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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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One Solution to Face the Dilemma of Social Isolation

Rates of social isolation are only increasing — not only because of an inherently Western attidude being adapted in so many cultures where individualism is favored over family — but because of new techniques, paradigms, and interventions of health that directly have been improving the global age of survival. Without the ability to counterbalance this increasing age due to a lack of technology to keep our neurons from diminishing over time, for example, or the lack of decreasing the rates of non-communicable, age-related diseases, it remains for us thus as a major obstacle in attaining the state of “living in balance,” as the world-renown statistician Hans Rosling once so eloquently put it in a Global Health lecture at Karolinska Institutet, year 2011. If we are to make no further progress to keep our foundation in supporting the elderly, we will inevitably crumble and shall once again be “dying in balance” as our ancient ancestors have done with leaping infant mortality rates. In our situation, it may be waves of elderly who will be at the brunt end of the sword. It appears to be so that in the near future, when our fertility rate will balance itself, our situation is reversing. Not enough children already now in high income countries will not be able to support or give attention to the growing needs of their elders.
One solution to help diminish this problem is the introduction of elderly-friendly pets. While a large motivation for them may be food and a home, pets are able to give unconditional attention to their owners. They are just as capable of banishing social isolation.

Several pet-elderly-friendly foundations, for example, exist in Pennsylvania within the United States, such as The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and Hope for the Animals. Organizations such as these promote the well-being of pets and seniors, and ultimately try to create a win-win situation. While this animal-elderly strategy may seem to be overly simplified, there certainly is nothing wrong in the logic. In fact, the simplicity of such a strategy as giving pets to seniors to banish isolation may also be its brilliance: this initiative can reach far, and across countless homes. If the elder would like a pet, there is nothing to lose aside from allergies, but then you can always find yourself a breed not privy to causing such a reaction.


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:

23 and 1/2 hours


There seems to be one single, simple best thing to keep our lives healthy and to prevent especially non-communicable diseases: a small, but regular dose of physical activity. This is especially relevant for elderly people as they often suffer from multi-morbidity, but could potentially stay more healthy by changing their lifestyles just a little bit.

Wouldn’t it be easy to put eating and sleeping in 23 and 1/2 hours and keep 30 minutes for physical activit? It doesn’t even have to be on a daily basis, but e.g. going for a 30 minutes walk three times a week has already proven to reduce the risk for arthritis by 47%, for dementia by 50% and for diabetes by 58%.

So how about prescribing physical activity? If doctors did that for their patients – do you think it would have an impact on people’s health?

Check out this video by Michael Evans and Mercury Films Inc. It has also been posted by the Swedish Professional Association for Physical Activity.

Also check out Michael Evans’ blog:

Zelda Kaplan – Fashionista at any age

I recently came across this fascinating story about a 95 year old fashionista whose recent passing was mourned in the whole fashion world of New York. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to hear about her, or less meet her in person out and about, when living in New York myself a couple of years ago, but even though she’s no longer walking this earth, I still believe her story is worth telling.

Zelda Kaplan (already there, Zelda, the coolest name) was namely no ordinary 95 year-old, as you might have guessed. (Then again, what is an ordinary 95-year old? I’d say they’re all pretty extraordinary. Either way, Zelda was extraordinary in her very own way.) Quite alone representing her age group she had a habit of raising the middle age of New Yorks night clubs on a regular basis and usually stayed out until the early morning hour. She also frequented fashion shows, gallery openings and art shows and was quickly recognizable by her trademark the big round glasses, the colourful patterns and the ever-matching hat.

She passed away, as it suited such a personality, by fainting just before the start of a fashion show during fashion week in New York in February, and simply not waking up again.

I include a couple of memorable quotes of hers as chosen by the Time magazine (from a New York Times coverage), that I certainly believe to have made her, as they put it: “New York’s oldest and most beloved night owl”.

“I’m a curious person […] I want to keep learning until it’s over. And when it’s over, it’s over.”—New York Times, 2003

“I wish more people would have [clothes] made for them. But so many Americans want to look like everybody else […] I hate to wear what everybody else is wearing […] I don’t think people should be happy to be a clone.” –New York Post, 2010

“I want to be an example for young people so they aren’t afraid of growing old and a lesson to old people that you can be productive. You don’t have to sit around and wait for death.” – New York Times, 2003

“Many people turn a certain age and “check out,” but that is not me. In my 90s, I am not able to travel as much, so I must read everything I can at home to remain aware of global change, which provides me great knowledge to empower people through daily conversations, and through my charitable efforts.” –  New York, 2010

“I think one of the things that keeps me healthy is that I’m not introspective at all. The secret is being interested in things outside of oneself.” – New York, 2003

Zelda Kaplan – Rest in peace.

Source: Daily Mail article, Time Magazine

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