Like love, art, and comfy jeans, life often gets better with age. We're wiser, better at making good decisions. We're also happier and more resilient to everyday challenges.
May is Older Americans Month, first recognized in 1963 as a time to acknowledge the contributions of older Americans. This year's theme is Age Out Loud... let all the world know that getting older CAN be the best time of your life! Think about people who did some of their best work after 60...
Strategies for enhancing YOUR voice...
Researchers at Northwestern and at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard have recently begun focusing on a group of older adults called "superagers." Generally, superagers are defined as adults in their 70s and 80s with brain performance and structure similar to adults in their 50s or 60s.
You may know some superagers. If you're old enough, you may even be one. Superagers are engaged in life and highly interested in learning. They're "sharp as a tack," full of energy, and maintain a positive outlook (Associated Press).
What researchers discovered when they studied the brain images of superagers is that the "gray matter" of their brains, the cerebral cortex, is thicker and contains fewer plaques than the brains of the majority of their peers. This additional "gray matter" enhances their ability to perform complex cognitive functions related to memory, abstraction, language, judgment, creativity, judgment, emotion, and attention (Swenson).
How do people become superagers? Dr. Kornel, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, says that genetics makes a difference; some people are born "gifted." He does not downplay, however, the effects of environment. Physical and mental exercise, healthy diets, and social activity are also important.
Another researcher, from the the Massachusetts General/Harvard study, Dr. Barrett, suggests that the secret to being a superager is the willingness to push oneself to perform, mentally and physically. Nancy, a superager recently interviewed for the Today Show, exemplifies this concept. Nancy is a 74-year-old whose brain scan compares to that of a 20-year-old. Nancy credits her brain's youthfulness to daily exercise and constant exposure to new challenges. In the past year, for example, she has learned to play chess, pool, and the piano.
So what's your challenge for the day? Even if you think you're not destined to be a "superager," there's no telling what you can accomplish by pushing yourself to reach its full potential. Go for it!
This is the 10-year anniversary of National Healthcare Decision Week, an annual event created to "... inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning."
The first National Healthcare Decision Day was in 2008. The event grew out of the realization that many families and medical personnel struggle to understand the healthcare wishes of a loved one who is not capable of speaking for him/herself.
Despite a decade-long effort and a push for advance directives by medical personnel, however, only 60% of older adults say that they have discussed end-of-life care (UCSF); about 50% have written advance directives (American Journal of Preventive Medicine).
The big question: Why do we find it so difficult to talk about and put decisions into writing? Researchers at Compassion and Choices, a not-for-profit organization focused on person-centered-care, have identified two major barriers: insufficient information and lack of doctor-patient understanding.
In an effort to remove these roadblocks, Compassion and Choices has created the "Truth in Treatment" initiative to help consumers ask more meaningful healthcare questions and to increase our ability to share our preferences with our doctors.
There's no doubt that advance planning is a serious and difficult endeavor. It can also be extremely rewarding, leaving you and your loved ones with a much clearer vision of YOUR healthcare wishes, whatever they may be.
NOTE: To access advance directive forms, click here for resources from the Illinois State Medical Society or here for resources from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Click here to access advance directives for all 50 states and U.S. territories.