Here’s a Study Just in Time for Healthy Aging Month

September is Healthy Aging Month—a great time to make lifestyle changes that raise our chances of remaining independent and well for as long as possible.

By now, you probably know that certain lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, can lengthen our lives. But gerontologists remind us that the quality of those extra years is equally, if not more, important. It benefits seniors, their families, and our society as a whole to reduce the average period of disability at the end of life.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines disability as “an individual’s physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of that individual.” A recent report from the Bureau found that nearly 40 percent of all people age 65 and older have at least one disability, and this percentage rises with age. Difficulty walking and climbing is by far the most common disability, followed by hearing loss, vision loss and cognitive impairment.

A recent study from the American Geriatrics Society looked at 25 years’ worth of data on 5,248 older adults, and discovered that men experience, on average, close to three years of disability at the end of life, while women live 4.5 years with limited abilities. The study also found that certain factors reduced the number of years that a participant lived with disability near the end of life.

Four lifestyle choices in particular were associated with fewer years of disability:

– Greater distance walked—Participants who walked more had both longer and healthier years—with a 0.5 percent improvement per every 25 blocks walked per week.
– Healthier diet—Those participants who ate healthful food remained independent longer.
– A healthy body weight—Participants who were obese spent more of their later years living with disability.
– Avoiding smoking—Participants who smoked lived shorter lives, with substantially greater disability at the end.

Concluded the study author, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health professor Dr. Anne Newman, “We discovered that by improving lifestyle, we can postpone death, but even more so, we can postpone disability—in fact, it turns out that we’re compressing that disabled end-of-life period to a shorter timeframe. This clearly demonstrates the value of investing in a healthy lifestyle.”

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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How Long Could Humans Live?

Scientists do not agree about whether the human lifespan could be substantially extended. It’s finite, say some. Don’t bet your life on that, say others. TIME recently took a look at the debate.

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Falls Raise a Senior’s Risk of a Car Accident

Falls and car accidents are two common causes of serious injuries in older adults, and can lead to disability, loss of independence and even death.

Experts note that certain common health conditions and normal changes of aging raise the risk of both falls and car crashes. It makes sense that reduced body strength and flexibility, balance problems, slower reaction time, vision and hearing loss, dizziness, and the side effects of certain medications could cause us to fall or to be less safe behind the wheel.

But on their own, falls also raise the risk of a car crash, say experts from the AAA Foundation, who recently announced that seniors who have suffered a fall are 40 percent more likely to be involved in an auto accident.

In the report, Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults, the researchers explained that broken bones and other injuries resulting from senior falls can make it harder for an older driver to be in good control of a vehicle.

Compounding the problem, seniors who have fallen often develop a fear of falling again, which tempts them to adopt a less active lifestyle. “When it comes to physical health, you either use it or lose it. Falls often scare people into being less active, but decreasing physical activity can weaken muscles and coordination and make someone more likely to be in a crash,” explained Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety and Advocacy. “Older drivers should find activities that enhance balance, strengthen muscles and promote flexibility. Even a low-impact fitness training program or driver improvement course can help safely extend an older driver’s years on the road.”

Seniors can also lower the risk of both falls and automobile accidents bv following their healthcare provider’s advice about controlling their health conditions, having their medications reviewed, and getting regular eye exams. They can enroll in a fall prevention class, as well as taking senior driver’s education lessons—isn’t it nice to know that each helps protect against the other!

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, reporting on a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA offers resources, driving courses and evaluation for older drivers. To learn more, visit

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Parkinson’s Disease and Singing

An Iowa State University kinesiologist demonstrates that singing helps people with Parkinson’s disease to improve swallowing and respiratory control—plus, it’s fun!

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Fire Safety for the Whole Family

September 10 is Grandparents Day, a great time to think about keeping grandparents—and their grandchildren—safe at home.

In the U.S. today, multigenerational living is on the rise, due to the higher cost of housing, student loans, and the more challenging career path faced by younger adults today. Money isn’t the only driver; many families enjoy having several generations under the same roof. Our longer lifespan means more families are providing care for elderly family members. And these grandparents and great-grandparents might babysit even while receiving help with their own care needs—a win-win for many families.

If yours is one of the over 4 million intergenerational households, it’s important to consider the safety needs of both children and the elderly. This includes fire safety, say experts from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “Home is a sanctuary for these families. But let’s not forget that home is the place where people are at greatest risk of fire.”

The CPSC urged members of multigenerational families to learn what to do in case of fire, and to take the following precautions:

Make sure your home has smoke alarms. You need a smoke alarm on every level, inside each sleeping room, and outside each separate sleeping area. Interconnect the alarms so when one sounds, they all sound.
Test your alarms at least once a month. Press each test button to make sure it is working.
Practice your fire drill. Plan your home escape. Share the plan with everyone in the family and guests.
The plan should include two ways out of every room and an outside family meeting place.
Smoke alarms may not wake up children. Older adults may not hear the smoke alarm. Assign someone to help children, older adults and people with disabilities escape.
Make sure your home has bright lighting in stairways to prevent falls during a fire drill.
Remove clutter to prevent trips and falls and allow for a quick escape.
Install handrails along the full length of both sides of the stairs.
If there is a fire, get outside quickly and stay outside. Then call 9-1-1.
If you can’t get outside, call 9-1-1. Let the fire department know you can’t get outside. Wave a light-colored cloth or a flashlight from the window.
If there is smoke, use your second way out. If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a campaign from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Visit their website to find more information about safety for every family member.

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Many Suffer From Constipation, but Don’t Tell Their Doctor

“What’s blocking the American colon?” Constipation is a problem that afflicts one-third of all people older than 60, but few talk about it—or even mention it to their doctors.

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Lonely Caregivers

New York Times columnist Paula Span reports on a paradox: even though family caregivers might spend hours with their loved one, they often experience intense loneliness.

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Alzheimer’s Experts Confirm the Role of Diet

For years, nutritionists and neurologists have been examining the link between the foods people eat and the risk of developing dementia. At the recent 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, experts presented evidence from four major studies that help firm our understanding of dietary choices that protect the brain.

In a resolution statement at the conference, which was held in London this year, the Association’s chief science officer, Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., stated “We are determined to develop and deliver a more specific recipe for Alzheimer’s risk reduction. We now can effectively prevent or treat heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS with combinations of drugs and lifestyle. The same may also be true for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the not too distant future.”

The experts said that one-third of all cases of dementia could be prevented through lifestyle changes — and the role of diet received much attention in four studies:

U.S. scientists looked at the data from the large Health and Retirement Study, and found that among 6,000 senior participants, those who followed the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet had a 30 to 35 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment. People who follow these diets, which were originally developed to promote heart health, eat lots of veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil, fish and poultry. They avoid eating too much red meat, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats.
Researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute reported that among 2,200 older adults, those who stuck to the Healthy Nordic Diet “enjoyed better cognitive status.” This diet includes veggies, fruits, poultry, vegetable oils, tea and moderate wine intake, and a low amount of animal fat and refined grains.
Among the 7,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, those who followed an eating pattern such as the MIND diet were less likely to develop dementia, said researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This study found that even a modest improvement in diet lowered the risk for participants.
Columbia University researchers reported that poor diet promotes inflammation, which causes premature shrinking of the brain and increased symptoms of dementia. An inflammation-related nutrient pattern included a high amount of cholesterol, and low intake of omega-3 and polyunsaturated fats.
Said Alzheimer’s Association scientist Keith Fargo, Ph.D. “Although the idea that a healthy diet can help protect against cognitive decline as we age is not new, the size and length of these four studies demonstrate how powerful good dietary practices may be in maintaining brain health and function.” However, said Fargo, “We must understand that what we eat is just one part of the puzzle. Adapting our lifestyles as we get older – for example by exercising regularly, watching what we eat and engaging in lifelong learning – is important in order to maximize the potential to reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”

A July 17, 2017 news release from the Alzheimer’s Association explores these studies in more depth. If you have questions about the foods you should be eating, talk to your doctor about a diet that’s right for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on news releases from the Alzheimer’s Association ( and the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (

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How’s Your AARC?

How much time do we spend thinking about our own aging, and how does that affect our attitude about growing older? In 2009, the Journals of Gerontology looked at the concept of “awareness of age-related changes” (AARC), defined as “all those experiences that make a person aware that his or her behavior, level of performance, or ways of experiencing his or her life have changed as a consequence of having grown older”—both positive and negative.

In June 2017, North Carolina State University researchers noted that a person’s AARC can be affected by negative experiences, but also by their attitude about aging in general. Said study author Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology, “People tend to have an overall attitude toward aging, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own aging—or AARC—fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences.”

Neupert and her team instructed a group of seniors to keep a daily report of stressful situations they experienced, and also their attitude about their aging that day—whether they were more likely to report something along the lines of “I am becoming wiser,” rather than “I am more slow in my thinking.” The team found that unpleasant experiences indeed could trigger a more negative AARC. But, said Neupert, “People with positive attitudes toward aging were also less likely to report ‘losses,’ or negative experiences, in their daily aging evaluations.”

In 2016, Neupert and study coauthor Jennifer Bellingtier offered more evidence that having a good attitude about aging can help us weather stressful events. Bellingtier explained, “There has been a lot of research on how older adults respond to stress, but the findings have been mixed: some studies have found that older adults are less resilient than younger adults at responding to stress; some have found that they’re more resilient; and some have found no difference. We wanted to see whether attitudes toward aging could account for this disparity in research findings. In other words, are older adults with positive attitudes about aging more resilient than older adults with negative attitudes?”

In this study, the researchers instructed seniors to keep track of stressful situations they’d encountered during the week, and describe how they coped—did they feel fear, irritability, distress? Said Bellingtier, “We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress—meaning that there wasn’t a significant increase in negative emotions. Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days.”

Said Neupert, “This tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older. That affects our quality of life and may also have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks.”

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on North Carolina State University studies from 2017 and 2016.

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When Forgetting is a Good Thing

Something to consider next time you can’t find the car keys: Researchers remind us that forgetting isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

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