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Take on Today Podcast Episode 1

Bob Edwards and Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, discuss ways to improve brain health

Take on Today Podcast


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Bob Edwards and Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, discuss ways to improve brain health and AARP’s major investment in the Dementia Discovery Fund to continue its efforts to help people living with dementia and caregivers.

Bob Edwards: Hello. I’m Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today.

Joining me to discuss AARP’s efforts to helping people improve brain health and live their best lives is Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President of Policy.

And we’ll hear how AARP is doubling down on its commitment to helping people living with dementia and caregivers with a major investment in the Discovery Fund.

[Interview begins]

Bob Edwards: What type of work is AARP doing with brain health?

Sarah Lock: We are working to improve care and treatment for people who are living with dementia, but also to help people reduce the risk of cognitive decline as they age.

AARP does a lot of research around what the 50-plus think what are their biggest issues and concerns. So, we've been surveying them for quite a few years now and the top issues of concern are the future of Medicare, the future of Social Security and, what was surprising to me, is that tied with those issues of interest was the ability to stay sharp as people age.

Of course, that makes sense because it's what makes you independent if you're able to keep you wits about you and stay sharp. It's what helps you enjoy life, right?

So, AARP developed a digital platform called Staying Sharp, designed as a holistic approach to brain health based on scientific evidence about what we know works and what doesn't. And build on the five pillars of brain health: around exercise and diet, cognitively stimulating activities.

Bob Edwards: What are those?

Sarah Lock: That can be education, learning a new language, staying engaged in life. There's a relationship between your ongoing lifelong learning and your education and your ability to stay sharp as you age.

So, one of the pillars is called discover. The idea is to constantly challenge your mind to learn new things. Staying sharp has a specific area of work and suggestions for people to keep learning throughout their lives because that has been shown to help.

In order to establish this scientific basis, we launched something called the Global Council on Brain Health. A group of scientists, academics, policy experts from across the world, looking at what science tells us works to keep your brain sharp and what doesn't. The global council has looked at these lifestyle issues one at a time. We've done things on exercise, cognitively stimulating activities, diet. Our latest report is on nutrition, food, sleep.

Back to this idea of what people are interested in. One of the things that our surveys and research tells us, is that people know that they should do things that are good for their brain health, but they don't know what actually works.

Bob Edwards: So, you work with those living with dementia. Do you also work with caregivers?

Sarah Lock: Absolutely, a huge initiative of AARP is to help caregivers cope with the issues that come up in daily life in caregiving. And, of course, AARP is looking at helping caregivers no matter the reason that you need the care, or your loved one needs the care. But, if you have diabetes, or if you have heart disease, if you're cognitively intact you can help manage yourself.

But if your mind goes, you can't manage your medication. You can't deal with your finances. You're in a world of hurt.

Bob Edwards: So, you're working with families?

Sarah Lock: Exactly. So, it's trying to help family caregivers understand what they can do to help those living with dementia live better lives

Bob Edwards: Tell me about research. What have you learned lately that surprised you, or moved you, or helped you?

Sarah Lock: I guess the most recent research, when we did the nutrition work with the global council on brain health.

I thought red wine was going to be good for me because I've been reading lots of stories about that, and dark chocolate, and coffee. So, when I get my morning coffee I'd feel like I was doing something good for my brain health, right?

But it turns out that the evidence isn't really good on any of those things. There's some evidence around the antioxidants in red wine, but some of the studies that have been done or fielded by the industry.

Bob Edwards: Surprise.

Sarah Lock: Exactly! So, we need more and better evidence before you can make conclusions about that.

The bottom line for a healthy diet if you want to keep your brain sharp is eat lots of leafy green vegetables, fish, healthy oils like olive oil. Those are good things for you.

Bob Edwards: Grandma was right?

Sarah Lock: Grandma was always right. She's got some great advice.

Bob Edwards: Tell me about the DDF investment?

Sarah Lock: So the DDF is the dementia discovery fund. AARP’s contribution in that is designed to help fund research to come up with a cure for the diseases of dementia. It's a wonderful investment because research is what gives people hope for tomorrow.

There have been many failures of drug discovery to try to come up with a cure for Alzheimer's and dementia and we need to look at new innovative ways of solving this problem. DDF is an innovative fund to help researchers, who may not be in the mainstream, come up with unique and new ways of approaching this disease.

Hopefully, funding that early-stage research it's going to make a difference in the millions of people who have dementia or expect to develop it in the future.

Bob Edwards: Why all this attention to dementia now?

Sarah Lock: Well, the population is aging right and there are more and more people who are living with the disease. When you look at the projections it's going to quadruple in the next couple of decades.

The ratio between caregivers to people living with dementia is changing. There are not as many young people available to provide care, so we really have to figure out an answer to this.

It's interesting, the rest of the world there other countries that are older than the United States, like Japan and other countries in Europe. They're a little bit ahead of the curve than we are because they've faced an older population sooner so we're looking to learn the best lessons from some of those other countries that are dealing with it. And looking to join and partner with them.

Bob Edwards: Do you have any statistics to offer us on dementia?

Sarah Lock: About five and a half million people are estimated in the United States to have dementia.

About 15 million people are caregivers for those who are living with dementia.

But, I actually think those numbers are way underestimated because people in the United States are way under diagnosed. Some of the best numbers that we have about that: 5 to 5.7 million people are based only on those who have the specific diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and that's only one kind.

It's the most common form of dementia, but doctors are reluctant to diagnose dementia for a variety of reasons. Partly because there's no cure and so oftentimes physicians feel like there's nothing they can do to help, which we can get into another time, but it leads to an under diagnosis in the United States.

I think those numbers are much higher.

Bob Edwards: Dementia is scary.

Sarah Lock: Yes, it's terrifying.

Bob Edwards: You know for those who have it, for those who anticipate they may get it one day. It affects your confidence, your … You know it's so essential that the wheels keep turning.

Sarah Lock: It is but there's another thing that I've learned about dementia since experiencing it in my family and working with it here at AARP. It's a disease that is actually a long-term chronic problem people have it for years before they actually know they have it. It is possible to live well with dementia and if people began to think about this in a different way.

The way that people think about physical disabilities. If they thought more about it as a long-term chronic disease that can be managed and, more appropriately than often is the case, I think it might change some of those notions about it being terrifying.

There's no doubt it's a terrible disease to lose your memory and sometimes lose the essence of who you are. But, there are ways to live with it that are far better than others. The things that you can do to reduce your risk for cognitive decline and there are some.

Bob Edwards: I'd love to hear them. Tell me something you know.

Sarah Lock: It's interesting they say there's no cure for dementia. That's absolutely true, but the same kinds of therapies and interventions that reduce your risk, enable you to live better with dementia. Things like exercise, things like social engagement, keeping a healthy diet. The five pillars of brain health that staying sharp is built on actually. The same kinds of things that make for very effective interventions for people who are living with dementia.

Bob Edwards: But, how do you deal with the fear? You told me about Coping mechanisms and programs. But the fear?

Sarah Lock: I think being realistic and understanding that it's not usually a cliff. You don't get the diagnosis with dementia and your life is not over.

If you realize that you can manage it and there are things you can do to improve your quality of life, I think that helps with the fear.

I think making sure that people around you: bankers, shopkeepers, bus drivers, actually get and understand that there are people out there who need to cope with it.

If we educate people to let them know that it's something to be dealt with, as opposed to something to be afraid of, then we'll make for dementia friendly communities.

There's an entire effort and initiative underway in the United States and across the world to build dementia friendly communities and to reduce the stigma associated with it.

You know back in the 40s and the 50s people, people felt that way about cancer. That it was incurable. That it was something to be terrified about.

People are still scared about it with good reason, just like you should be scared about but it shouldn't be a paralyzing fear.

Bob Edwards: Do you have favorite stories from experiences you've had on the job?

Sarah Lock: I think about my own stories. My father died with dementia and he is the was the kind of person that was the perfect AARP cover story. He planned all of his life, he saved, he took good care of his health, but in the end dementia got him.

Bob Edwards: This would influenced you to go into the field?

Sarah Lock: Absolutely. I remember when I joined AARP as a litigator and then I moved over to the policy side at the time that the Affordable Care Act was really getting going and the effort to make that happen when I left litigation.

I went into policy and we were having a Board of Directors meeting. This is a very big meeting, very exciting. We're talking about Medicare and Social Security in the future and health care reform.

But, I got a call from my parents. My mom had been in the hospital for health reasons and my dad had a psychotic break. He didn't recognize where he was, he was seeing things that didn't exist. It was a snowy cold night in Washington and they were living outside of Hagerstown.

I got the call from the assisted living facility and I drove during an ice storm had to leave the directors Meeting. And drive as quickly as I could up to Boonesboro, Maryland that night.

And I kept thinking I work in health care, I work for AARP. I haven't the foggiest idea what to do, or how to really help. There's got to be a better way? Why aren't we working on this? Why don't I know more about this?

And so it took me many years of learning to cope with it and I look back at my father's life and I realized he had the symptoms years before that terrible episode happened. If I had only known more. If I had only seen these signs and if I could have changed things, right?

Over the years, I had worked on issues of Medicaid and covering people with cognitive impairment but AARP really didn't have a major initiative under a way to help people like my dad or to help me as a caregiver.

That's changed over time, right?

Bob Edwards: It seems so natural.

Sarah Lock: It does, but it took these surveys. It took our work around caregiving. It took people who would listen to us and as we began to develop policy in this area to really think about how would we move in this space.

What could we do to make a real difference and so over the years the staying sharp initiative was built. The caregiving initiatives were built, our board of directors realized it was more and more of an important problem.

Finally, our leadership determined that the DDF fund was a huge and important way of making a contribution in this space.

AARP has never given 60 million dollars to a cause like that and we've been hesitant to get into disease specific areas because we've been focusing on broader issues like health care coverage and the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid.

All really important things that I've worked on quite a bit myself, but when you look at this issue and you look at the demographics and you look at how we're going to make change in this very important area, How we're going to save the health care system? How are we going to build a long-term care system that actually works?

You've got to deal with dementia.

Bob Edwards: So what's realistic expectation as a result of the AARP investment in dementia?  I mean, how do you define success? we'd all love a cure but, short of that…

Sarah Lock: Well, DDF is about a cure. But in the meantime, improving the quality of people's lives right now, today, every day.

Making people understand there's a way that we can empower people to live better lives, even if you have dementia.

Changing the notion, the stigma around Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and when people understand that it's a chronic disease that can be managed and treated we will have gone a tremendous way to help the problem.

I guess the biggest lesson I've learned through all of this, is you've got to have people living with dementia as part of this conversation. The whole disability movement of nothing about us without us, is critical.

People are sometimes reluctant to do that for older people or people who have cognitive impairment. But empowering the people who are living with it now so that they can tell us what needs to be done, is the way to go at it.

Bob Edwards: I would think that would make it less scary to if you see someone, you're friends with someone who has the problem.

Sarah Lock: Exactly. Then knowing that you're not alone, right? When you're coping with it.

I used to make the statement everybody knows somebody who has Alzheimer's or dementia and then I actually wanted to know if I could back it up. So, we did research to find out about it and it turns out the older you are the more likely it is that you do know somebody with dementia, or you've known someone who has it.

I think we at AARP have a special obligation to carry this forward because it is one of the scary things about aging. But it's also very empowering because if you can deal with this it's sort of the essence of being human. The identity of you and being able to live with independence and dignity for your entire life, whether you have dementia or not. It's a really important part of aging and learning to cope with it.

Bob Edwards: Thank you very much and good luck in this very important work you’re doing.

Sarah Lock: Thank you.

[End of Interview]

[Music Playing]

Bob Edwards: Here’s what else you need to know this week.

You can’t put a price on love, poets say.

But if you do, you can’t charge those 30 and older more, a California appeals court ruled in January.

The case involved the mobile dating app Tinder, which lets users swipe right to approve, or left to turn down potential dates.

But the court swiped aside Tinder’s age-based pricing when a man sued the company over higher fees charged to people over 30 for some special features.

Tinder defended their variable pricing policy by claiming that younger people might not have the same amount of discretionary income as older people.

But the court disagreed and found that Tinder violated two state age discrimination statutes, overturning a lower court dismissal.

Using Tinder’s familiar terminology, the Court mused “ We swipe left, and reverse.”

[Music Playing]

The American workforce is changing like never before.

In today’s workforce, it’s not uncommon to have four generations in the same workplace.

Think about it. An 18-year old starts as an intern. The 38-year-old has established a solid career. The 58-year-old Boomer has invaluable experience to share. And the 78-year-old just isn’t ready to retire. It’s a new phenomenon, but it has a real upside.

Reports AARP workplace expert Lori Trawinksi:

Lori Trawinksi: Managing a multi-generational workplace presents new opportunities to build collaborative relationships and create cross-generational mentoring.

There are always going to be cultural and generational differences in the workplace, but when managers harness the power each group brings to the table, everyone can benefit.

Bob Edwards: A multi-generational workforce is also a diverse one, something any competitive business should aim for.

For more, visit AARP dot org slash podcast.  Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Thanks for listening.  I’m Bob Edwards.  

Next Episode:

John Hishta, AARP Senior Vice President of Campaigns, joins Bob Edwards to discuss nationwide voter mobilization efforts in the 2018 midterm election.

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