improving quality, safety, outcomes, efficiency and costs” (Omachonu et al. 2010). Thus, process innovations focus on improving quality of care for patients and enhancing health providers’ internal capabilities. However, innovation is difficult – the health field has rich evidence-based innovations, but they disseminate slowly, if at all (Berwick 2003). Six areas have been identified in making or breaking innovation in healthcare (Herzlinger 2006):

  • Policy
  • Stakeholders
  • Funding
  • Technology
  • Customers
  • Accountability

One opportunity to introduce innovation in healthcare is the use of evidence-based information, which is highly relevant to that particular patient – especially at the point-of-care. But how can the use of this kind of information be facilitated?

One tool that I came across is Elsevier’s ClinicalKey ( It is a tool that physicians can use to access evidence to make informed decisions at the point-of-care and throughout the patient journey. The ClinicalKey reference system links clinicians, medical librarians, and researchers to an online platform, which contains content from medical journals, books, multimedia, MEDLINE abstracts and other sources. Did you come across any similar tools?


To me, fast access to high-quality research evidence to inform decision-making in clinical practice is absolutely important for innovating – improving – health. What do we need to solve this?

Maybe we need harder, better, faster, stronger tools as such, but what I wonder more about is the role of stakeholders as the leaders in these processes. How can leadership for evidence-informed decision-making in health be encouraged? How to cure resistance to change and innovation?

Berwick DM (2003). Disseminating innovations in healthcare. JAMA, 289(15):1969-1975
Herzlinger RE (2006). Why innovation in healthcare is so hard.
Omachonu VK, Einspruch NG (2010). Innovation in healthcare delivery systems – a conceptual framework. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 15(1):2.

How grandma celebrates Christmas by herself

I came across this article from the UK about elderly people spending their merry Christmas on their own. I found it interesting, depressing, and even discovered a link to health in the whole dilemma.

While for many people Christmas is the only time in the year when they actually meet family and friends, others are not cared for by anybody or do not care for anybody (anymore). Thus, they spend the celebration of love alone, like a quarter of all people in the UK that are older than 75 and live by themselves – even though the majority of them have children.

Experts say that “family breakdown is fuelling an epidemic of loneliness in old age” and that the fact that two in five marriages fail has serious impacts for the elderly. Young people have to divide their time between parents and step-parents. Besides, ‘silver separations’ are also becoming more common, with latest figures showing that more than 11,500 over-60s were granted a divorce in 2009.

In one of the largest surveys of its kind, the think-tank polled 2,000 over-75s to test how isolated the elderly truly are. ‘I’m 88 and I have nobody at all. I’m on my own’, said one, and ‘some days the only person I speak to is the boy in the shop when I pick up my paper.’

Growing isolation and loneliness makes elderly people particularly vulnerable – also in terms of health. Related mental and physical health conditions include a weakened immune system, sleep deprivation, higher blood pressure, a higher risk of dementia and depression. What to do?

In the UK there is an initiative that involves the police, fire officers conducting home safety checks, as well as social workers who see “warning signs” to connect people to local voluntary groups that can provide companionship. But is that a solution of the problem really?

old lady

Chapman J (2011): 250,000 elderly people who’ll be spending their Christmas alone. Available:

Let the cyber knife take away your pain

In 1983, the World Health Organization put cancer as a leading cause of death in South Korea. It has an immense impact with 64,000 people dying every year in Korea due to the disease. Luckily, the latest development in cancer treatment is available in Korea: Cyber Knife Radio Surgery. There are currently some hundred cyber knife systems installed in only few countries in the world. Korea was among the first to implement it and today, it has one of the most numbers of installed systems. Compared to UK and US, a cyber knife treatment costs less in Korea.

Cyber knife systems have been used to treat tumors in upper spine, head and neck since 1999 and in the rest of the body since 2001. John Adler invented the system for cancer treatment. It is made to deliver radiotherapy for malign and benign cancer tumors at all stages in specific parts of the body in a non-invasive way. It uses a real-time image guide to find tumors even if the patient is moving, and to deliver radiation with highest accuracy. It eliminates the need for invasive surgeries.

There are various benefits of the technique, e.g. faster procedures in comparison to other radiation methods, no requirement for hospitalization, no need for anesthesia and almost no post-operative care. Cyber knife surgery can even be used for tumors that have already received the maximum dose of radiation. There are no incisions or cuts, and recovery time is not needed. It can even be used for tumors in the spine, which are hard to treat because they are moving while the patient is breathing. The cyber knife can pinpoint the exact location of the tumor and beam into it without damaging other surrounding tissues. That leads to a shorter treatment period and a quick recovery. Treatment can be finished in less than five days on an outpatient basis, without spending a single night at the hospital.

One hospital in Korea is specialized in treating spine cancer. The oncology experts in Korea are highly trained and have years of experience in radiology and cyber knife cancer treatment. Medical staff in Korean hospitals are English speaking and communication will not be a problem when getting medical treatment there.


Cyber knife surgery abroad: knife-cancer-radiotherapy-overseas.php

Cyber knife Treatment for Spine Cancer knife-surgery-korea.php

Science fiction medicine from Sweden

Imagine you were able to simply replace one of your organs once you fall sick. You just go to the hospital and quickly come out with a new intestine, kidney, liver or even heart, if an incurable disease was present.  This sounds more like an idea from a science fiction movie than a like a feasible therapeutic option, but research on regenerative medicine and the engineering of “artificial” organs is happening to make these options a reality for many patients worldwide in the near future.

Nowadays, chronic diseases are a major health issue in almost every country – they cannot be cured and the patient’s best bet is to prevent those diseases and their complications. We are talking about e.g. diabetes, heart and kidney failure, hepatic disease and hypertension. After treatment has failed the last resort for many patients is organ transplantation. However, as simple as it may sound, there are countless complications involved, as the organ has to be compatible with the patient. The patient will have to remain on medication to lower his immune system response to the minimal for the rest of his life, which can make him more vulnerable to infections.

By the year 2010, over 90,000 people were signed in for the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the US and 3,000 at any given day for a heart transplant. Many patients who have no other choice of treatment wait, and most of the times death arrives faster than the suitable organ.

What if you could build a custom-made organ according to a patient’s need? A group of biomedical researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have pioneered what can be the first step in the beginning of a science fiction medicine: working with stem cells, which are cells capable of giving rise to any human tissue. They have managed to make a fully artificial trachea from scratch and implant it in a patient with cancer without any immunological reaction. The newly formed organ is built on a PET mold, yes the same used in bottles, which is as anatomically identical to the patient’s actual trachea – not only in shape but also in composition.  The mold is filled with stem cells from the patient himself. Giving rise to a new and fully functional organ ready to be replaced.

The patient who went under this treatment is currently under annual checkups while living a normal life without health related restrictions. This is only the first step, but it is a firm step.


Thanks to Antonio Beltrán Rodríguez for sharing this post with our silverevolution-readers. Antonio is a biomedical student at Karolinska Institutet. Contact:

And tomorrow WALL-E is taking care of you

Nowadays, a lot of research is conducted in the area of healthcare robotics, which has the potential to increase the quality of life for our silver population. Imagine!

I would like to tell you about the examples of New Zealand and South Korea – two countries that are combining their knowledge in order to build and develop something groundbreaking. Here, South Korea contributes from the hardware-side, while New Zealand is busy developing the latest software (check out: HealthBots Project, launched in 2008).

Healthcare robots that can take grandma’s heart rate or blood pressure are the outcome of the research. But besides simple medical jobs, robots can also play a tremendous role in monitoring, as they are able to store and manage the patient’s relevant medical data. All this can make elderly care much more cost-effective.

Another idea is that robots can enhance old people’s quality of live by offering entertainment, e.g. through music, films, games and the use of social media as Skype.


All this sounds futuristic, but the question is if it is a concept that will be feasible: Will decision-makers be willing to invest in healthcare robotics? And will our grandparents (our parents? we? our kids?) enjoy interaction with robots? A lot more studies have to be carried out in order to find out more about cost-effectiveness, but particularly about interaction between human beings and machines – and thus, about the increase (or not) of people’s quality of life.

Healthcare robots could change lives: (December 2011)