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Health and Wellness

Lifelong Learning: Good for Seniors’ Minds & Bodies

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Summertime means graduation season and there is a recent and growing trend among college graduates that is garnering a lot of attention. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, by 2020, 43 percent of college students are expected to be age 25 and older. And among these older grads are more and more seniors.

Lifelong learners

You may have seen some news stories about older people who recently got their diplomas. ABC News highlighted Bob Barger, a WWII Navy pilot, who received his associate degree in technical studies from the University of Toledo in Ohio. After returning home from the war, he had dropped out of college to focus on his job and earn a living for his wife and two children.

CBS News shared the moving story of 89-year-old Ella Washington, who, after raising 12 children and putting in a lifetime of hard work, completed her associate degree in interdisciplinary studies from Liberty University in Virginia. She’s already begun work on her bachelor’s degree, majoring in history.

Bob and Ella are just two of the many older people who are taking advantage of the free time that retirement offers to pursue their education and learn more about subjects they are passionate about. And studies show that the benefits of seniors’ pursuit of lifelong learning are abundant.

Healthier brains

Learning something new, such as a new skill or hobby, can help boost your memory. Neuroscientists at the University of Texas at Dallas conducted a study that found that seniors who took on a new, mentally challenging hobby saw a lasting increase in their memory skills. These researchers believe that taking on a new, challenging activity—like learning to quilt, playing an instrument, or operating a computer, for example—strengthens numerous networks within the brain.

A research study conducted by neurologists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that engaging in a lifelong pursuit of mentally challenging activities may actually help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that seniors who frequently read, played mentally challenging games like chess, or engaged in other intellectually stimulating activities are 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s, which impacts approximately 4 million Americans.

And another study out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School had similar findings. Using participant interviews and brain scans, those researchers found that seniors who reported higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes had a marked delay in the onset of memory problems or other Alzheimer’s-type symptoms, even though these study participants didn’t actually have any lower incidence of protein plaques on their brains. The ability to delay or even prevent the potentially debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s offers substantial advantages when it comes to seniors’ quality of life.

Healthier bodies

Pursuing lifelong learning activities has benefits that go beyond boosting your brain power. Cognitive neuropsychologists at the University of Sussex in England did a study that found that reading for even just six minutes lowered study participants’ stress levels, slowed their heart rates and eased tension in their muscles. And lower stress has wide ranging benefits for seniors’ cardiovascular health, decreasing blood pressure and reducing the risk of a stroke or heart attack, boosting immunity, and lowering levels of depression.

But researchers at Harvard and Princeton had even more impressive findings in their research on the connection between lifelong learning and health. The study authors found that one more year of education increased life expectancy by 0.18 years. They discovered that the more educated a person, the lower their rates of anxiety and depression as well as the most common acute and chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, high cholesterol, emphysema, diabetes, asthma, ulcer), and they were far less likely to report that they were in overall poor health.

Now, there is a “chicken or egg” debate on whether the increased level of education caused these positive health results, or if the people who were healthier (perhaps based on lifestyle factors like drinking, smoking, eating habits, etc., or the impact of their economic standing) were simply more likely to pursue educational opportunities, but the findings are still significant.

Put on your thinking cap

There are numerous lifelong learning opportunities available to seniors. If you live in a town with a university or community college, call them or visit their website to find out what types of continuing education classes are offered; some colleges will even allow older adults to “audit” a college class—sit-in on classes for no credit, but also for little to no cost. If you don’t live near a school, there are also numerous online learning programs offered by colleges across the country.

AARP compiled a helpful list of the best colleges for older or returning students, which includes online learning opportunities.

If you’re looking to take up a new intellectually stimulating hobby like quilting or painting, contact your local arts and crafts store to see if they offer classes. To learn how to play an instrument, contact a nearby high school to see if the band director can offer recommendations on teachers, or you can even do an internet search to find teachers in your area. Your local library is another great resource, providing not only a treasure trove of mentally stimulating books, but also offering programs and presentations for eager learners.

Lifelong learning at CCRCs

One of the many advantages of living in a senior living community, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community), is the array of activities and events offered to residents. Knowing the many benefits to their residents’ mental and physical health, CCRCs in particular put an emphasis on lifelong learning opportunities. From guest speakers to art classes to affinity groups like chess, bridge, and book clubs, CCRCs provide their residents with numerous ways to keep their minds active, all in a close-to-home location.

Some CCRCs have even made lifelong learning a major component of their resident programming, forming cooperative ventures with local universities and professors. Courses include everything from literature, history, and creative writing, to art and music appreciation, philosophy, and current events. Classes may take place at the retirement community or at the university, or both.

Food for thought

Whether you are interested in getting educated on a new subject or acquiring a new skill, there are near-countless ways that lifelong learning benefits seniors. So why not challenge yourself and try something new? It’s a lifestyle choice that’s good for your mind, which in turn is good for your health!

 

The above article was written by Brad Breeding of myLifeSite and is legally licensed for use.

Active Aging Redefines Health and Wellness

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What does it mean to be healthy as we get older? For most of us, it’s simply the opposite of illness. And staying healthy equates to managing diseases and chronic conditions.

But there is a movement to expand the definition of health and wellness in order to accommodate the idea that being healthy is the process of getting the most out of what life has to offer — regardless of physical age.

Click above to learn more about active aging.

Parkinson’s Disease and Nutrition

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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic movement disorder. PD involves the failure and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Some of these neurons produce dopamine, a chemical involved in bodily movements and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following:

  • Tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face
  • Bradykinesia or slowness of movement
  • Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Postural instability or impaired balance and coordination

Common nutritional concerns for people with Parkinson’s disease are:

  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Difficulty eating due to uncontrollable movements
  • Swallowing dysfunction
  • Constipation
  • Medication side effects (e.g., dry mouth)

Nutritional concerns vary by individual based on signs and symptoms and stages of disease. It is important to work closely with a doctor or dietitian to determine specific recommendations.

When it comes to nutrition, what matters most?

  • Increase calories. If a tremor is present, calorie needs are much higher. Adding sources of fat to foods (e.g., oil and cheese) is one way to do this.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Eating properly involves eating regularly. If uncontrollable movements or swallowing difficulties are making it hard to eat, seek the advice of an occupational or speech therapist.
  • Maintain bowel regularity. Do so with foods high in fiber (whole grain bread, bran cereals or muffins, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes) and drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Balance medications and food. Individuals taking carvidopa-levadopa may need to adjust the amount of protein eaten and the time of day it is eaten, or take their medication with orange juice. If side effects such as dry mouth are making it difficult to eat, work with a health care professional to help manage these.
  • Adjust nutritional priorities for your situation and stage of disease.

Check with a dietitian or doctor for your specific dietary needs.

Foods to Avoid To Keep Inflammation in Check

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Inflammation works behind the scenes as the underlying cause of many health issues, including brain health. But eating the right foods — and avoiding the wrong ones — can help you fight inflammation and its many negative side effects.

Inflammation: an overreaction in the body’s immune system.

The link between inflammation and chronic illness is well-established. In addition to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, inflammation has also been associated with cognitive brain issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ironically, inflammation is a self-defense mechanism within the body that attempts to protect you from harm and promote healing. But some environmental stimuli that the body receives can be interpreted as hostile, causing an immune response overreaction that does more harm than good. The food you eat is such a stimulus and it can sometimes act as a tripwire for an inflammatory response that can start in the gut…and perhaps end up in the brain.

Some foods are more inflammation-prone than others.

A properly managed healthy diet (such as the menu items found in the MemoryMeals® brain health program offered at leading senior living communities) uses ingredients less prone to promote inflammation. When you “cheat” on healthy eating — whether by snacking, indulging in fast food, relying on easy-to-prepare processed meals or just splurging a little too often — you open yourself up to the dangers of the wrong foods causing inflammatory problems.

Some foods are more inflammation-prone than others. Here’s a handy list of some of the foods it’s wise to avoid or use in moderation to help keep inflammation under control.

Sugar

Sugar is hard to avoid because it is in so many different foods in the form of either table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup (fructose). Obviously limiting consumption of sugary treats like candy and pastries is good not only for inflammation, but for your waistline. But don’t forget the hidden “sugar bombs” in things like soft drinks, juice and sweet tea. Switch to diet soda, or better still unsweetened tea, coffee or water. Also check food labels for sugar content and choose foods with less added sugar. Consider using a table sugar substitute or try to use your usual amount of the real thing. After a while, you’ll find you don’t even miss it.

Vegetable oils and dressings

Vegetable and seed oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils, are in many foods and store-bought salad dressings. They’re also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which some researchers believe contribute to inflammation. You don’t have to avoid these oils completely, but it’s helpful to balance their consumption with anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, such as those found in olive oil and foods like fatty fish and walnuts. Making your own salad dressings using olive oil or canola oil can also help.

Processed meats

Sausage, bacon and ham are truly delicious. Unfortunately they are also prime suspects in causing inflammatory changes that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stomach cancer and colon cancer. Cells in the colon seem especially susceptible to the compounds formed when processed meats are cooked at high temperatures. Also, processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats are loaded with sodium and chemical preservatives. So next time you’re hungry, add vegetables to that omelet instead of bacon or ham. Try a chicken or turkey sandwich instead of deli meat. And skip those cold cuts completely.

Excessive alcohol

More than one standard drink a day for women, and two for men, can lead to severe problems with inflammation…not to mention the other issues excessive alcohol can lead to. For reference, a standard drink is considered a single serving of beer or wine or a shot of distilled spirits. The good news: cocktail hour can be a good thing. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to have health benefits, and red wine in particular, due to the antioxidant resveratrol found in red grape skins, has promising anti-inflammatory potential.

So raise a glass to the benefits of alcohol. But always drink responsibly — and enjoy the other benefits of a diet designed to reduce your risk of inflammation.

References:

https://senior.com/foods-can-cause-inflammation/

https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/healthy-tips/2016/02/6-foods-that-can-cause-inflammation

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-cause-inflammation#section1

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201712/cooling-brain-inflammation-naturally-food

Giving Thanks!

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Happy Thanksgiving! What a wonderful thing!  A whole day dedicated to giving thanks for what we have individually, and as a family or group!

If you are looking for a reason to be thankful, research has shown that being thankful is actually good for your health. Can an “Attitude of Gratitude” really change your health?

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Peg’s Perspective: Human Connection and Mirror Neurons

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Do you ever wake up and feel like you can conquer the world?   Yes—me too! And, if you carry that mood with you all day, chances are many people will pick up on it. They may say things like “You’re in a good mood today,” or “You look good today!” or many other phrases that we love to hear.  But have you ever stopped and asked yourself how these people know that you’re in a good mood? Or how your positive mood is impacting those around you?

Click above to learn more!