There can be few of us who have failed to notice, when unexpectedly meeting an old friend or neighbour we’ve not seen for some time,that they’ve lost weight and don’t quite seem like their old selves.
While most of the time there is an innocent enough explanation, this can occasionally be a forewarning of an underlying health problem such as dementia.
This degenerative brain condition, which currently affects around 90,000 Scots, is likely to increase over the coming decades as life expectancy rises.
The condition can leave previously competent, independent individuals with memory impairment when they quite simply forget to eat or drink, with serious consequences for their health and well-being.
This is a growing problem and it is vital we start looking at they way we treat those who are living with dementia to see what can be done to mitigate some of their difficulties.
We currently have a situation where health visitors and carers see people in their own homes in order to maintain their independence for as long as possible. But this is not a foolproof system.
Visiting someone with dementia sounds fine on the face of it but it can be difficult to spot the small nuances that indicate that they are not looking after themselves.
Food may have disappeared from the fridge, but it may have been thrown out in the bin. Fruit may have been left to go mouldy. Even a pre-cooked meal handed in by a well-meaning friend may have been discarded or simply left to go past its best.
So we need to think how to do things differently to safeguard those who are highly vulnerable and often living alone.
Dr Lee Hooper’s research says it is not just what people with dementia eat and drink which is important, but the setting in which this takes place. Having investigated a range of interventions, eating together is one which appears to offer a great deal.
Sitting round a table with others, chatting about their day, laughing about everyday things, provides a welcoming atmosphere for those with dementia, Dr Hooper says.
In this relaxed setting it would be quite apparent if someone was leaving most of their meal uneaten, or wandering off from the table leaving food untouched. It would also allow others to note the small but important things which need attended to – a cut or graze which has just appeared, finger nails which need cut.
How could this be achieved? Part of the answer may be in looking at the role of community centres where people could meet. Nursing homes could also have day drop-in centres. An army of volunteers, with appropriate back-ground checks carried out, could be enlisted.
The downside is that this would be expensive to organise and maintain.
This type of community-led initiative would taken some thought. But it would be a cogent solution to ensure vulnerable people are brought into the fold and given the chance to flourish and gain a better quality of life.
Living together underwater
Spotting a magnificent sea creature such as a killer whale or bottlenose dolphin in the waters off Scotland’s rugged coastline can be a wonderful and unexpected highlight of a holiday.
So the launch of the automatic identification system by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is something to be welcomed.
The system will monitor the effect of movement of vessels off Scotland’s west coast noting a range of factors including noise and sonar activity.
At the same time the team will also use acoustic surveys to gauge the effects of current technology on sea animals.
Dr Conor Ryan, the trust’s scientific officer, says the seas are seeing a growing influx of underwater infrastructure such as renewable installations and aquaculture.
But whilst it is in all our interests to look out for the sea creatures who live in our seas, we are aware that we are not just being altruistic in looking out for them for their own sakes.
Indeed such wildlife is a massive tourist draw not just in Scotland, but all over the world, providing employment opportunities for boat operators and guides, with tourists using nearby hotels and bed and breakfast, cafes and restaurants.
It is in our economic interests in an era of increasing technology to keep a careful watch on the possible consequences on wildlife.
Whales and dolphins do not merely inhabit the same planet as us, they are now increasingly being used to attract visitors, a far cry from the day when they were the target of many a hunting expedition. But as we still don’t know the impact of communication networks under the sea we must strive to keep our “human footprint” to a minimum.