Millions worried they’ll be left helpless in old age – find out more about health in an aging society

Health in an aging population
Health in an aging population
Nearly three quarters of British adults think they will have care needs in older age, however a fifth don’t know who will look after them if they do.

That’s according to new research released today which saw almost half say they don’t expect their family to look after them if they have care needs when they age.

The research reveals that under a quarter (24%) of the population feel older people are valued by society, illustrating the need to change perceptions of ageing and ensure older people are appreciated and treated as individuals.

The survey by Bupa of more than 2,000 people reveals that old age is a regular consideration, with 24% of respondents thinking about what life will be like in old age a few times a week – 17% think about it every day.

When it comes to paying for their care 40% believe they would have to fund care from their own savings, while only around a quarter say they think their care would be funded by the government, and almost 30% have no idea.

To find out more we have interviewed Professor Graham Stokes a leading dementia specialist.

Patient Talk – Can you tell us a bit more about the survey?

PROF STOKES Yes, the survey was looking at how people might consider life when their aged but also what they feel about their care needs and who might help them receive care when they’re in their later years.

Patient Talk What kind of method was used?

PROF STOKES Yes, we interviewed over 2000 people at the beginning of this year and inquired about their attitudes to aging and what they feel might happen when they are aged.

Patient Talk What were the main results?

PROF STOKES Well I think what leaps off the page, is that about three-quarters believe that they will have care needs when they’re in their old age. And they only think about maybe half will have their care needs met by their families, so that’s the negative side. But what also I think can be quite bleak is that less than a quarter feel that they will be valued by society, so that can be quite dispiriting.

Patient Talk How valid are the concerns expressed?

PROF STOKES I think they’re true. I think there’s a strong dose of realism in there. I think the first thing we have to say is that there’s still a misconception about old age. It’s often felt you’re 65, you retire, you get your pension… Well we all know that the retirement age is going to be more and more flexible and there will be people working into their late 60’s as a matter of norm, and probably within a generation or two, 65 as the starting point of old age will be completely meaningless. Were actually talking about people who are contemplating their future when they’re 75+, 80+, because on average now people should expect to live to around 80, and if you’re a woman, probably live well into your 80’s.

Patient Talk What options are actually open to older people in terms of care?

PROF STOKES I think what’s happening is that people are healthier for longer. They are surprising themselves. And so if you talk to people who are going through their early, mid-70s they will say they don’t feel old. But what does happen is that when you approach 80, I won’t say the body goes off the cliff, but you do see an acceleration of chronic diseases, all the common chronic diseases we associate with old age. It’s problems with blood pressure, its heart disease, its diabetes, its Parkinson’s, osteoporosis and for people aged over 55, dementia is their biggest worry. It can surprise people because they’ll think what about cancer, but all the research shows in the UK once you pass 55 dementia is the greatest concern and as a result, given you have that on the horizon, the question then is what do I do? And in years gone by, you would look to your family and I think the reality is that people don’t do that anymore. I think one, because they don’t wish to be a burden. Aged people aren’t strange creatures different from the rest of us, just an aged version of a younger person, and their personalities don’t change, their attitudes rarely change and no one wants to be seen as a burden whether it be young or old. There is this fear of being a burden. I think there is a greater appreciation that realistically people realise they may have many illnesses and ailments simultaneously, and that could just be excessive for any family to care for so I think that’s a real worry. But then the whole nature of family life has changed. We have smaller families so responsibility would fall on one or two children. We’re more mobile than ever before. We’re not all living around the corner. And so when we say they will be cared for by their family, it will probably be a daughter that lives about 100 miles away and so how will that work? People logically start to think about the NHS. Well the national health service pulled out of caring for aged people 25 years ago and so now it’s about care homes, and many people still have very old fashioned ideas about care homes, they don’t see them as communities, they don’t see them as communities that put the person first. No, it’s about your individuality, guiding not only your care but your quality of life so there’s a lot of old fashioned ideas around but a proportion of people will end up living in a care home.

Patient Talk How might they be funded?

PROF STOKES Well I still think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about caring for aged people. I think people believe that if you have got care needs that mean you can’t live by yourself or you can’t be looked after by your family, it’s like the NHS, the service is free, the point of delivery. Which isn’t the case, as I’ve said, long gone are the days when the NHS gave you living space in the hospitals and thank goodness that is so. In bygone years, whilst your care would be free, it would be in an open plan ward and in essence what your home would be is nothing more than the bed locker in the cubicle curtain, that would be it. Now people live in care settings, in care homes and you’ll be means tested. We define it not as chronic health care, but social care and soon as its defined as social care, your needs will be means tested against your income, your savings and the equity in your house.

Patient Talk Would it be true to say older people are less valued?

PROF STOKES I don’t think that is wrong. I think it’s the case that it’s a problem that goes back in time, that once you’re are no longer seen as being economically productive, not being able to contribute to your family, then you’re seen as more of a burden, and as you seem more of a burden, your devalued. And so as aged people start to talk, and it’s only about a quarter that feel aged people are valued by society and I think that’s very true and that is a shame because that neglects what people who are aged have contributed over decades and they still have so much more to contribute.

Patient Talk Have the baby boomers affected the perceptions of older people?

PROF STOKES I think we’re on the cusp if not a revolution, a transformation, in how we see aged people. In the UK the first baby boomer will reach 75 in 2021. If you wanted a guide as to when we might start talking about late middle age moving into early old age it’s around 75 because that’s when we start to see the rise in chronic diseases and disabilities. And from 2021 onwards, I think we’ll see a major change in how aged people wish to receive their services. For me it’s humbling, working with aged people today that they’re so grateful. They’re so grateful for not very much, they’re so stoical. That is not a baby boomer. The baby boomers are more self-centred, they’re more like consumers, the want quality, they want it now, the services shaped around them. There will be a far more demanding group of aging people, which I think quite rightly, so they’re not going to accept services as they are today, when they need their services when we go through the 2020’s.

Patient Talk What are the main medical conditions faced by older people?

PROF STOKES Yah, everybody dreads cancer, everybody dreads dementia. Most accurately, these are not the preserve, more commonly seen in old age. So the average age to be diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, the most common cause of dementia, is the late 70’s. So you have these major pathologies like Alzheimer’s disease, like the cancers, but then you have the host of chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, unstable blood pressure, chronic heart diseases, Parkinson’s disease, breathing difficulties and they will limit the quality of your life. And I think when you talk to many middle age people about their health concerns, they’re not expecting the trauma and the tragedy, what they’re fearing is just a diminishing life quality as they lose their strength, their stamina, their speed because they’re becoming more frail.

Britain way behind the rest of Europe in utilising life-saving stem cell treatments – Find out about a new initiative called Precious Cells

Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy
It’s one of the most exciting fields of scientific research today, yet more than a third of the country say they don’t really know anything about it.

We have covered this area a number of times at PatientTalk.Org.

New treatments for Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, or methods of repairing heart muscle, are vital in an aging society. Yet new research out today shows stem cell research, which has already made great progress in these fields and others, remains widely misunderstood and under-utilised.

Research  shows that 83% of parents with children under ten feel well enough informed about the science of regenerative medicine to make decisions about their or their children’s stem cells. So is it that a safe and common source of stem cells – umbilical blood cord – is massively under-utilised?  The first successful blood cord transplant was performed in 1988 and the method is now a treatment for many medical conditions.

Collecting umbilical cord blood and tissue is a fast way to build up a representative cord blood registry, but the combination of confusion amongst parents to be, and a lack of facilities and trained staff, mean that most of this potentially life-saving material will simply be destroyed.  The new research shows that only 28% of parents of young children have even been informed about the option of stem cell storage.

A new partnership between the charity Precious Cells Miracle and the NHS Trust Croydon will start to address this imbalance. PCM will provide NHS hospitals with the staff, technology and specialised equipment necessary to collect cord blood units from families willing to donate them. Patients can choose to donate their cord blood stem cells to build up the Government’s public stem cell bank, effectively donating to any person in need, or they can privately store them for their own family. Increasing awareness of the potential of stem cell research and clearing up confusion around the subject is expected to lead to much higher acceptance of regenerative medicine.

PatientTalk.Org interviewed Dr. Husein K. Salem, BSc PhD, Founder and CEO of Precious Cells International and Dr. Salmaan Dalvi, PhD, Head of Implementation and Governance at Precious Cells Miracle: Community Blood Cord Registry to find out more about stem cell therapy!

PATIENTTALK.ORG What actually is stem cell therapy?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM Stem Cell therapy is the new form of medicine that were seeing coming through now it’s a medicine that’s actually been practised for over 60 years you’ve probably heard of bone marrow transplants.


DR. HUSEIN  SALEM Yeah so it’s, bone marrow transplant is now called stem cell transplants and the idea of stem cell therapy is replacing cells in the body in specific organs depending on the type of disease that your treating with new cells that don’t have the problem that particular cells do have so if you  take the example of Leukaemia, you’ve got specific red blood cells that have cancer, so you’ll remove the cancerous cells replace them with stem cells and then the stem cells will then become healthy functional red blood cells that don’t have the cancer.

PATIENTTALK.ORG and what kind of conditions is it suitable for?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM great question, I’m going to use the word theoretically, but theoretically stem cell therapy can be used to treat any disease, any disease that you think of because ultimately disease is a breakdown of cells in specific organs whether were talking about motor neuron disease,  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Leukaemia , diabetes  and if you think that within specific organs let’s take diabetes for example where within the pancreas the cells that produce insulin are no longer able to do that stem cell therapy becomes very exciting because you can replace the specific cells not the entire organ, but the specific cells within that organ that are no longer producing insulin with stem cells once those stem cells are within that organ they’ll then start to function as healthy cells and replace the ones that have been damaged and in the case of diabetes start producing insulin.

PATIENTTALK.ORG And why’s it considered an ethical mind field in some quarters?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM Again a really great question one of the reason why Precious Cells are really supporting Stem Cell Awareness Day and it’s to push the fact that a lot of people are unaware that there’s are two types of stem cell research that goes on. There’s embryonic stem cell research and that’s actually the research that is clouded in moral ethical debates, because it takes stem cells from embryonic sources. Whereas there’s another whole form of stem cell therapy which is called adult stem cell therapy its taking stem cells from adults, from umbilical cord blood one of the areas that special cells group specialise in and that is completely endorsed and back by every major religion in the world by every major government in the world by every major scientific community, medical community and the Labe public.

PATIENTTALK.ORG And what are their cost implications?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEMI Another great question, obviously at the moment were talking about mostly clinical trials so there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of developing the actual treatments for a lot of these diseases, but what we do think, and what a lot of white papers are showing is that stem cell therapy will cost a fraction of what current treatments cost. Again this is one of the big reasons why major governments around the world are spending significant amounts of investment into developing this type of therapy because it’s going to be from an economic perspective a lot more cost effective for health care infrastructure.

PATIENTTALK.ORG What is provision like in the UK? Is it poor, is it good? Would you blame the structure of the NHS?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM I’m going to pass you over to my colleague Dr Dalvi who’s head of implementation and governors, he’s got a great incite having worked within the NHS quad bled infrastructure for a number of years.

Doctor Salmaan Dalvi -The NHS structure is set up in such a way that the NHS has been funded for six hospitals in and around the London area to collect 50 thousand stem cell units from cord blood and supply the whole nation. That is not feasible when you’ve got mothers all over the country and when the NHS stores its cord blood it is then processed in Bristol, collected in and around London, processed in Bristol, stored in Bristol. You expect a hymnologist to be able to use it, when you have got nationwide, you’ve got 90 hundred hospitals, or maternity hospitals of good quality with a lot of diversity, of patients of a lot of different ethnicities to be able to give you good quality stem cells. For a country like the United Kingdom, when you’ve got roughly 70,000 birds why haven’t we collected the 50,000 that were targeted by the NHS itself, so that is a question in its self.

PATIENTTALK.ORG Would you advise travelling abroad for treatment?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM No, it’s a case of various types of therapy developing the fastest and what we’ve found is countries where regulations are not as stringent as they are in places like the UK for example stem cell therapy has developed a lot faster for example in the far east, that said lack of regulation and control does mean that it also suffers from having a number of rogue treatment centres, and it’s very difficult for the public to really decipher between a credible centre and a rogue centres that may not actually be injecting stem cells from humans, could be injecting stem cells these have been reported cases of injecting animal stem cells into patients and charging £25,000-£50,000 pounds per procedure. So again it’s a case of the UK needing to invest more funding into stem cell therapies here to prevent reverse medical tourism, we’ve always been the centre of the world in terms of innovation, technology. With more investment here we wouldn’t need people to travel abroad for stem cell therapy.

Doctor Salmaan Dalvi -Can I add to that? What precious cells miracle is about is to collect Precious Cells as in cord blood stem cells from the UK for the use in the UK and abroad if we can give it to someone outside the UK that’s fine, but for now it is UK cord blood cells to be used in the United Kingdom for the United Kingdom therapies where we need it. There’s an urgent need for stem cells and we are not providing and we are not catered for that.

PATIENTTALK.ORG Could you tell us more about how these stem cell banks work?

DR. HUSEIN  SALEM Yes, sure. The technology behind bio banking is again a very well established it evolved from the IVF technology which is 60 years old in itself. It takes cord blood stem cells from the umbilical cord after the babies been born again this after the cord has been cut from the baby and the placenta’s been delivered so there’s absolutely 0 harm to the mum or the baby. It’s really important, there’s a lack of awareness in that people are worried it’s going to harm the mum or the baby that there is 0 risks to either. We have a team of trained specialists, called phlebotomists. There able to collect the cord blood from the cord, the blood itself will typically get anywhere between a 100-150 mills of blood, it then goes through a very technical scientific procedure that separates the red blood cells, the plasma and the stem cells that are in the cord blood. Then going through cryogenic technology which is freezing, it’s frozen in a very controlled manner, 1 degrees per minute it drops down. It’s finally put into liquid nitrogen, which is stored at minus 196 degrees. One of the questions a lot of people ask is how long can stem cells be stored for? The research around the world shows that stem cells can be stored indefinitely, so for over a hundred years for example. Then they’re kept in a database that Haematologists and transplant centres around the world can access, and if they have a patient who needs a specific tissue type match for the Leukaemia or thalassemia for example then they’re able to access that, that sample will be taken from the cryogenic banks that we hold, and shipped immediately to the physician who will then be able to perform the transplant. Part of marking stem cell awareness day is that were looking and were establishing more and more centres around the country precious cells group is leading this through precious cells miracle alarm, and were looking for more and more trust to really get on board and to contact us they can find out more information about how both the public, so patients themselves can get involved and also healthcare professionals who need to understand more education so they can educate their parents. They can go onto our website .