Death related costs rise by £400 in the last year

Posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 in Life Insurance

A report from the Sun Life Direct financial service company has revealed that over the last year, the overall costs associated with a person’s death have risen by £400.

The average cost following the death of an individual (including services such as funeral costs, administration of the person’s estate, headstones and death notices) is now at £7,248. The figure is equivalent to approximately three months’ average salary in the UK and is now 20% higher than it was four years ago.

The report goes on to suggest that the increase is largely due to the rising costs of arranging a funeral. The Sun Life Direct report indicated that the average cost of a funeral has risen by 61% in the last 7 years. The report also suggested that the costs will continue to rise in the foreseeable future.

Currently, the average cost of a cremation for people in the UK is £2,720 and the average cost of a burial will be £3,462 on average. Other funeral costs include catering, which is at an average £319, and the cost of flowers, at an average of £144.

More costs which relate to the death of an individual include the administration of their estate, which was currently at an average of £2,292, and a death notice, at an average of £55.

The research also revealed that about a quarter of people (26%) have not yet made any plans to account for the end of their lives. About half of people indicated that family and friends will contribute and help organise their funeral. About 20% of people indicated that they would struggle to meet the costs of their funeral.

A spokesperson for the Sun Life Direct insurance company suggested that many people are confused about planning for the end of their life, adding to many other related ‘later life issues.’

Simon Cox from Sun Life Direct said: “Many people are sleepwalking into a financial nightmare, leaving their end of life plans to either their families, the state or no one at all. As a nation we need a wake-up call. Our research indicates that although there is indeed openness to talking about death, action is still greatly lacking.”

At the same time, inflation has risen again in august from 4.4% in July up to 4.5% and the retail price index (RPI) has risen from 5% to 5.2%, adding to the problems faced by many people in retirement.

Kate Woodthorpe, from the University of Bath, is a co-author of the report. She indicated that the death rate in England and Wales is currently at an all-time low. In 2009, the number of reported deaths was 491,348, however, she expects this to rise by 17% in the next two decades. By 2030, there is expected to be an additional 80,000 people who die every year.

Tobacco company seeks confidential teen data

Posted on Monday, September 5th, 2011 in Health

The tobacco company Philip Morris International is the subject of strong criticism for requesting research data about teenagers’ smoking habits.

The company have used a Freedom of Information request to try to obtain data from a study of more than 6,000 teenagers over ten years, carried out by Stirling University. The research covers the teens’ opinions on cigarette marketing tactics and includes their reasons for taking up smoking at a young age.

Although the data has been stripped of any details which could identify the individuals, the teenagers took part in the study on the understanding that their testimonials would be used for research purposes only.
Philip Morris say they have a legitimate right to obtain the data as the study is government funded.

Researchers at the university’s Centre for Tobacco Control Research, which was set up in 1999 with funding from Cancer Research UK, believe that agreeing to the request could potentially harm future studies and pose serious ethical concerns.

Prof Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing which oversees the Centre, said: “It is deeply concerning they are even trying to get this data. We are talking about children and this is data the tobacco companies themselves would never be allowed to collect.”

The university is currently opposing the Freedom of Information request after initially refusing to respond to it. The information commissioner has already ordered the university to issue a response and could potentially force the researchers to provide the data to Philip Morris if the disputed case is found in the company’s favour.

Depression linked to stoke risk in women

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011 in Health

Researchers from the US have suggested that women who suffer from depression may also have a higher risk of stroke.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the medical records of over 80,000 women aged between 54 and 79 in the period from 2000 to 2006. The records came from women who had been participating in the Nurses’ Health Study, which has been running since the 1970s.

None of the women involved in the study had had a stroke before, and approximately 22% had been diagnosed with depression. During the research period, 1,033 of the participants suffered a stroke.

The results indicated that those who suffered from depression were 29% more likely to suffer a stroke.

However, the study also revealed that depressed women were more likely to be single, have a smoking habit and tended to be less physically active. These women also tended to be younger, they had a higher body mass index (BMI) and consequently more of them suffered from conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Dr An Pan, from the School of Public Health at Harvard, suggested that inflammation could be the mechanism which physically links stroke to depression. However, he also said: “Regardless of the mechanism, recognising that depressed individuals may be at a higher risk of stroke may help the physician focus on not only treating the depression, but treating stroke risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol as well as addressing lifestyle behaviours such as smoking and exercise.”

Important multiple sclerosis stem cell trial begins

Posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 in Health

An important new clinical trial involving 150 multiple sclerosis (MS) patients is set to begin later this year. The trial will investigate whether stem cells can be used as an effective treatment in the fight against MS.

Doctors hope that the new stem cell treatment will be able to stop or even reverse the damage sustained to brain cells in people who suffer from the disease.

At present there is no proven stem cell treatment for MS sufferers. However, many people have travelled to overseas stem cell clinics in order to pay for some of the unproven treatments that are on offer. The UK MS Society, which has partially funded the trial, hopes that it will prove and establish a treatment and prevent the need for many patients to travel overseas.

Stem cells will be collected from the patient’s bone marrow, grown in the laboratory and injected back into the patient’s blood. These cells will then be transported to the brain where researchers hope they will repair the damage.

It is estimated that there are 3 million people who suffer from MS around the world. There are approximately 100,000 people in the UK who suffer from the neurological condition. It is also the most common neurological condition found in young British people.

Dr Doug Brown, of the MS Society, said: “These experiments have confirmed that these stem cells hold that potential – but these need to be confirmed in large scale clinical trials.” Dr Brown also suggested that much more research and development is needed before this potential new treatment would be on offer to sufferers of the disease.

Potential new treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Posted on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 in Health

new treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophyResearchers have developed a potential treatment for some cases of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a muscle wasting condition which effects one in 3,500 newborn boys. Approximately 100 new cases arise in the UK every year.
The condition causes the patient’s muscle to waste away throughout their life and can leave many in a wheelchair by the age of ten. By the age of 30, it begins to be life threatening as it starts to damage the muscles which regulate breathing.

A gene in the X chromosome is responsible for making a protein called dystrophin. The Duchenne muscular dystrophy is where this gene is damaged or mutated and results in a loss of dystrophin production.

The new treatment works by injecting a patient with tailored pieces of antisense RNA which cuts out the damaged or mutated part of the genetic code and allows the creation of a shorter protein. The shorter dystrophin protein is still able to function. In a 12 week trial involving 19 patients, seven children saw a degree of dystrophin production return.

The lead researcher, Prof Francesco Muntoni, indicated that the best result showed a 20% return of dystrophin production. He added: “I’ve worked with patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy for many years and this is the first time we can say with confidence that we’ve made a significant breakthrough towards finding a targeted treatment.”

Prof Muntoni added that this treatment was tailored for the most common type of the condition which affects 13% of sufferers. He believes a similar treatment can be used to treat the second most common cause which affects 11% of the sufferers.

British spend £8.6bn over school summer holiday

Posted on Sunday, July 24th, 2011 in Life Insurance

The annual school summer holiday began for most British children this week. Along with it will come considerable cost for their parents.

Research released this week claims that UK parents will part with a total of £8.6bn in 2011, simply in order to entertain and care for their young ones over the school break.

Insurance company LV= carried out research for their Cost of a Child report which puts the cost per child of the summer vacation at £660 on average – or £110 per week. More than a third of parents who responded to the survey said they will struggle to pay for everything their child is likely to need over the summer.

Over the holiday period, which lasts 6 weeks for most school children, parents will spend approximately £410 per child on baby sitters and other childcare to ensure their children are looked after while they are at work. This is a cost which approximately half of parents say they will need to pay out for. 93% said they would need to spend money on keeping them entertained, and this will cost £220 per child approximately.

Parents cited discount vouchers and online offers as a popular way to cut summer activity costs to a minimum, and the use of supermarket loyalty vouchers was also a popular way to save money. Other parents have chosen to organise activities with their children at home to keep them busy, such as baking, crafts or painting. The internet is also becoming a popular way to find free and reduced cost days out to keep spending to a minimum, and various parenting forums exist for mums and dad to swap ideas and tips. 62% of parents said they would be taking their children to free local attractions, such as museums or public parks.

Almost a third of those surveyed did not plan on going on any summer holiday whatsoever this year. Overseas holidays are not possible for 55% of the families with children under the age of 18.

Experts are concerned that expensive childcare is encouraging parents on low incomes to give up their jobs rather than work, simply because they need to pay for nursery or child care bills.

One tenth of the people surveyed by LV= said they would be relying on family and friends to take care of their children for free in order to make their summer affordable.

Barnardo’s spokesperson, Neena Sharman, said: “For families like those Barnardo’s works with who live on just £13 per person per day, paying for expensive days out is simply out of their reach.”

The children’s charity Gingerbread are calling on the coalition government to put more funding into summer camps. They also want the state to provide cheaper childcare for parents who find it difficult to finance the cost of looking after their children between school terms.

Spinal repair potential to restore impaired breathing

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2011 in Health, Life Insurance

US researchers have successfully carried out a spinal repair treatment in mice. The treatment has been able to restore breathing which had previously become impaired following an injury.

The treatment works by applying a nerve graft with a protein to the damaged spinal cord. It is hoped that it could restore breathing to human patients who are unable to breathe without assistance after an injury to their spinal cord.

Approximately 800 spinal cord injuries occur in the UK every year. Nearly half of these are in the neck. Damage to the spinal cord in the neck can prevent or impair messages from being delivered to the diaphragm, which controls breathing. Most people who sustain a neck injury and damage the spinal cord will go on to suffer a degree of impairment in their breathing.

The spinal cord is known to be difficult to repair. When it becomes damaged, it becomes scarred and can prevent nerves from repairing and forming new connections.

Trials in mice have shown that when they were injected with an enzyme called chondoitinase ABC at the same time as a nerve graft was being applied, the enzyme attacked the molecules which inhibit the nerve repair, chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans. In later tests, the mice went on to show that they had recovered 80-100% of their breathing function.

Researchers are hoping to now begin trials of the surgery in humans. Furthermore, they are investigating whether the same treatment can restore impaired bladder function, which can occur when the lower spine is injured.

Government advise exercise for under 5s

Posted on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 in Health

Health experts for the government have issued exercise advice to parents of children under the age of 5.

Growing concern over the lack of exercise in children has led to the government issuing advice for this age group for the first time. Experts fear that children who do not get enough exercise may face further problems later in life. Lack of exercise can be linked to obesity and brain development.

Health experts recommend that babies should be encouraged to be active from birth and all under fives should be restrained as little as possible. Parents are being advised to cut down on the amount of time they should keep babies and toddlers in car seats or buggies, and toddlers should be physically active for at least three hours a day.

Recent studies have suggested that only 30% of English children between the age of 2 and 15 get the recommended level of exercise. Most pre-school children only spend 2 to 2.5 hours a day being active.

Parents are being advised to allow their babies to crawl and roll about on mats and to encourage them to reach and grab for their toys. Baby swimming lessons are also encouraged.

Furthermore, once a child can walk, they should spend at least three hours a day doing some physical activity. Toddlers should be encouraged to undertake any exercise that makes them ‘huff and puff’: climbing, running, skipping, swimming and riding a bike are all encouraged.

Supportive text messages can help smokers quit

Posted on Monday, July 4th, 2011 in Health

A recent study has found that a person is twice as likely to successfully quit smoking if they receive supportive text messages send directly to their mobile phone.

Government statistics have suggested that approximately two thirds of smokers in the UK would like to give up tobacco. The study assessed 5,800 people who were intending to quit.

Half were sent text messages that simply thanked them for taking part in the study. The other half were sent positive and encouraging texts designed to motivate and encourage the smokers.

The messages were informal in tone and highlighted key dates, such as their ‘quit day’.

The study found that 10% of people who received the supportive messages were successful in quitting tobacco. In contrast, only 4.9% of the group who didn’t receive the supportive messages were able to successfully give up.

The findings suggest that supportive text messages are a potentially useful and low cost motivator and could be included in the services that are offered to help people quit smoking.

Experts believe that this service could also be offered on a global scale.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that approximately 6 million people around the world die as a result of smoking each year. Furthermore, the deaths mostly occur in low and middle-income countries.
Experts believe that the SMS service could be offered globally and would “provide a useful starting point for implementing behavioural change in resource-poor settings”.

It has also been suggested that a similar approach could also be used to help people modify other types of behaviour, such as addiction.

Measles outbreak leads to calls for MMR

Posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 in Health

10 cases of measles have been reported in Ceredigion and a further 20 cases have been reported in the areas of Pembrokeshire, Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthen, Powys and the old Gwent area.

Many of the cases which have been reported have been found in children who have not received their scheduled vaccination.

Measles can potentially cause deadly complications in children under the age of five. Symptoms start with fever, cough, red eyes, blocked nose and a general feeling of illness. After 5 days, a rash will appear on the face and spread down to the rest of the body.

Doctors have advised that if your child feels unwell and you suspect it may be measles you should contact your GP. Children who have had measles should also not return to their school or nursery until 5 days after the rash appears on the body.

Dr Richard Roberts of Public Health Wales has stated that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. He also believes that the only way to prevent measles outbreaks is to ensure that 95% of the children in Wales receive two doses of the vaccine.

Childeren should receive their first MMR vaccination at around 12 to 13 months of age, with a second dose at the age of 3 years and 4 months. Public Health Wales is keen to stress that it is never too late to catch up on a missed dose of the vaccine.