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Could Having a Sense of Purpose Lengthen Our Lives?

Over the last few years, aging experts have been looking at the role played by a sense of purpose—the feeling that our lives have meaning, and that we have a place in the world, that we make a difference. A number of studies have found that having a sense of purpose motivates us to take care of ourselves, reduces stress, and lowers the risk of a host of ailments that become more common as we age.

In November 2014, an article appearing in The Lancet suggested that having a sense of purpose can even add years to our lives. As reported by University College London (UCL), seniors who experienced a certain type of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die over the course of a study that was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. The researchers explained that “eudemonic well-being” is the positive feeling we get when we feel that what we do is worthwhile and that we have a purpose in life.

Explained study leader Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology, “We cannot be sure that higher well-being necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing well-being could help to improve physical health. There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people.”

The study appeared in the Nov. 6, 2014 issue of The Lancet. [optional link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961489-0/fulltext]

Source: AgeWise reporting on news release from University College London.

 

Retirement Communities Encouraged to Promote Muscle-Strengthening Activities

A University of Missouri expert encourages staff and administrators to include a well-rounded fitness program in order to keep residents healthier.

The majority of adults aged 65 and older remain inactive and fail to meet recommended physical activity guidelines, previous research has shown. However, these studies have not represented elders living in retirement communities who may have more access to recreational activities and exercise equipment. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that older adults in retirement communities who reported more exercise experienced less physical decline than their peers who reported less exercise, although many adults—even those who exercised—did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

“Physical decline is natural in this age group, but we found that people who exercised more declined less,” said Lorraine Phillips, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. “The most popular physical activities the residents of the retirement community reported doing were light housework and walking, both of which are easily integrated into individuals’ daily lives, but these exercises are not the best choices for maintaining muscle strength.”

Phillips and her colleagues studied the physical activity of 38 residents at TigerPlace, an independent living community in Columbia, four times in one year. The researchers tested the residents’ walking speed, balance and their ability to stand up after sitting in a chair. Then, researchers compared the results of the tests to the residents’ self-reported participation in exercise. Phillips found that residents who reported doing more exercise had more success maintaining their physical abilities over time.

Phillips says the national recommendations for exercise include muscle strengthening exercises, such as knee extensions and bicep curls. Most of the study participants did not report completing these types of activities despite daily opportunities for recreational activities and access to exercise equipment. Phillips says muscle strength is important to individuals of this age group in order for them to maintain their ability to conduct everyday activities such as opening jars, standing up from chairs and supporting their own body weight.

“For older individuals, walking may represent the most familiar and comfortable type of physical activity,” Phillips said. “Muscle-strengthening exercises should be promoted more aggressively in retirement communities and made more appealing to residents.”

To combat the lack of physical activity among seniors, Phillips says health care providers should discuss exercise programs with their patients and share the possible risks associated with their lack of exercise, such as losing their ability to live independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals 65 years of age and older that have no limiting health conditions should do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Phillips’ research, “Retirement Community Residents’ Physical Activity, Depressive Symptoms, and Functional Limitations,” was published in Clinical Nursing Researchhttp://cnr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/02/10/1054773813508133.abstract

Source: University of Missouri News Bureau.

 

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Most of us know that we can take “heart smart” steps to promote cardiac wellness. But sometimes, even the researchers are amazed at what a difference these lifestyle choices can make.

The American College of Cardiology recently reported on a new study, this one on a group of over 20,000 healthy Swedish men aged 45–79. The researchers from Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden studied the men for 11 years, questioning them regularly about their diet, exercise and other wellness factors.

Said study author Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., “It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks. What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”

The researchers found that each healthy lifestyle factor decreased the risk of coronary heart disease. The healthy choices include:

  • A healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish
  • Not smoking
  • Walking or cycling at least 40 minutes per day
  • Amount of belly fat under 95 centimeters (37.5 inches)
  • Moderating alcohol consumption

According to the study authors, these preventive choices also help patients avoid the potential side effects of heart medications and, as a side benefit, save patients and the healthcare system money.

Akesson and her team report that, at present, less than 2 percent of the American population follow all these recommendations.

February’s American Heart Month is a great time to make some heart-smart resolutions for ourselves, and to promote heart health for everyone. This is not just an issue for seniors. Says Akesson, “It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health. However, the best thing one can do is to adapt healthy lifestyle choices early in life.”

Learn More

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources and information for American Heart Month.  http://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the American College of Cardiology. Read the entire study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology  http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=1909605

 

Can Seniors Fight Depression By Going on the Internet?

According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, more than 6 million Americans older than 65 experience feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness and lack of energy. Two million of these seniors have been diagnosed with a severe depressive illness.

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting from illness, a loss or accumulated losses, chronic pain, the side effects of medication and other causes. You might be surprised to know that retirement can be the trigger event for depression. Even though most of us look forward to having our days to ourselves, with more time to do the things we want to do, retirement may create a “vocation gap” that leaves some retirees without a feeling of purpose and a place in the world. Retirement may also mean the loss of an important social context.

It’s important to seek treatment for depression. Treatment might include medications and therapy. But often, lifestyle changes provide a powerful mood boost. These include everything from exercise to volunteering to watching humorous TV programs. And over the past few years, several studies have shown that internet use can be an effective tool for reducing feelings of boredom and isolation.

This was confirmed recently when a team of researchers headed by Shelia R. Cotton, Ph.D., from Michigan State University examined results from the large Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing survey that provides data on more than 22,000 older Americans. As reported by the Gerontological Society of America, the team asked study subjects: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the internet, for sending and receiving email or for any other purpose?”

The results showed that the internet users had a 33 percent reduction in the probability of depression. Said the study authors, “This provides some evidence that the mechanism linking internet use to depression is the remediation of social isolation and loneliness. Encouraging older adults to use the internet may help decrease isolation, loneliness, and depression.”

Online socialization is a great way to supplement and increase “real life” friendships. Surfing the Web provides mental stimulation and helps seniors feel informed and connected. Something as small as watching a few cat videos—and sharing them on Facebook—can raise the spirits. And today, many young people who were raised with the internet are providing their older relatives with a little intergenerational tech support. If you or an older loved one is experiencing depression and isolation, check out the resources in your community to help seniors learn to use computers and connect with others online.

Read more about the study here.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014; with excerpts from news release from the Gerontological Society of America.

 

Choosing a Quality Hospice

When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious or life-limiting illness, the questions facing an individual or a family can be overwhelming. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) recommends that people learn more about hospice as an important option before they are faced with a medical crisis.
Hospice is not a place but a kind of care for people who have a life-limiting illness and are making the choice to focus on quality and comfort if more conventional treatments have become burdensome.
Hospices provide high-quality care specially tailored to your needs and valuable support to family caregivers.
With multiple hospices serving some communities, it can seem challenging to select one. NHPCO suggests the best way to begin is by reaching out to the hospice providers in your community to find the one best equipped to meet your specific needs.
“Choosing a hospice to care for yourself or a loved one in the final months or even days of life is an important and stressful process,” said J. Donald Schumacher NHPCO president and CEO. “Each hospice offers unique services and partners with specific community providers – so it’s important to contact the hospices in your area and ask them questions to find the one with the services and support that are right for you.”
Your physician, other healthcare providers or family friends that have taken advantage of hospice services in the past are other good ways to get a recommendation for a provider in your area.
Some of the questions important in choosing a quality hospice include:
1. Is the hospice Medicare certified?
2. When was the last state or federal survey of the program?
3. Is the hospice accredited by a national organization?
4. What services should I expect from the hospice?
5. How are services provided after hours?
6. How and where does the hospice provide short-term inpatient care?
7. What services do volunteers offer?
8. How long does it typically take the hospice to enroll someone once the request for services is made?
Another question is when to begin hospice care. Every patient and family must decide that based upon their unique needs. However, professionals encourage people to learn about care options long before they think they may need them.
To help families make a decision at a difficult time, the NHPCO has created a free worksheet to help consider and answer some of the important questions to consider when learning about or choosing a hospice. Down load the worksheet (www.momentsoflife.org/sites/default/files/public/moments/Choosing%20a%20Hospice.pdf) from NHPCO’s Moments of Life website.
Source: The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (www.nhpco.org).

Can Weight Loss Improve Problems with Incontinence?

Can weight loss improve problems with urinary incontinence?  It may, according the American Institute for Cancer Research expert Karen Collins.

Urinary incontinence is an involuntary leakage of urine. It can occur as stress incontinence (which comes at a time of some form of exertion or when sneezing or coughing), urge incontinence (which occurs with or immediately following a sense of urgency), or a mixture of both. Excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area, is strongly linked to greater risk of urinary incontinence. Researchers say this could be a physical effect, due to pressure of excess fat pushing down and stressing the pelvic floor.

However, since studies also show that fat tissue is metabolically active and linked to inflammation and hormonal changes, it’s possible that these conditions are involved in the link between overweight and urinary incontinence. A recent review pulling together the results of six studies on this link concluded that modest weight loss may help reduce urinary incontinence. The good news is that a 5 to 10 percent weight loss seemed to make a difference, which could mean losing less than 10 pounds for some people.

However, excess weight is far from the only reason for urinary incontinence. It can be related to medications, hormone changes, surgery, childbirth and other causes. It’s unfortunate that many people who experience urinary incontinence are embarrassed and don’t discuss it with their healthcare provider. That is a shame, because in addition to weight loss, other remedies can also be considered. If you are overweight, modest weight loss also can make a difference in controlling or reducing risk of so many other health problems, including Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Making a few changes in eating habits and activity to support a modest weight loss is a good idea. But don’t leave your doctor or other healthcare provider in the dark as you face this problem.

Source: Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. Visit the AICR website (www.aicr.org) to find a wide variety of consumer information on healthy diet.

“Is This My Medication?”

Medications help millions of seniors control health conditions that threaten their lives and their quality of life. But managing medications can be a challenge. It’s important to take them as recommended, and to be alert for side effects.  Doctors report that in some cases, seniors stop taking their medications. Sometimes the warnings on prescription drugs can be frightening! Or seniors might wonder if they are experiencing side effects. Money or transportation challenges sometimes keep them from getting recommended refills.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine sheds light on another surprising reason older adults might discontinue a medication: When a refilled prescription looks different than before, patients may be confused and stop taking the drug. Yet it’s not uncommon for a pill to look different, according to the American College of Physicians. Says study author Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The FDA does not require consistent pill appearance among interchangeable generic drugs, and the shape and color of patients’ pills may vary based on the particular supply at the patient’s pharmacy.”

Dr. Kesselheim and his team studied the records of 11,000 heart patients to see if they had taken their medications as directed. They found patients whose medications had changed in color were 34 percent more likely to stop taking the drug—and a change in shape raised the odds by 66 percent!

Dr. Kesselheim concluded, “Medications are essential to the treatment of cardiovascular disease and our study found that pill appearance plays an important role in ensuring patients are taking the generic medications that they need.”

He urges physicians and pharmacists to be aware of changes in a patient’s particular medication, and to reassure patients that the particular generic they receive may look different from a previous refill.

If you or an older loved one are concerned about the change of appearance of a drug you take, check with your doctor or pharmacist right away rather than discontinuing the drug or skipping even a single dose.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from the Annals of Internal Medicine; news releases from the American College of Physicians; Brigham and Women’s Hospital

May Is Arthritis Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 million Americans are living with arthritis. It is the most common disease in people over the age of 65, and approximately half of the population of that age has some form of the disease. It affects all race and ethnic groups, and is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.

Arthritis is not a single disease, but is a group of over 100 different conditions, all of which can cause pain, swelling and an interference with normal movement. Some types of arthritis are thought to be hereditary; some result from overuse or injury of a joint, or from years of “wear and tear”; some types are caused by infection and still others are caused by a malfunction of the immune system. Arthritis may affect only one joint, or many joints at the same time. The joints most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, and also the smaller joints of the hands and neck.

Although there is no cure for most types of arthritis, the pain and inflammation can be reduced by a variety of medical treatments. Appropriate treatment can often result in great improvement to a person’s condition, as well as preventing further damage. Treatment depends on the type and degree of the condition.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation, or both. Aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed. Alternative pain relievers such as corticosteroids, acetaminophen and topical ointments or rubs also may be prescribed, depending on the type and severity of a patient’s arthritis.

Exercise and rest are both important. People with arthritis tire more easily; the physician may also order rest of a painful joint. But it is just as important to remain active. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, protecting them from further damage. It also increases blood flow and lubrication of joints, and helps keep the joint strong and mobile, preventing loss of function. Exercise also helps patients maintain a healthy weight; being overweight puts extra stress on joints. A physician-prescribed exercise program will usually include range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises.

Physical therapy benefits many arthritis patients and can include heat or cold treatments, whirlpool and massage, splinting to immobilize and rest a joint, and training in performing exercises to loosen and build up joints and surrounding muscles.

Occupational therapists help patients achieve the greatest level of independence possible by providing instruction in alternative ways of performing the activities of daily living and self-care. They can also evaluate a patient’s home environment to suggest any necessary adaptations, such as grab bars or a raised toilet seat.

Adaptive devices can make living with arthritis easier. Occupational therapists can instruct arthritis patients in the use of mobility aids that lessen the stress on joints, such as canes and walkers. For arthritis in the shoulder or hand, long-handled spoons, zipper pulls, built-up toothbrush handles and page turners make the activities of daily living easier.

Surgery may be recommended if arthritis is causing severe pain and lost joint function. Some surgical procedures repair or remove damaged tissue. Joint replacement is becoming more and more common, and most patients experience excellent results from an artificial hip or knee.

Good News for Guacamole Fans

Are you planning a Cinco de Mayo party? If you are also trying to eat a healthy diet, this might seem challenging! Nachos, beer and margaritas might fit your Aztec pyramid decorating scheme—but on the food pyramid, not so much.

But what about guacamole? There’s good news there! The American Heart Association recently reported that avocados, the main ingredient of guacamole, can help decrease the levels of bad cholesterol—the kind that raises the risk of heart disease. In a comparison test, a research team from Pennsylvania State University found that test subjects who ate an avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet lowered their level of bad cholesterol (LDL) more effectively than did subjects on the same diet but without the avocado. Their total cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also better.

So the good news is that guacamole—made with avocado, onion, perhaps jalapenos or salsa—is a heart-healthy food. The problem comes when we pair it with cheese-laden nachos, a fatty burrito, or even with plain tortilla chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Choose low-sodium chips and eat them sparingly. Or replace the chips with crispy jicama sticks. Create a delicious lettuce wrap with spicy chicken or fish.

Study author Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., RD, who is a nutrition professor at Penn State, reminds us that guacamole isn’t the only reason to put avocados on your grocery list. She says, “Many people don’t know how to incorporate them in their diet except for making guacamole. Avocados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods like chicken or fish, or even whole.”

Read more about the study here  http://newsroom.heart.org/news/an-avocado-a-day-may-help-keep-bad-cholesterol-at-bay, and find avocado recipes on the website of the Hass Avocado Board  http://www.avocadocentral.com/avocado-recipes.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from the American Heart Association.

 

April Is Stress Awareness Month

April Is Stress Awareness Month

The Federal Occupational Health website offers advice to “take time to unwind.”

Stress happens. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, at times it’s unbearable. That’s why taking time for yourself is a necessity.

Stress does not merely afflict your mind; it can also affect you on a cellular level. In fact, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses—from headaches to stomach disorders to depression—and can even increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease. Understanding the mind/stress/health connection can help you better manage stress and improve your health and well-being.

The Fight or Flight Response

The stress response is a survival mechanism that’s “hard wired” into our nervous systems. This automatic response is necessary for mobilizing quick reflexes when there is imminent danger, such as swerving to avoid a car crash.

When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness.

Danger triggers the stress response. But, unfortunately, so can work conflicts, worry over debt, bad memories, or anxiety. Although one bad day won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.

Combat Your Stress

If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible. Remember, you have the ability to choose your response to stressors, and you may have to try various options.

  • Recognize when you don’t have control, and let it go.
  • Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
  • Take control of your own reactions, and focus on what makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind.
  • Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal/professional growth and set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.

Relax and Recharge

Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation so you’ll be better able to handle life’s stressors. Carve some time out of your day—even if only 10 to 15 minutes—to take care of yourself. Also, remember that exercise is an excellent stress reliever.

Everyone has different ways they like to relax and unwind. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take a walk
  • Read a book
  • Go for a run
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Play a sport
  • Spend time with a friend or loved one
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga

While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward for your efforts is a healthy, balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun.

For more ideas, visit the Manage Stress tutorial http://www.healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/manage-stress on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Federal Occupational Health (www.foh.hhs.gov), adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.