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Aging: Future Possibilities, Fulfilling Life, Brain Health

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Empowerment
Aging: Future Possibilities, Fulfilling Life, Brain Health
Longevity is an accomplishment. Continuing to live a fulfilling, active lifestyle as we age is fundamental to our emotional, mental and physical well-being.
The decline in physical ability and mental acuity as we age are realities of the aging process. And, in the case of dementia, the cognitive decline* can be even more precipitous and pronounced. But can we engage in activities that promote physical, mental and emotional well-being, help us continue to live a purposeful and fulfilling life, as well as stave off or lessen the effects of decline. The answer is a resounding, YES!!
Furthermore, remaining active and engaged in our advancing years is an important legacy to future generations about the meaning of future possibilities.
1. GET UP AND GET MOVING: Regular exercise that elevates your heart rate increases the flow of blood to the body and the brain, sometimes referred to as breaking a sweat, has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Studies throughout the years have found there is a link between increased physical activity and reducing the risk of cognitive decline. This can include a regular schedule of walking, running, swimming, or another form of exercise of your choice. Even a slow but steady exercise for extended periods, like gardening, has proven to be helpful. Maybe this is the ideal time to commit or recommit to your fitness goals.
You can also find a new passion or explore an old one.
A 2017 article in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience reported that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, but that dancing had the most significant effect.
The results were reported as a result of a study which compared people whoparticipated in dancing and endurance training. The lead author of the study, Dr.Kathrin Rehfeld, concluded that dancing is a “powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”[1]
2. GET HEARTY: Taking care of your heart should be a priority. The same risk factors that we know causes cardiovascular disease and stroke, namely obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, can also be risk factors for cognitive decline.Therefore, adjust your lifestyle in accordance for a healthy heart and you may be helping your brain at the same time.
3. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Eating a diet lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit may help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline. This is not as evidenced based as other areas, however, people who live in countries eating what is known as the Mediterranean diet, and many other people who have adopted it around the world, as well as another version known as the Mediterranean-DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), are said to experience a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
4. GET BOOK SMART: When the brain is actively engaged in learning it is not only merely keeping it more healthy and vibrant, it could reduce the risk of decline. There are many adult education classes suited to almost any area of interest. They are offered at local colleges, high schools, community centers, libraries or even online. This also helps staying socially engaged by connecting with others who have similar interests.
5. GET REST: As we get older, it is not always easy to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. However, one should still try to get enough sleep so they feel rested. Lack of sufficient sleep can result in memory and thinking problems.
6. “DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY”: The words in the song convey an important message. There are studies that draw a direct connection between
depression and cognitive decline. It is important to be able to recognize if you are experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. If you are aware of having these issues, know you are not alone. Speak with your physician or seek treatment through other avenues. If a friend or family member recognizes that you are having these symptoms and opens up a discussion, it means the symptoms are significant. Appreciate the fact that they are concerned and are doing you a great favor!
7. GET FRIENDLY: The importance of staying connected with others cannot be overstated, whether it be family, old friends or making new ones. Finding activities in your community that you enjoy will help you stay socially engaged. A few examples: Always loved photography? Consider joining a photography club, Hiking or nature? There are many groups that offer nature programs. Walking? There are even mall walking groups, Singing? Join a choir, Teaching? Consider tutoring young people at an after-school program. Planting or flowers? Consider a local florist, botanical garden, greenhouse. Consider joining a book or cooking club or starting one of your own.
Volunteering is another way to remain engaged in your local community. it is also a way to give back while simultaneously achieving a sense of joy and gratification. A few examples of places to volunteer include:
· Libraries
. Political parties
· Hospitals; Nursing Homes
· Animal shelters
· Food banks
· Day care centers
· Places of worship: churches, temples, mosques
· Cultural groups
· Non-profits organizations
Consider seeking out an organization that is close to your heart. e.g., Diabetes Association, Cancer Agency, Alzheimer’s, AARP. Many websites list volunteer positions and provide training as needed. Opportunities to get involved are endless and many organizations offer info and sign-up forms online.
If one cannot get out as often as they would like or is possible, online activities is another a way to connect with others. This can reduce a feeling of isolation which can be tremendously beneficial. Connecting with family, friends, and online groups help to provide a sense of community. Social networking sites like Facebook help people stay active and engaged. online are other ways that seniors are keeping themselves active and engaged.
8. QUIT SMOKING: There is ample evidence that smoking increases a person’s risk of decline in physical well-being and cognitive function. The earlier one quits smoking the sooner the risk is reduced to the same level as a person who has not smoked.
9. PROTECT YOUR HEAD, LITERALLY: Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Protect yourself against falls, always wear your seat belt while driving and use a helmet if bicycle riding or participating in a contact sport.
10.BRAIN TEASERS: It’s important to keep your brain active. Learn new games or play your favorite ones: jeopardy, bridge, dominoes, backgammon, scrabble, chess, bridge. Work on puzzles: from crossword or jigsaw. Join clubs that highlight these activities. Learn to do something new in which you were always interested: a new language, playing an instrument. There are groups or clubs for many of these which would also keep you socially engaged.
10.BRAIN TEASERS: It’s important to keep your brain active. Learn new games or play your favorite ones: jeopardy, bridge, dominoes, backgammon, scrabble, chess, bridge. Work on puzzles: from crossword or jigsaw. Join clubs that highlight these activities. Learn to do something new in which you were always interested: a new language, playing an instrument. There are groups or clubs for many of these which would also keep you socially engaged.
If just beginning to consider these areas, it may be unrealistic to think of adopting all of these habits at once. Pursue those that feel the most likely to be accomplished from an interest, scheduling or availability point of view. Participating in these activities should be enjoyable and fun. If they are effortful and seem like work, it will defeat the purpose.
ENJOY!!!!!
*Cognition – Cognition is a mental process which includes thinking, knowing, remembering, reasoning, judging and problem solving.
[1]“Dancing Can Reverse the Signs of Aging in the Brain”. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience August 25, 2017.https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-reverse-aging-brain.html

The Future of Aging

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Empowerment
The Future of Aging

The Eldercare Advocate

Are we living longer as a society? According to Paul Irving, Chairman of The Milken Institute Center for The Future of Aging, while overall it appears people are living to advanced ages, there is inequality in longevity which can be linked directly to socioeconomics and community.

The quality of people’s lives is significantly affected by their financial means and as well as where they live. Access to, and knowledge of, a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a more healthful diet, access to health care, as well as depression, loneliness, and isolation, are factors linked to decrease in life span over the past 3 years for people who life in communities where they may be facing more challenges as opposed to those living in more rural areas. Other factors which may affect a person’s overall health issues is actually discrimination against older people, also known as ageism.

The John Hartford Foundation[1]released an issue brief in April of 2017 entitled “Reframing Aging”.  The brief emphasizes the negative impact of our society’s view of becoming older, and because of this negative view, as if it is a fate to be avoided at all costs (a conundrum in and of itself. In a previous blogpost, I suggested the incongruence of us mourning premature death as a life unfulfilled, and yet shunning the notion of getting older, avoiding the discussion at all costs.)  However, discrimination faced by older people is actually an issue of national concern which needs to be addressed. This discrimination leads us as a society to accept, tolerate or seem to be disinterested in the poor care, poor treatment, lack of dignity and lack of respect faced by older people, and indeed those that are very old.

The brief goes on to call for the need to redefine aging. This is based on the negative assumptions about what it means to get old. In addition, as Paul Irving states, there is no one size fits all. There is a vast difference to each person who is 65, 75, 85, or 95. No different that there is a vast difference amongst people of any other age group. These differences may be defined by health, wealth, education, religion, gender and sexual preference but can certainly go on from there.

Rather than having sympathy for the older person, society must shape its attitudes towards inclusion. It is indeed a human rights issue. The rights of the older person in no way differs from the rights of any other person in society.

The words we use also has a tremendous impact on our attitudes. In American culture, from the time we are little we are using the word ‘old’ as in “how old are you”. Other cultures ask the query, “how many years do you have?”, or “what year are you living?”. Transforming our language will play an important role in changing our attitudes.

Lastly, the brief suggests an entirely new perception about aging, both from society as a whole, as well as from the perspective of the person who is advancing in their years. It suggests the notion of building momentum, I support terminology such as advancing in years or continuing life’s journey. It is an accomplishment, something to be admired and respected. Other cultures consider reaching an advanced age as a jubilee of sorts.  In the latter case, it is documented that a person’s self-image has a tremendous impact on their overall health.

Science has done its part in helping people live longer. But institutions, society, businesses, communities have not necessarily kept up with science on the one hand yet, on the other, it has perpetuated our youth oriented culture. This is most evident in the $16.8 billion spent on both invasive and less invasive cosmetic techniques to maintain or regain their youthful appearance. Is this not counterintuitive to the idea of accepting and appreciating one’s age. I’ve heard people say, look at the wrinkles on my face and the gray hairs on my head, I have earned every single one. They have meaning and importance, not only in my life, but for the life of others.

What is the cost to society if we don’t change our attitudes, provide better care and a better quality of life to people as they advance in age? Those “wisdom keepers” are a valuable natural resource that can add tremendous value to our society on many fronts and to the lives of those younger than they who can indeed benefit from the wealth of acquired knowledge through years of life experience.

What is it to feel a particular age?

When we are younger, as we advance from our 20’s. to our 30’s and probably to about our 50’s we feel a sense of growth and maturity. But, what do we feel as we continue on our life’s journey from that point upward to our 60’’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s?

Irving points out that prior to the 20thcentury creation of the “Happy Birthday” song, age was judged by fitness, health, etc. A return to this way of thinking may help us on the road to restructuring and refashioning our attitudes towards people as they continue to age.

Hugo Gerstl, a guest on Voices for Eldercare Advocacy remains a practicing trial attorney and author of 5 books at seventy-eight years of age.  He suggests that despite what we see in the mirror, a person always remains the same age deep down inside himself or herself, and that age is early maturity.

Gerstl also suggests that there is not a limitation or an endpoint in the jobs of life and he believes that the attitude one has toward or traditional idea of a job affects our attitudes towards life.  In our early years, through teens or early twenties for some, it is the job of going to school which is followed by years of gainful employment. But, if one chooses to end their traditional employment, they can think of their job as a continuation to acquire knowledge, to grow, to help others, to have interests beyond himself or herself. This is what keeps a person vital, vibrant, active and engaged. In doing so, there are significant contributions one can make though they may take on a different form.

[1]https://www.johnahartford.org/dissemination-center/view/reframing-aging-issue-brief-released

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