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Does Delayed Retirement Keep Younger Workers Underemployed?

Americans are retiring later. Studies show that the average planned retirement age has risen to a record age 67—and in reality, many seniors are working well beyond that age. They put off retirement for economic reasons, and also cite the desire to remain active and engaged. More and more seniors say that their work is an important part of their life and they enjoy it.

Often as not, articles about this trend include quotes from younger workers who speak in a resentful tone, claiming that late-retiring baby boomers will mean fewer job opportunities for younger workers. Some pundits say that older workers are “crowding out” the Gen X and Millennial workers from the labor market. But are these claims true?

A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College suggests the idea of a generation war in the workplace is a misconception. Examining data from 1977 – 2011, the economists demonstrated that in fact, older workers’ employment has no negative impact on the hourly wages or annual income of younger people. The study authors said, “This horse has been beaten to death. The evidence suggests that greater employment of older persons leads to better outcomes for the young—reduced unemployment, and a higher wage.”

You can read the full study on the Center for Retirement Research Center Boston College website . The Pew Charitable Trust also offers a discussion of the findings.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

The Gun Debate: How Are Seniors Affected?

Recent events in the U.S. have drawn more attention than ever to the debate over gun laws and gun safety. Many studies have looked at the need for keeping children safe from firearms-related injury. But what about the safety of older adults? And when a senior has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, what should family do?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice examined the public health considerations related to firearm ownership among the elderly. Study authors Susan B. Sorenson and Brian Mertens report that more than 17 million seniors own at least one firearm—and they point out that with the growing number of seniors and current rates of gun ownership, more and more people over 65 will own guns.

The study authors examined several important considerations:

Alzheimer’s and other dementia can make gun ownership dangerous for seniors—and for their families and other caregivers. It can be helpful to think of weapon ownership in the way we think about driving.  Insights into taking away the car keys might be applied in this situation as well. Said Sorenson, “Memory, thinking and judgment as well as physical and behavioral competence issues related to the elderly person’s safe operation of a motor vehicle also apply to firearms. People with Alzheimer’s disease can have memory loss, personality changes, confusion, anxiety, fluctuating lucidity and other symptoms that can affect a person’s ability to responsibly, competently and safely own and operate a firearm.”

Even when a senior does not have dementia, studies show he or she is at higher risk of violent death for at least five years following the purchase of a handgun. This includes death by suicide: not only do the elderly have the highest rate of suicide; they are also more likely to use a gun for this purpose than are younger people.

The authors suggest that nursing homes and other supportive living facilities, as well as family caregivers, should have guidelines for the possession of firearms. Says Sorenson, “Like most Americans, the elderly have the constitutional right to own firearms and there are many elderly people who are responsible gun owners. However, public-health policies must take action to promote the health of elderly persons and the safety of their caregivers.”

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013, reporting on a study from the University of Pennsylvania

Sleep On It: How Snoozing Strengthens Memories

Information from National Institutes of Health studies shows that memories are formed and retained during sleep; poor sleep contributes to poor memory.

When you learn something new, the best way to remember it is to sleep on it. That’s because sleeping helps strengthen memories you’ve formed throughout the day. It also helps to link new memories to earlier ones. You might even come up with creative new ideas while you slumber.

What happens to memories in your brain while you sleep? And how does lack of sleep affect your ability to learn and remember? National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded scientists have been gathering clues about the complex relationship between sleep and memory. Their findings might eventually lead to new approaches to help students learn or help older people hold onto memories as they age.

“We’ve learned that sleep before learning helps prepare your brain for initial formation of memories,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “And then, sleep after learning is essential to help save and cement that new information into the architecture of the brain, meaning that you’re less likely to forget it.”

While you snooze, your brain cycles through different phases of sleep, including light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when dreaming often occurs. The cycles repeat about every 90 minutes.

The non-REM stages of sleep seem to prime the brain for good learning the next day. If you haven’t slept, your ability to learn new things could drop by up to 40%. “You can’t pull an all-nighter and still learn effectively,” Walker says. Lack of sleep affects a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is key for making new memories.

You accumulate many memories, moment by moment, while you’re awake. Most will be forgotten during the day. “When we first form memories, they’re in a very raw and fragile form,” says sleep expert Dr. Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School.

But when you doze off, “sleep seems to be a privileged time when the brain goes back through recent memories and decides both what to keep and what not to keep,” Stickgold explains. “During a night of sleep, some memories are strengthened.” Research has shown that memories of certain procedures, like playing a melody on a piano, can actually improve while you sleep.

Memories seem to become more stable in the brain during the deep stages of sleep. After that, REM—the most active stage of sleep—seems to play a role in linking together related memories, sometimes in unexpected ways. That’s why a full night of sleep may help with problem-solving. REM sleep also helps you process emotional memories, which can reduce the intensity of emotions.

It’s well known that sleep patterns tend to change as we age. Unfortunately, the deep memory-strengthening stages of sleep start to decline in our late 30s. A study by Walker and colleagues found that adults older than 60 had a 70% loss of deep sleep compared to young adults ages 18 to 25. Older adults had a harder time remembering things the next day, and memory impairment was linked to reductions in deep sleep. The researchers are now exploring options for enhancing deep stages of sleep in this older age group.

“While we have limited medical treatments for memory impairment in aging, sleep actually is a potentially treatable target,” Walker says. “By restoring sleep, it might be possible to improve memory in older people.”

Source: National Institutes of Health

Caring for the elderly: Dealing with resistance

By Mayo Clinic staff

One of the toughest challenges you can face when caring for the elderly is resistance to care. How do you help a loved one who doesn’t want help? Understand how resistance to care can develop and strategies for fostering cooperation when caring for the elderly.

What causes resistance to care?

If your loved one is in need of care, he or she is likely dealing with loss — physical loss, mental loss, the loss of independence. Accepting care may mean relinquishing privacy and adjusting to new routines. As a result, your loved one may feel frightened and vulnerable, angry that he or she needs help or guilty about the idea of becoming a burden to family and friends. In addition, your loved one may be stubborn, have mental health concerns or simply think it’s a sign of weakness to accept help. He or she might also be worried about any associated costs.

What’s the best way to approach a loved one about the need for care?

If you suspect that your loved one will be resistant to care — whether from family, other close contacts or a service — you may be hesitant to bring up the topic. To start communicating with your loved one about his or her need for care:

  • Choose a time when you and your loved one are relaxed. This will make it easier for you and your loved one to listen to each other and speak your minds.
  • Ask questions about your loved one’s preferences. This will help you provide the type of assistance your loved one wants. What type of care does your loved one want or need? Does your loved one have a preference about which family member or what type of service provides care? While you may not be able to meet all of your loved one’s wishes, it’s important to take them into consideration.
  • Enlist the help of family members. Family and friends may be able to help you persuade your loved one to accept help.
  • Don’t assume that your loved one is unable to discuss care preferences. While your loved one may be ill, he or she may still have care preferences and be able to make some decisions regarding care. If your loved one has trouble understanding you, be sure to simplify your explanations and the decisions you expect him or her to make.

Don’t give up. If your loved one doesn’t want to discuss the topic the first time you bring it up, try again later. Caring for the elderly: Dealing with resistance

What are the most effective strategies for managing resistance to care?

Getting an aging loved one to accept help can be difficult. To encourage cooperation, you might:

  • Suggest a trial run. Don’t ask your loved one to make a final decision about the kind of care he or she receives right away. A trial run will give a hesitant loved one a chance to test the waters and experience the benefits of assistance.
  • Enlist the help of a professional. Your loved one may be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor, lawyer or care manager about the importance of receiving care.
  • Explain your needs. Consider asking your loved one to accept care to make your life a little easier. Remind your loved one that sometimes you’ll both need to compromise on certain issues.
  • Pick your battles. Focus on the big picture. Avoid fighting with your loved one about minor issues related to his or her care.
  • Explain how care may prolong independence. Accepting some assistance may help your loved one remain in his or her home for as long as possible.
  • Help your loved one cope with the loss of independence. Explain to your loved one that loss of independence isn’t a personal failing. Help your loved one to stay active, maintain relationships with caring friends and family and develop new physically appropriate interests.

Keep in mind that these strategies may not be appropriate when dealing with a loved one who has dementia.

What else can be done?

If your loved one continues to resist care and is endangering himself or herself, you may need to take steps to protect his or her health and safety. Consider consulting a lawyer about elder care issues.

Resistance to care is a challenge that many caregivers face. By keeping your loved one involved in decisions about his or her care and explaining the benefits of assistance, you may be able to help your loved one feel more comfortable about accepting help.

Many People Would Like to Know Their Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Many People Would Like to Know Their Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Note to users: this article must be used in its entirety, with the attribution language at the end.

Alzheimer’s disease can’t be prevented or cured, and it ranks second only to cancer among diseases that people fear. Still, a study last year found that about two-thirds of respondents would want to know if they were destined to get the disease.

Although there are no definitive tests that predict whether most people will get the disease, people sometimes want such information for legal and financial planning purposes or to help weigh the need for long-term-care insurance.

Current tests to identify the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when no symptoms are present provide only limited information, and health insurance generally doesn’t cover them. But that’s not stopping some people from trying to learn more.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, gradually robs people of their memory and other intellectual capabilities. Most of the 5 million people who have Alzheimer’s developed it after age 60. In these cases, the disease is likely caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. About 5 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have inherited an early-onset form that is generally linked to a mutation on one of three chromosomes.

Research suggests that the brain may show signs of Alzheimer’s decades before obvious symptoms appear. Scans can identify the presence of beta-amyloid, a protein that is often deposited in the brains of people with the disease, for example. Changes in proteins in the blood or cerebrospinal fluid may also be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

But tests to measure these changes are available only in a research setting, and insurance typically doesn’t cover them. James Cross, head of national medical policy and operations for Aetna, says his company “does not consider blood tests or brain scans medically necessary for diagnosing or assessing Alzheimer’s disease in symptomatic or asymptomatic people because the clinical value of these remains unproven.”

Genetic testing is somewhat easier to arrange, but insurers generally won’t pay for it, either.
In addition, genetic counselors caution that long-term-care insurers may use genetic testing results when evaluating whether to issue a policy. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on their genetic information. However, life and long-term-care insurers are not covered by the law.

“Before anyone has genetic testing, they should get life insurance and long-term-care insurance,” says Jill Goldman, a certified genetic counselor at the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center.
Genetic testing for late-onset Alzheimer’s involves one gene, the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene on the 19th chromosome. The gene comes in three different forms – E2, E3 and E4. Everyone inherits one form, or allele, from each parent. Having one or two of the E4 variants can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease three to 15 times.

About half of those who develop late-onset Alzheimer’s, however, don’t have any E4 alleles at all. Genetic testing in asymptomatic people therefore isn’t definitive or even all that informative, say experts. For late-onset Alzheimer’s, “the predictive value of genetic testing is low,” says Mary Sano, director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

But sometimes people want information, even if it’s inconclusive. Brian Moore, whose father died of Alzheimer’s at age 89, wanted to know more about his genetic risk for the disease. Moore, 48, was better equipped than most to understand the testing: A neuropathologist who co-chairs the department of pathology at Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine, he has performed hundreds of autopsies on the brains of people who died of Alzheimer’s disease.

Moore contacted 23andMe, a company that for $299 offers a genetic analysis of a person’s risk for more than 100 diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s, based on the APOE gene. The company sent him a specimen kit with a container for saliva collection that he then sent to a lab for analysis. About six weeks later, he logged on to the company’s Web site and learned that he has two E3 alleles, the most common variants, which means that his Alzheimer’s risk is average, at least as it relates to the APOE gene.

“It was reassuring,” he says. “I know it’s not determinant, and environment and lifestyle also play a role. But at least I have that base covered.”

The National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American College of Medical Genetics practice guidelines recommend against direct-to-consumer APOE testing for late-onset Alzheimer’s, in part because of difficulty interpreting the results.

Ashley Gould, 23andMe’s vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, says that if people want help understanding their results, genetic counselors are available. The service is available by phone for a fee based on the level of service.

But in the case of the APOE gene, some experts say, the information isn’t all that helpful.
“The things we know that really impact the disease are related to lifestyle,” says George Perry, dean and professor of biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “Be mentally and physically active, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These reduce the risk of developing the disease by at least half.”


Reproduced by permission of Kaiser Health News (www.kaiserhealthnews.org), an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

If you think Facebook, chat rooms, Skype and blogging are only for young people, think again! Today, seniors are the fastest growing group to use social networking and other internet tools for expanding social connections and keeping up with family and friends.

Experts on aging have long known that isolation and loneliness are dangerous for older adults. Staying socially connected improves physical and emotional well-being, increases mental alertness, and encourages a more active lifestyle. New research studies confirm these benefits and more, pinpointing the mechanisms behind the protective properties of human interaction that promote heart health, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improve symptoms of depression and minimize the effects of stress.

Yet as we grow older, many of us tend to withdraw from the social events and activities we once enjoyed. Failing health and decreased energy make it harder to get out of the house. Hearing impairment can cause communication frustration and a sense of isolation. The loss of a spouse, children moving away, and retirement from work can all lead to the breakdown of long-time social connections. Can online connections help fill the gap?

Research is underway to find out how effectively online connections meet the social needs of our later years. The study results are largely positive. And one thing is already known: more and more seniors themselves value these new technologies, as evidenced by the numbers using them. An AARP study found that seniors and baby boomers are increasingly social on the Web, joining online communities in increasing numbers, the majority logging on every day. The majority of seniors say that the internet is important in maintaining social relationships.

Are Online Connections the Same?

Online connections can’t take the place of in-person visits, or a hug, or meaningful time spent in the presence of others. Yet more and more studies suggest it can be a beneficial supplement to more traditional human interaction. Online social contact can build continuity in relationships, allowing for daily interaction that was not available to seniors in previous times, when letters or long distance phone calls provided the only connection with far away loved ones. The convenience of email, social networking sites and webcam connections can help take the edge off loneliness. Online communications also have been shown to provide cognitive benefits of intellectual stimulation. These technologies can be a lifeline for those with health problems that keep them confined to home.

Here are some of the ways seniors are staying connected online:

Email

Email remains the most popular online activity for all seniors; according to the Pew report, 86 percent of older internet users communicate in that way. A survey by Evercare showed that even centenarians are using email to exchange messages and photos. There may be a steep learning curve for older adults who aren’t computer-savvy, but “senior-friendly” software and classes are available to help. In many families, members of the younger generation enjoy displaying their skills by providing tech support for grandparents.

Blogging

More and more seniors are reading the blogs of companies, pundits, healthcare organizations and ordinary people who report on their own lives or a particular topic. Some blogs are like diaries; some are professional; some are more like support groups. Many seniors are creating their own blogs, and older adults are becoming ever more active in the “blogosphere,” posting comments on the blogs of companies, individuals, news media sites and political groups.

Social networking websites

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 34% of people over 65 now use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many seniors keep in touch with family, neighborhood and interest groups using these free services, and make new online friends as well. They connect with the millions of businesses, government and senior service agencies and senior living communities that now use social networking sites as an important part of their communications strategy. With hundreds of millions of users worldwide, social networking sites offer a window on the world combined with opportunities for interaction.

Online communities and chat rooms

Online communities are groups of people who exchange messages on websites that offer “forums” or “bulletin boards.” Online communities (also known as “virtual communities”) allow seniors to connect with others who have a shared membership or interest, such as a hobby, favorite TV program, health condition or class reunion group. Longtime friendships have developed over the decades that these communities have existed. Some online communities also offer chat rooms, where participants can have online conversations in real time. AARP and other senior organizations sponsor online communities especially for older adults.
Internet voice and video communication

Seniors are using Skype and other such online services to read a bedtime story to grandchildren, attend a virtual senior center event, and even talk to their healthcare provider. Now that this technology has been with us for a while, studies are confirming that long-distance family connections are enhanced and sustained by frequent virtual contact. Families also report that the connection helps nurture relationships between the generations.

Foot Care; Diabetes Care – Take Good Care of Your Feet

What Makes Feet Hurt?

Most of us start life with trouble-free feet. What goes wrong? Of hundreds of known foot ailments, most can be traced to:

  • heredity
  • improper foot care
  • injury (often caused by shoes and socks or stockings that don’t fit well)
  • the effects of aging.

Women have about four times as many foot problems as men. As you might guess, high-heeled, narrow shoes are often the culprit.

Even a small problem with the feet can make walking difficult and painful. So taking care of your feet pays off in a big way.

Constant weight-bearing over the years may cause feet to spread and flatten, especially across the front part of the foot. You may find that you need a wider and longer shoe as you age. Be sure the shoe fits before you wear it!

Common Foot Problems

Corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are caused by repeated friction and pressure from shoes. If the first signs of soreness are ignored, corns and calluses rise up as nature’s way of protecting sensitive areas.

Neither calluses nor corns have roots under the skin; they are simply thick layers of dead skin cells. However, the pressure of this hard mass on sensitive nerves in the skin can be painful.

Many people develop calluses under the ball (the front part) of the foot. Your doctor can arrange padding to prevent worsening of this problem.

At the first sign of tenderness, pads placed on the skin around the calluses will help protect the area. (Pads over the callus will increase the pressure.)

Bunions

A bunion is a deformity at the big toe joint. It occurs when the big toe slants outward at an angle and becomes swollen or tender. Bunions can be inherited, or caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot. Sometimes bunions are a sign of developing arthritis in older people.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus. Painful itching between toes, cracked or scaly skin, small blisters and red, irritated skin patches are usually signs of athlete’s foot or other fungal or bacterial conditions.

The best way to help prevent athlete’s foot infection is to keep feet clean and dry with a daily washing. Be especially careful to dry between toes. Use a foot powder to help feet stay drier through the day.

Ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails have corners which have been crowded by the skin. To prevent ingrown toenails, trim nails straight across with toenail clippers. Do not round off corners. The nail should be kept trimmed to protect it from pressure and irritation. After clipping, smooth nails with a file.

To ease the pain of an ingrown toenail, wear open-toed sandals and soak feet in warm water once or twice a day.

Hammertoe

Hammertoe is a hooked or claw-like deformity that affects millions. The most common forms are acquired, and shoes or stockings that cramp the toes may be a factor. Toe joints contract, and over a period of time, a bulge forms at the top of the joint. Hammertoes can affect overall balance and comfort.

Blisters

Blisters are caused by poor-fitting shoes and socks. If blisters occur, don’t pop them—you may cause infection. If a blister breaks on its own, carefully wash the area, apply antiseptic, cover with a sterile bandage during the day, and uncover at night to let the skin breathe.

Poor blood circulation

Your feet are the “outer reaches” of your circulatory system. So cold temperatures, pressure, inactivity or smoking can restrict the circulation of blood to them. The signs are persistent, unusual feelings of cold, numbness, tingling, burning or fatigue in feet and legs. Other symptoms may include discoloration, dry skin, absence of hair on feet or legs, or cramping or tightness in leg muscles when walking. Keep warm, exercise moderately, and have periodic medical exams.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, which is usually caused by the wear and tear of the joints that comes with age, often affects the feet and inhibits movement. Proper foot care and proper padding to cushion feet are especially important for people with this condition.

Special Care for Diabetics

Diabetes can affect blood circulation. It can also lessen feeling in the feet. So diabetics are especially vulnerable to foot problems. People with diabetes should be sure to keep the feet warm, to wear non-restrictive shoes, and to always wear shoes in order to protect the feet. Checking daily for redness, cuts and cracks can prevent them from developing into more a more serious problem. If you have diabetes, see your physician about even the most simple foot problems. Avoid cutting corns or calluses and using any remedy containing salicylic acid (an ingredient listed on labels of certain corn remedies). Trim toenails carefully to avoid breaking the skin or producing an ingrown toenail.

Learn More

April is Foot Health Awareness Month. The American Podiatric Medical Association website offers consumer information on foot care (www.apma.org/learn/index.cfm).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their recommendations for diabetic foot care (www.cdc.gov/Features/DiabetesFootHealth)

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

2013 is Named the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

2013 is Named the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

It is not something most of us want to think about. But according to the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA), each year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as five cases go unreported.

Elder abuse takes many forms, including financial exploitation, physical abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse. The Year of Elder Abuse Prevention is an opportunity for Americans to take action to protect seniors by raising awareness about this serious issue.

The AoA suggests ten things anyone can do to help prevent elder abuse:

  1. Learn the signs of elder abuse and neglect.
  2. Call or visit elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors and ask how they are doing.
  3. Provide a respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more.
  4. Ask an older acquaintance to share his or her talents by teaching you or your children a new skill.
  5. Ask your faith leaders to discuss with their congregations elder abuse prevention and the importance of respecting older adults.
  6. Ask your bank manager to train tellers on how to detect financial exploitation of elders.
  7. Suggest that your doctor talk to his or her older patients individually about possible abuse.
  8. Contact your local adult protective services or long-term care ombudsman to learn how to support their work helping at-risk elders.
  9. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community.
  10. Send a letter to your local paper, radio, or TV station suggesting it cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15, 2013).

For More Information

Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website (National Council for Aging Care) for more resources and information about preventing and raising the awareness of elder abuse. Or call 1-855-500-3537.

Five Myths About Aging

Five Myths About Aging

Common misperceptions can stand in the way of making the best choices as we grow older.

Myth #1: Seniors are grouchy. Cartoon strips starring curmudgeonly old men, elderly women whacking miscreant teenagers with their canes…the crabby senior is an archetype with which we are all familiar. It is true that physical pain, depression, sensory impairment and mobility loss can take a toll on anyone’s mood and outlook on life. But gerontological psychologists tell us that in general, our personality traits remain the same throughout our lives—and many of us even develop a more positive attitude as we age. Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center for Longevity says, “In general, people get happier as they get older.” Asked about the stereotype of the grumpy old man, Carstensen said, “Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old.” Seniors who are experiencing an uncharacteristic negative mood should be evaluated for underlying causes.

Myth #2: Memory loss is inevitable as we age. The idea of the “senile” senior is a pervasive cliché. Any older adult who has gone shopping with a younger relative, only to be ignored by a salesperson, knows that younger people often assume that seniors are incompetent. It is true that Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions that cause memory loss and cognitive impairment are more common as we grow older, and we do experience certain age-related memory changes. Yet most of us complete our lives fully cognitively intact. Indeed, recent studies suggest that older brains are better at certain tasks that involve discernment and judgment—the qualities more commonly referred to as “wisdom.” It is important to seek medical evaluation for memory problems right away. Many cases of memory loss are treatable—nutritional deficiencies, depression, sleep problems and medication side effects are common culprits. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or a similar condition, early diagnosis allows for the best care and planning.

Myth #3. Most seniors live in nursing homes. This is another cliché of yesteryear: rows of older adults sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of a “rest home.” Today’s long-term care facilities serve a vital function, providing care for people who need skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Other older adults opt to move to a retirement community or other senior residence—but according to the AARP, 90 percent of the baby boomers wish to “age in place,” remaining in their own homes as long as possible. This desire should guide our housing decisions sooner rather than later: will our homes be able to adapt to our changing needs? What in-home and community services are available to support older adults where we live? Could home modifications make the home a better fit if we later experience mobility and sensory challenges? We have a better chance of aging in place if we anticipate our future needs.

Myth #4: Longevity will continue to increase. During the 20th century, the average lifespan in the U.S. lengthened by thirty years! Many people assume that this trend will continue. But studies suggest that the baby boomers will not experience an average increased longevity—and they may even take a step backwards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the 45- to 64-year-olds of today are more likely to have two or more chronic conditions than their parents. A team led by life expectancy expert S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois Chicago predicts a decline in life expectancy within this century, as increased obesity rates lead to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. A recent survey conducted by the National Council on Aging found that although most seniors and baby boomers expect their lives to improve as they grow older, many are failing to take important steps to preserve their health. This is a reminder for people of every age that wellness doesn’t just happen. We can make lifestyle choices that increase the likelihood that we will enjoy a healthy old age.

Myth #5: Everyone ages in the same way. Today’s emphasis on healthy aging might seem to convey the message that we are in total control of our aging. But no matter how diligent we are about our health, unexpected illnesses, accidents and even our genes can send us on an unexpected path. There is no cookie-cutter model for how we will age and what our needs will be. On the individual level, this means that we should anticipate that arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease may strike even the most health-conscious among us. Learning all we can about the issues of later life allows us to create a flexible plan. National and community senior support organizations confirm that in these times, when we are trying to stretch our senior-support dollars, pinpointing the specific needs of individual seniors will bring increased efficiency and promote buy-in for taking charge of our own health.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013