One Woman Learns She’ll Live Longer and Responds Hilariously

I wanted to share an article I found that adopts rather a humorous perspective on old age, written by a woman who mirthfully admits she’s knocking on that door herself.

Columnist Betty Coutant reflects on a recent revelation in which she learned that, even at the age of 60, she should prepare herself to live another 80 years.

That would be a red-letter headline for some people, the best news of the century. Coutant is more hesitant.

“I’m not even sure I want to live with that long,” she says. “Check with me again when I get closer to 90, though.”Portrait of a senior adult woman

Musing on the creaks, aches, and pains that already greet her each morning, she wonders if her “hinges” are really up for the challenges of a medical miracle. (She brags that, much like Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, she has “moves like Jagger,” but hers mirror Mick the 72-year-old.)

And is there even enough to occupy her interest for so long?

“What will they have me doing at 120-ish?” she asks. “Do we need more angry white women? Methinks not, and me imagines you thinks not as well.”

Tongue-in-cheek as Coutant’s musings are, they highlight a fast-emerging reality: most of us are going to live longer than we once anticipated. For some us, that could mean a lot longer. All the way to 140, you ask? Well, that remains to be seen, but the point is that we don’t really know.

The future is as uncertain as it is exciting. The best thing we can do (and really the only thing we can do now) is plan wisely. That’s something I can help with.

I love to find little articles like these, penned by someone who approaches aging and the unknown with a sense of humor. After all, if we have a lot of life left, we might as well fill it with laughter!

Nursing Homes Replacing Hospitals for Primary Senior Care

We always hear about the rising number of Americans who turn to hospitals (particularly Emergency Rooms) as their primary source of healthcare. Likewise, we hear a lot about the constantly rising costs of nursing homes in America — especially here in Massachusetts and throughout New England.

I was struck, then, by a recent New York Times article that makes a surprising report: senior citizens are increasingly less reliant on hospitals for healthcare, as nursing homes are able to step up to the plate in their place.

Why the shift? Here are a few factors:

  • Healthcare Mobility — As the Times notes, many complex procedures like blood transfusions used to require several days spent in an outpatient hospital wing. These days, those same procedures can practically be done on the go. Nursing homes can give their residents a quick lift to a nearby medical center for a transfusion in a matter of hours. All of the follow-up care, including IV therapy, can be done back in the resident’s own room.
  • Risk of Injury and Infection— Despite popular belief, the hospital isn’t the safest place for the elderly. Falls, bedsores, depression, and hospital-acquired infections are all dangerous and increasingly common risks of any hospital stay. While those perils are present in nursing homes too, the rates of occurrence tend to be a little lower there.
  • Costs — Nursing homes are extremely expensive, but so are hospitals. Regularly relying on hospital clinics or Emergency Rooms can prove even more financially taxing than the monthly nursing home bill. That fact has insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid urging nursing homes to ramp up their roster of hospital-like services.

Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Amazingly, many of today’s nursing homes still don’t staff registered nurses 24/7, and not all homes offer the same easy access to nearby outpatient clinics.

It is encouraging to know, though, that alternative approaches to senior care are developing quickly. Within the next few years, we may see seniors spend less and less time in hospitals, and that should hopefully translate to financial savings, fewer infections, and a lower rate of hospital-related injury.

Naturally, though, paying for nursing home care remains a real challenge, regardless of how much additional time gets spent in a hospital. Fortunately, proactive planning can make those costs much more manageable. To that end, my office can be of some help. Give me a call today to talk about setting up a plan that makes sense for you.

10 Ways to Live Longer (And They’re Easier Than You Think)

I write a lot in this blog about the ever-expanding lifespan of the average American, and much of that is thanks to truly incredible developments in medical science over the past few years. But living longer can be a personal victory too.

Medical Daily recently published a list of ten easy practices we can all put in place to earn a longer life. Many of them are common sense, but the important thing is to bundle them all together in the same lifestyle. When carried out in concert, these simple “life improvements” have been proven to lead to a longer and more fulfilling life.

  • Exercise — The more the better, but even a little walking and standing can help. This one’s at the top of the list because it’s more effective than all the rest.
  • Don’t Smoke (or Stop Smoking Now) — Every month you quit could add a year onto your life!
  • Avoid Drinking & Hard Drugs — It’s no secret that illicit drugs can ruin the body and brain in no time, but it’s important to remember that “softer” drugs like alcohol take nearly the same toll when consumed in excess.
  • Feel Young— Research shows that people who feel younger inside actually live longer. Mind over matter!
  • Stop Sitting So Much — Some studies show that a sedentary lifestyle can be as deadly as smoking. For reasons we don’t entirely understand just yet, the physical act of sitting is almost toxic to the body. Do as little of it as possible.
  • Eat Well — Fruit, vegetables, whole foods, etc. Whether you go organic, Mediterranean, or even adopt a diet all your own, be sure to avoid excessive sugar, calories, chemicals, processed foods, and all those other tempting vices. Opt for heart-healthy foods!
  • Keep Your Mind Sharp — People who stay mentally active into old age are known to have substantially lower rates of dementia.
  • Stay Social— Loneliness isn’t just depressing; it’s deadly. Some studies find that loneliness and obesity yield identical early-death rates.
  • Maintain Positivity & Purpose — People who maintain a positive outlook and a sense of purpose have drastically lower levels of stress. Since stress is a major source of internal bodily damage, avoiding it can extend your life considerably.

Chances are, you’re doing a lot of these already. Why not make a couple of changes so you can score a perfect 10 out of 10? The proof is in the pudding, after all. These little changes make a big difference!

Daily Exercise Promotes Mobility and Wards Off Dementia

Confirming what experts have suspected for a while now, a new scientific study by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago finds that daily exercise has a profound limiting effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As an added bonus, daily movements also prevent the kind of brain damage that could impair mental and motor function as you get older.

The study adds to our growing understanding about how non-medicinal lifestyle changes may largely ward off the worst parts of growing old. Its findings are reported in greater detail at WebMD.

Most interestingly, the researchers reveal that you can claim these protective health benefits for yourself with only a moderate amount of pleasurable physical activity. In other words, you don’t have to run a marathon.

That’s very important because the biggest reason that people avoid an active lifestyle is that extreme exercise simply isn’t fun. Given the prospect of working up a daily sweat on a miles-long hike, many choose to settle in on the couch instead.

But that’s a false dichotomy. Seniors needn’t choose between extreme sports and couch potato-dom. Researchers found that even more moderate amounts of enjoyable movement could be equally effective, so long as it’s safe and daily.

Their advice isn’t only for the elderly, either. The earlier in life you adopt daily physicality, the more fully you can protect against future brain damage (and the sooner you can start reversing any damage already done).

Given the fact that dementia is on the rise all around the world, I’m thrilled to see so many new reports about simple lifestyle changes that we all can make to meaningfully reduce our risk of disease.

Of course, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t a guaranteed cure-all, and even the most active senior is likely to experience an increase in healthcare costs as they age. Even in a future that could see substantially fewer cases of dementia, long-term care planning remains important. The good news, though, is that it’s a future we can really be excited to plan for.

60 No Longer Considered “Old Age”

How old is “old age?” Older than it used to be, at least!

A major new report makes a clear and convincing case that people in their sixties simply do not have the life or health profile that we once characterized as “old.” They are healthier, happier, more active, more vivacious, and living longer than ever before.

That’s been the perception for a while. Take a look at the fifty- and sixty-somethings in your own life or on TV. How many of them strike you as “old”?

Now we have a study, based on a large body of credible research, to prove that those changing perceptions are well founded. Specifically, the study shows all the following:

  • Heart disease, cancer, and serious illness are all down by nearly 50% over the last decade in both men and women in their sixties.
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s are down by similar rates.
  • Only 7.7% of people aged 60-64 have had heart attack or stroke.
  • The 50-and-up demographic now accounts for an overall smaller percentage of the total number of people with serious illnesses.

Experts credit the remarkable improvement to a few factors:

  • Better awareness of diet and exercise
  • Decrease in smoking
  • Improvements in cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Better medications, especially statins and blood pressure pills
  • More active lifestyles

Naturally, there is a flip side. Lower rates of disease in the sixties translates to a higher rate of illness in the eighties, but then that is at least more in line with people’s lifetime expectations. It’s likely this is just the beginning, too. I expect more good news in the health department on the horizon.

Old age may not have been “cured,” but it’s certainly been delayed. That’s great news for all of us as we realize just how much life we still have waiting down the road.

A Marriage to Remember: A Touching Short Film on Alzheimer’s

In a new short-film documentary entitled A Marriage to Remember, filmmaker Banker White takes a starkly intimate look into his parents’ struggle with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In her youth, Pam White was a model and an actress. Later, she devoted her entire life to her family and her kids. Now, they’re paying her back with around-the-clock in-home care.

The film visits Pam at an interesting moment in the course of her disease. For the most part, she’s still in command of her mental faculties. In one candid car ride, her son asks whether the confusion has been difficult for her. Wittingly, she replies, “I’m not confused. You think I’m confused?”

She isn’t arguing or in denial. She’s just being precise. Confusion isn’t exactly her issue just yet. Ultimately, Banker agrees. That wasn’t the right word.

It’s a telling moment that keenly illustrates the sneaky progression of Alzheimer’s. Here is a woman who still recognizes, still remembers, still engages in conversation, and is clearly still quite sharp. And yet she is also undeniably struggling.

Her husband has to pull her out of bed and help her shuffle from one room to the next and down the stairs. He tells us that the change in just one year has been “profound.” Her son says there are early mornings where he’s sure she doesn’t recognize them at first. “That is beginning,” her husband says.

But while the narrative of Alzheimer’s is often a sad one, sorrow is not the prevailing sentiment in A Marriage to Remember — and that is what makes it so impactful in its brief, eight-minute runtime.

“Initially, I was quite distressed,” Pam tells us. “…But it doesn’t really change anything… I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”

Blessed. What an outlook. And truly, the film is as much husband Ed’s story as it is Pam’s. It reveals the unshakeable strength of a marriage that is so strong that not even Alzheimer’s can break it. Theirs is a love for times both better and worse. It is truly inspiring.

Silver linings and love help to redeem even the darkest diagnoses. A Marriage to Remember is a testament to that. It’s a very short film, and I think you’ll be glad you watched it. You can find it streaming for free at The New York Times.

If you and your family are currently going through an Alzheimer’s experience of your own, I also recommend getting in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as they offer a number of programs and services that can be of great help.

A Real-Life Neverland for the Elderly

Loma Linda, CA: Where Older People Stay Young

We’ve all read stories about places where people never grow up. They stay young, strong, healthy, and always alive. Just last month, NBC raked in millions of viewers with its new take on the venerable Peter Pan.

Neverland is as good an example as any of the enduring fantasy of living like a young person for a very long time.

But what if it were real?

“The Today Show” recently featured a little town called Loma Linda, CA on its TODAY Health website. They say the place might have found the elusive “secrets of longevity.”

Less than an hour outside of Los Angeles, Loma Linda is home to a thriving population of elderly people who seem almost unaware that they are of old age. Many of them maintain social lives and daily routines that would make a twenty-something’s head spin.

Take 90-year-old Thelma Johnson, for instance. When she’s not cruising around the world with her friends, she and her husband hit the jogging trail or the gym every single day.

She isn’t alone. Indeed, that kind of schedule is par for the course in Loma Linda.

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do,” Johnson said in the “Today” interview. What a way to approach old age!

Of course, Loma Linda isn’t the only bustling blip on the map for older people. National Geographic recently released its list of the five places in the world where people live the longest. Japan, Italy, Greece, and Costa Rica what is the 5th? each have one of these so-called “Blue Zones,” all of them home to incredible vitality in an ever-aging population. But Loma Linda remains the only “Blue Zone” in the U.S.

That said, there are smaller elderly communities scattered all throughout America where people are finding that old age isn’t the limitation it once was.

Loma Linda is a perfect illustration of how rapidly we’re all evolving in our understanding of what it means to “grow old” in the 21st Century.

As Peter Pan might say someday, even in older age, life is still an awfully big adventure.

How to Age Gracefully: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but there’s one thing we have in common: we’re all getting older. Time’s rhythm is steady, and try as we might, everyone ages just a little bit more with each passing day. But surely there’s a difference between aging and aging well.

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Not long ago, Boston.com put together a list of ten tips for aging gracefully. Their helpful hints run the gamut from diet and exercise to an active social life, but what struck me most was that all of their advice could really be boiled down to that timeless trio of mind, body, and spirit.

For the mind, they recommend a commitment to good mental health, which might mean counseling or some casual therapy. The article also challenged the elderly to teach themselves something new every day. Curiosity and application keep the mind sharp.

Unsurprisingly, the body got the bulk of their advice — good food, plenty of sleep, and consistent exercise. It’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups with the doctor too, in order to keep an eye on blood pressure, blood sugar, and any suspicious health-related developments.

But I was especially pleased to see some attention paid to the part of us that might get neglected the most: spirit. Boston.com stressed the importance of making friends and spending quality time with the ones you love. You’re never too old for an active social life, and it can do wonders for your health.

Of course, there’s really no dividing line between the mind, the body, and the spirit. What’s good for one is good for the others, and whole-self health may just be the key to a long and happy life.

Got Arthritis? Get Milk.

It is estimated that more than a third of adults over the age of 65 have a degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis of the knee is particularly severe and common in older women.

A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently came across an article in the AARP newsletter that discussed this issue and referenced an interesting study funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The study suggests that women who drink up to six glasses of fat-free or low-fat milk per week are able to delay the effects of arthritis in their knees.

Unfortunately, the study indicated that men did not experience a similar decline in the progression of knee osteoarthritis. Oddly enough, the study also showed that consuming other dairy products, such as yogurt or cheese, did not reduce joint deterioration at all. In fact, women who consumed more cheese displayed faster deterioration.

The researchers who took part in the study were unable to discern a cause-effect explanation for what they found. However, when the team’s leader, Bing Lu, M.D., was asked by the New York Times whether people with osteoarthritis should drink milk, his answer was simple: “Yes, low-fat or fat-free milk.”

Given some of the foods and beverages that are rumored to treat osteoarthritis, such as shark cartilage and snake venom, I’ll take a cold glass of milk every time.

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