Sunday, November 15, 2020

What Can You Do?

Earlier this year I wrote about how many people with SCIs are having particularly difficult times during the lockdowns.  Since spinal cord injuries put people in the high-risk category for COVID-19, many with SCIs have lost access to critical resources and physical therapy.  I'm thankful to be able to continue with self-therapy at home, despite changes elsewhere.  It is not an easy situation.  Additionally, with the holidays approaching and some shut-downs worsening, people are voicing concerns about bad weather and increased isolation.  They're worried about feeling even more shut-in than they do now.

Today I want to draw attention to another group that is high-risk and suffering from loss of resources and from increased isolation in the midst of the lockdowns: senior citizens.  2020 has been extremely hard for older adults who are stuck at home and afraid or unable to go out.  Judith Graham calls the situation a "pandemic of despair" for seniors who are feeling discouraged and lonely.  One survey found that "loneliness doubled for older adults in (the) first months of COVID-19."  Mostly, family and friends are staying away to avoid exposing their loved ones to the virus.  They love their parents and grandparents, so of course they don't want to put them at risk.  It's a reasonable approach, if not necessary in many cases.  The problem is the nature of COVID-19.  Avoiding exposure by increasing isolation may prevent the virus, but it can also contribute to poor mental health — especially when people are frightened.  That's true of anyone, regardless of age.  However, for those who are living alone or in a center without family and close friends nearby, loneliness can be overwhelming.  It's no secret that COVID-19 has a negative impact on everybody, whether or not someone has contracted the virus. 

People are trying different things to fill the gap caused by social distancing for seniors.  A county in Mississippi is advertising a drive-thru event for Senior Citizen's Appreciation Day (Nov. 19), where organizers will be handing out sack lunches and small items of encouragement.  A thoughtful high school student in Indiana is delivering Christmas gifts and safety kits to residents at a senior living center.  Another more common suggestion is to stay in touch via FaceTime and phone calls.  These all seem to be good ideas, and they are needed.  Little things make an impact.

Please think of what you can do to reach out to others right now.  It's important that people recognize their lives count.  I know that I have heard from a lot of senior citizens who are disappointed about how their holiday plans are already being disrupted.  Many of them are terrified and lonely.  Most of them are in their eighties and nineties, making them particularly susceptible to COVID-19.

If you can, please take the time to reach out to seniors around you.  They might be suffering more than you know.  Whatever the case, a little extra encouragement can go a long way.  It is Thanksgiving season, after all.  Giving to others is a small way to say thank you for what we have.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Success with Carbon Nanotubes, 2020

 What is a carbon nanotube, and what does it matter?

As explained by How Stuff Works, "A carbon nanotube is a nano-size cylinder of carbon atoms. Imagine a sheet of carbon atoms, which would look like a sheet of hexagons. If you roll that sheet into a tube, you'd have a carbon nanotube. . . . With the right arrangement of atoms, you can create a carbon nanotube that's hundreds of times stronger than steel, but six times lighter."

In 2009, Discover Magazine published an article called "9 Ways Carbon Nanotubes Just Might Rock the World."  The subtitle hinted at some of the nine ways, reading, "Nanotubes have been billed as the key to curing cancer, building space elevators, and creating real-world Spidermen. Whether they're totally tubular or just an overhyped pipe dream remains to be seen."

Fast forward eleven years and you can find articles on a use that isn't mentioned in the Discover piece, but has its own potential to "rock the world."  Although it isn't the first time carbon nanotubes have been studied in relation to spinal cord injury, a recent study in Italy focused on using carbon nanotubes as scaffolds to support nerve growth in a living mammal with a partially-severed spinal cord — not in cell cultures, as done previously. 

By inserting an implant that is "a kind of sponge of carbon nanotubes comprising interwoven fibers," researchers found that the nerves could be reconnected at the damage site.  The animals with the implants "regained functionality" without any apparent adverse reactions.  While researchers caution that they are not ready to transfer the technology to humans yet, the results of the study are encouraging.  Eventually, this technology could be implemented as a treatment for similar spinal cord injuries, injuries of the optic nerve, and other types of nerve damage.

And in the meantime, there's always the space elevator application.  That, too, is moving closer to reality.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Devon Gales, Still Going

An update on Devon Gales, who has fought non-stop since his spinal cord injury five years ago.  He continues to make progress.  Please keep Devon in your thoughts and prayers!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Tendo AB's Exoskeleton (Hand Unit)

This article in Health Europa describes an exoskeleton that could offer greater independence to people with high spinal cord injuries.  A modified space technology designed by Tendo AB, the new exoskeleton is a minimalist system for users with compromised hand strength or motor control.  The technology may be expanded to focus on other limbs, such as the elbow or knee.  Since the exoskeleton "(uses) the body’s signals as a source," it will be interesting to see what beneficial effects the device might have as a therapy tool.  There are many possibilities here; the hand technology alone has the potential to change many lives for the better.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Graduate Max Ahlquist's Recovery Story

 Max Ahlquist was paralyzed in a rafting accident, but he has had a miraculous recovery and continues to work hard in his physical therapy.  His positive story is one worth sharing, like the news that he has graduated as co-valedictorian and is now moving on to college.  Congratulations, Max!