Medical research confirms that loneliness is bad for our health. Feelings of isolation raise blood pressure and contribute to sleep disorders, cognitive impairment and a host of other chronic conditions. Geriatricians say that spending more time with others can lengthen our lives, lower the risk of depression and also protect our heart health.
But is spending time in pleasant conversation enough? Recent studies suggest that meaningful activity is also important, especially for our brains. Research shows that people who feel a sense of purpose in life are healthier in mind, body and spirit. And a remarkable study from Rush University in Chicago found that people who had the plaques and tangles of the brain that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease had fewer outward signs of the disease if they felt their lives had meaning.
It feels good to do good. Researchers from University of California, Riverside showed that practicing acts of kindness can be an effective way of treating depression. They used brain imaging to demonstrate that altruistic behaviors and other positive interactions can boost circuits in the brain that reverse depression and apathy.
But in our later years, we often confront barriers to maintaining a sense of purpose and self-esteem. Our children are grown. We retire from our lifetime careers. We may have lost our spouse or developed health problems that seem to occupy most of our attention. These are definite challenges and not to be ignored.
How can we continue to feel connected and valuable? For more and more older adults today, volunteer service is providing that sense of purpose and meaning in life, as well as promoting socialization and physical activity. Volunteering offers a tremendous boost to healthy aging. An article that appeared in the American Medical Association News even urged doctors to “prescribe” volunteer service for their patients!
Healthcare providers and service organizations alike are calling this new emphasis on volunteer service a big win-win. Social service agencies, community groups, nonprofit organizations, schools and cultural organizations all report that they rely more than ever on volunteers to help their programs succeed. Fortunately, help has arrived as seniors are stepping up in greater numbers to offer their services and give back to the community. The U.S. Administration on Aging reports that a record number of older adults are volunteering today. Almost a third of seniors volunteer—that’s over 20 million older adults, whose donated service is valued at $67 billion per year. Indeed, a third of all volunteers are age 55 or older.
According to Dr. Erwin Tan, director of the U.S. Senior Corps volunteer program, “Today, Americans over 65 represent 13 percent of our population. By the year 2030, that number will be 20 percent. But while some may talk about how the aging of America is a problem to be solved, we at Senior Corps believe it is an opportunity for both individuals and communities. The boomer generation is the most educated and healthiest group of people over 55 that America has ever seen, and they are looking for ways to give back to their communities.”
I Want to Join the Volunteer Movement! Where Do I Start?
Locating volunteer positions in your area means finding a good match between the available opportunities and your own skills and interests. You might be surprised at how your special talents can be put to use—and you might find yourself tapping into your potential in new ways you hadn’t even envisioned! As you search for an organization that can use your help, first consider:
- your special skills.
- your work experience.
- special knowledge you can share.
- your interests and the things that are important to you.
- the amount of time and commitment you are willing and able to offer.
Next, investigate the organizations in your community that welcome volunteers and provide training for committed individuals:
- hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other healthcare organizations
- schools and youth organizations
- community agencies (such as senior centers or the public library)
- charitable organizations
- parks and recreation department
- faith communities
- cultural groups (museums, theaters, art societies, music groups)
- civic organizations
- political groups
You might begin your search by calling your local Senior Services office. The U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service is also a great place to start. This agency offers many volunteer ideas, and several of their programs are tailored especially for older adults: Senior Corps, for people over age 55, includes programs such as Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
If none of these ideas inspire you, make your own volunteer opportunity! Call an organization that interests you and see if they have a volunteer program. If you have the desire to give of your time and energy, volunteer opportunities await you.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise
Give your brain a workout with this month’s puzzle, which contains 20 words all having to do with locating volunteer opportunities that are a great fit for your skills and interests. Click here to download and print the puzzle.
Need a little help? Click here for the solution to the puzzle.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015
Scientists from Brigham Young University have studied the damaging effects of loneliness for years. In the most recent study, they found that isolation is as deadly as obesity. And they look at whether texting is a factor in a trend toward isolation.
Read more here.
Copyright © AgeWise, 2015
How important is socializing as the person ages? Can lack of socialization truly hold back a person’s overall quality of life? This question seems easy to answer. Majority of the people will not really pick seclusion and loneliness over socializing with others.
Studies show that some form of active socialization is an advantage on to one’s health. Sadly, many of our senior loved ones today are beginning to lose their social contacts and there are reasonable explanations for this loss. First, the capacity to drive is reduced – clearly a means to an independent lifestyle, and as a consequence, the access to their friends, relatives and social activities is limited. Second, as one spouse will be sick, the other spouse will happen to be more homebound to take care of his or her partner, and this develops further to a form of social isolationism. Third, passing away of friends that leads to reduced social contacts, which can result to a moderate but constant decline in social function as we age.
While physical activity is needed to sustain body wellness, social activities also play a vital part. As we age, being socially active is considered more. Thus, socialization for the seniors is really important like the younger ones have. When they socialize, they enhance their lives. Feeling needed and active helps them to live blissful lives. It also helps with their emotional health, thus reducing stress as a result.
Seniors will get a lot of health benefits when they socialize. It includes reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, cancers, osteoporosis, mental health issues such as depression and dementia, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. On the contrary, doing the opposite brings about feelings of loneliness, depression, being less physically active, having greater risk of death and high blood pressure.
In addition, here are some suggested activities that seniors can do to improve their social skills:
- As a start, keeping in touch with family and friends by visiting them regularly.
- Volunteering in the community work and activities.
- Visiting a senior care center and join their activities. In here, they can participate in some activities and make new friends.
- Join interest groups where they can enjoy the activities that they like to do, e.g.: playing chess, reading books
- Enroll in some classes like cooking, where seniors can learn new cuisines or at gym or fitness centers to stay physically fit.
- Be involved in the social media world where they can communicate with others and play games as a form of recreation. If not yet comfortable in using computers or other related gadgets, ask help from the younger ones.
Depression, anxiety and loneliness can lead to health issues. The more the seniors are socially active, the less risk of them getting depression. Therefore, encourage them to get up and get out by socializing with others – it can really do well for their health.
Salad is a terrific way to make vegetables a large part of meals. That’s great for overall health and can support a weight management program. Several possibilities could explain why simply switching to salads at lunch hasn’t helped with weight loss. Maybe the salads haven’t reduced your calorie consumption at lunch as much as you assume. Or maybe your salad doesn’t have enough protein and fat, which may lead you to snack more throughout the day.
To limit calories in your salad, fill most of your plate with dark leafy greens (such as spinach, romaine or other mixed salad greens) and plain chopped vegetables (such as carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and tomatoes). Include about a half-cup (picture a rounded handful) of unsweetened fresh fruit, such as pineapple or berries, too, if you like. If salad is your main dish, include protein from one or more of the following: a half-cup of kidney or garbanzo beans, turkey, seafood chunks, chopped hard-boiled egg, or plain tuna; or one-third cup of nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you want cheese, use just a little for flavor in combination with a smaller portion of one of these leaner sources of protein. Just a tablespoon or two of Parmesan or feta gives plenty of flavor.
Finally, watch salad dressing portions. Aim for one to two tablespoons of regular dressing. At a salad bar, a typical four-tablespoon ladle of regular dressing adds about 140 to 320 calories. A smaller ladle the size of a ping-pong ball contains two tablespoons. If you use bottled dressing, measure out the serving size so you can see the portion size and you’ll know how many calories it is. For even lower calories, dress your salad with lemon juice or vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of plain olive oil (often in a cruet at salad bars). A little bread with your salad is fine, but a giant muffin or too many breadsticks can wipe out any advantage you had by choosing a healthy salad.
Also consider what you’re eating the rest of the day. Are you “rewarding” yourself for healthy lunches with high-calorie treats at other times of the day or on the weekends? If you’re making a real cut in calories at lunch without raising calories from other sources or cutting back on your physical activity, you should see a change in your weight or waist before long. Small cuts take a while to show results, but can be among the best sustained.
By Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR 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 to find delicious, healthful recipes and information.
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
- 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 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.
As warm weather finally stretches across the country, outdoor physical activity enthusiasts of all ages
will be swinging clubs and racquets, lacing up sneakers or walking shoes and brushing off gardening tools to make the most of the season.
If you’re returning to these activities after a long cold winter, or perhaps haven’t had the chance to enjoy the benefits of sunshine and higher temperatures lately, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has issued some timely tips to help you take care of your back, ensure a healthy start to spring and reduce the risk of injury.
Back pain affects nearly 10 million Americans each year. Maintaining proper posture, balance, strength and flexibility can all help to increase core strength and, in turn, support the back.
NATA board member Kathy Dieringer, EdD, ATC, suggests starting with good health habits, including attention to diet and exercise, maintaining a good weight, and refraining from smoking. “All these elements can preserve a good back, keep our bones and bodies strong and help the body heal should injury occur,” she says.
Best Bets for Back Care: Be Good to Your Back
Start with good posture: Maintain good posture in day-to-day activities and while exercising. Keep your shoulders back when sitting, avoid slouching and don’t sit for more than 30 minutes without moving around.
Be smart about shoes: Also be aware of what you are wearing on your feet. Though high heels are very fashionable, good back health depends on appropriate footwear, especially if you are active.
Strengthen the core: Strengthen your core to maintain good back health and improve your balance. Crunches, modified crunches with weights or medicine balls, planks, bridges, and back extensions, among other exercises, will improve your core. Ask your athletic trainer or other medical expert to review appropriate form for best results.
Practice proper lifting techniques: Lift with your legs, bend at the knees and keep your back straight, advises Dieringer. The strength from the legs will provide added power—whether for sports participation or household activities like lifting a laundry basket or even picking up children or pets. Minimize twisting, especially when carrying something. To minimize torque on the spine, turn the body instead and keep hips and shoulders facing the same direction.
Care for the whole back (upper and lower): Make sure to incorporate upper and lower back muscles as a part of your weight room workout or during regular physical activity.
Minimize static bending or stooping positions: If movement causes you to bend over or stoop, take frequent breaks and extend your back when you stand up. With spring here and gardening and other outdoor activities planned, the rest breaks and stretching will help maintain flexibility and mobility.
Keep moving: Couch potatoes, get up! The best thing you can do for your back is to maintain mobility. Walking is an outstanding activity for good back health.
Support your back when sitting or sleeping: Sit with knees slightly bent and higher than your hips. When sleeping, maintain your lumbar curves whenever possible, using pillows if necessary.
Maintain back flexibility: Use movement and extension exercises to maintain proper back flexibility. Press-ups or standing back extensions are both good exercises.
If your back is giving you pain signals, pay attention, says Dieringer. Radiating pain from your spine into your thigh and/or down to your foot should not be ignored. While this symptom has a few possible causes, it should be addressed quickly. Stop your activity and rest. Be sure to consult your physician on how to proceed. Ignoring back pain can lead to complications.
“By following a healthy regimen to maintain good posture, proper back and body mechanics, your movements should be easy, pain-free and with great range of motion,” concludes Dieringer. “These tips will ensure you’re ready to enjoy physical activities throughout spring and the seasons ahead.”
Source: The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) represents and supports members of the athletic training profession. Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. Visit the NATA website to learn more about this profession.
Alzheimer’s disease leaves no corner of the world untouched. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by the year 2030, there will be over 76 million cases of Alzheimer’s, threatening economies worldwide.
Yet a survey performed by the Alzheimer’s Association showed a global lack of information about Alzheimer’s. The Association polled 6,307 people from 12 countries about their knowledge of the disease. The survey revealed that:
- 60 percent of the people surveyed believe that Alzheimer’s is a typical part of aging.
- 40 percent did not know that Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal disease.
- 37 percent thought that only people with a family history of the disease are at risk.
The Alzheimer’s Association urges everyone to learn more about Alzheimer’s, and to work together to raise awareness. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website
to find a wealth of information. “Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that slowly robs people of their independence and eventually their lives,” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Association. “Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease knows no bounds. Anyone with a brain is at risk, so everyone with a brain should join the fight against it.”
Source: AgeWise reporting on a study from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Most of us have a limited amount of time and money we’re able to spend on travel. If you have parents who live far from home, the desire to spend time with them means there’s even less time for you to just run off and have a “real” vacation. Or, if you’re a caregiver looking after parents who live near you, you may feel as if you’re never able to get away due to your responsibilities.
For both groups, there’s a new solution that’s gaining popularity – traveling with your elderly parents. Of course, this comes with its own set of challenges, but many discover that a change of scenery can still provide the break they need. Many also find that traveling with their parents brings them closer together and provides opportunities to share experiences that last a lifetime.
Traveling with an aging parent does require a bit more planning. First, of course, you’ll want to consult with your parent’s physician to ensure that traveling is even an option. If the doctor gives a green light, here are some tips that can make your trip one you’ll remember (fondly) for years to come.
Make it a family affair. To share the caregiving responsibilities, invite other family members to join you. Having siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles along to share the load provides more opportunity for you to relax and enjoy yourself. As a side benefit, a family reunion provides opportunities to connect with other relatives you might not see very often.
Make sure your loved one has everything they need. Before you hit the road, make sure your loved one has all their medications and any health accessories (walker, oxygen tank, hearing aids, etc.) they need to fully experience and enjoy the trip. If you’re flying, contact the airline in advance to arrange for a wheelchair or other assistance your loved one may need. Be aware of any surgical implants that might set off a metal detector.
Pack lightly. Traveling with an elder often means helping carry their bags, making sure they have their travel documents, and ensuring they don’t wander off. With all that going on, you don’t need the added burden of too much luggage. Encourage your loved on to take only essentials – and it helps to travel to a place where it’s warm, so clothing can be light. Make sure you have anything that your loved one will need while traveling – a favorite snack, medications, a neck pillow – in a bag that can be carried onboard, if flying, or a small bag that can ride with the senior in a car or bus.
Schedule some downtime. Once you’ve reached your destination, make it a point to plan some downtime and let your loved one know that each day will include some time for a nap, or just sitting and reading a book. Setting this expectation will not only provide you with more free time, but will also give your loved one “permission” to relax as well.
Enjoy yourself. If you’re a child who doesn’t see your parent often, use this as a time to enjoy their company. Focus on your time together and recognize it as an opportunity to reconnect and grow closer. If you’re a caregiver who sees your parent every day, appreciate the change of scenery and use it as an opportunity to share life experiences that may not be as easy to do in the midst of a daily routine.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015
When it comes to mental sharpness, “use it or lose it” is no cliché! Luckily, many pleasurable activities can help us build new connections in the brain. Puzzles and games challenge our minds, and that provides a mental workout.
Take a break and try your hand at this month’s wordfind , which contains 20 words all having to do with brain health!
Need a little help? Click here for the solution to the puzzle.
Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015