Health care professionals routinely encourage us to get out there and exercise. The benefits of an active lifestyle are legion — reduced weight, an efficient heart, healthy lungs and a general sense of well-being. New research is now suggesting that exercise during middle age may help stave off dementia, and may even be an important preventative measure against Alzheimer’s.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are two diseases typically associated with old age. As populations in western countries experience longer life spans, problems associated with cognitive abilities in old age appear to be on the increase. There are many types of dementia, and the causes are not always properly identified. Alzheimer’s is the most common form, and it is characterized as a progressive brain disorder that destroys a person’s memory, causes irritability and expression, and severely inhibits quality of life. Dementia is harrowing not only on the patient, but on their loved ones as well.
Although there is no cure, consensus has always suggested that there are a host of preventative measures to stop or slow the onset of dementia. A recent study by the Karolinska Institute (based in Stokholm, Sweden), published in the online edition of Lancet Neurology, states that exercise may be the most important of those measures. The large-scale study looked at dementia and Alzheimer’s in 1500 patients over the age of 65. Each research subject had their exercise habits monitored for the last 35 years, so their lifestyle histories were well documented. The researchers were as surprised by their results as the rest of the medical community.
Source: Richard Poplak, Canadian Living
A research team from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has added to their already excellent work on factors associated with dementia. And this time instead of correlating potential risk variables with Alzheimer’s in a sample of people, they have a longitudinal study which followed people over time. They found that people who felt lonely were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those that didn’t. This is a major variable and has effects that are independent from what was happening in the brain and from the individual’s social networks.
The take home message is that our connections with caring friends and family members help keep us healthy. We all need to value and nourish our relationships. If friends have fallen away through time and circumstances, we should take the time to make new ones. If we don’t have family or if there is an estrangement that can’t be repaired, our friends can be our family.
Ivy Bean, “the world’s oldest Twitter user,” dies at 104 — and reminds us of the Internet’s power to connect
Like other social networkers, Ivy Bean found in the online community a home in which to share her opinions on sports (she was a Manchester United fan), food (fish and chips — and plenty of it) and her friends (“happy birthday Edith xx”). When she died in Bradford, England, on Wednesday, it was sad news to her over 62,000 followers on Twitter, who praised her as “a fab lady” and “amazing woman.” But it wasn’t exactly shocking. Ivy was 104 years old.
Though you won’t find a wealth of other centarians on Facebook or Twitter, OMGing over the cuteness of their great-grandchildren, social networking is no longer just for emo teens and cat lovers. As the boomers keep graying, sites like EONS that cater to a less Bieber-centric crowd are prospering. And thefastest growing Facebook demographic isn’t college kids – it’s senior citizens.Forget ShitMyDadSays, Dad can tweet for himself. And that’s great news.
You or I or our 21-year-old neighbors might use online community to flavor our social experiences — posting pictures from our weekend adventures and broadcasting via Foursquare which bar we’re doing our drinking from tonight — but for older people, networking can serve as the social life they’d otherwise be missing. Ivy Bean herself posted happily last spring of a friend bringing laptops to her pensioners home, to encourage other residents to get online. It matters because it turns out that one of the greatest health risks to older people is plain old, garden-variety isolation. A report released Thursday in the Public Library of Science Medicine encompassing 300,000 people found that being socially disconnected can impact your lifespan as negatively as smoking or alcohol abuse. And considering that over a third of Americans 75 or older areliving alone, you can do the math.
It’s very easy to marginalize anybody with a few crow’s feet — and it’s ridiculous how promiscuously the big, broad phrase “55 and up” gets applied to a significant portion of a diverse population (being 55 isn’t the same as being 88, and Ivy Bean wasn’t Paul Krugman). There’s no one size fits all experience. Yet the prospect of “fogeys” muscling in on the online turf and doing all their cute, embarrassing, slow-witted tricks has been a running joke for years. Failbook is composed nearly entirely of geezer gaffes. And The Olds themselves are frequently happy to play along, which is how we wind up with an “age-relevant” search engine called Cranky. Its top two searches today, it should be noted, are not “get off my lawn” or “soft foods” but “digital photography” and “40+ singles.” Epic old people WIN.
At the root of our online experiences is the desire to connect — and in those seemingly trivial dispatches about what we ate for dinner or what team we’re cheering for today are intimate glimpses into everything that matters most. Maybe some of us need a bigger default font. Maybe we’re not sure how this whole WiFi thing happens. But whether you’re a hundred years old and sitting in a hospice full of friends, or a recent retiree whose kids live in another state, or that guy in library, logging on because he’s got nobody waiting for him when he gets home, you still need community as much as any status update-addicted kid. Maybe more.
Source: Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon
They may not be “digital natives,” but senior citizens find connectedness through laptops and Facebook
Janeen Morel does not define herself by her age, and the septuagenarian’s embrace of the latest technology is an example of that approach. Her laptop links her to world and family news and entertaining games, and it jazzes up her trombone-playing skills.
For the young who never experienced a time before computers, video games, cellphones, and the Internet, technology is a way of life. But, for Ms. Morel, and more and more seniors, the gadgetry can be life-expanding.
About 38 percent of Americans ages 65 and older go online, said a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey last fall. The 55-and-older crowd is the fastest-growing age group on Facebook, increasing by 35 percent in the past six months.
“It’s good to expose yourself. You have to try something new every once in a while,” Morel says in a phone interview from her Des Moines, Iowa, home. A retired Iowa National Guard officer, she checks e-mail and Facebook on her laptop each morning. She occasionally plays games through Facebook apps and browses news or other sites, like YouTube. She uses software to learn new music, and gets photos of her grandchildren on her cellphone. “It’s fabulous and instantaneous,” she says.
For Barbara Rafuse and Barbara Adams, octogenarian residents of the Summerville at Farm Pond senior community in Framingham, Mass., learning to navigate the Web has meant “staying with the outside world and your family,” says Ms. Rafuse.
Though many residents have their own computer, the center offers some equipped with Connected Living software by MyWay Village. Customized for seniors, the software’s simple interface allows users to check e-mail, play games, browse the Web, listen to books and music, create a memoir, and save and share photos. Ms. Adams also uses the Web to shop, check bank statements, transfer funds, and pay bills: “About the only checks I write anymore are to family for birthdays,” she says.
Residents also play video games and compete with one another in bowling on Nintendo Wii. “It’s a combination of things,” says Adams, including socializing, competition, and exercise.
But the best part of blending technology into their daily lives, say all three women, is connectedness.
“Does it bring [family] closer together? I think so,” Morel says. Though interaction is digital, she says it has led to more in-person gatherings, easily arranged online. On Facebook, she has found and writes to people she never had written to before, such as her great-nephew, an Army helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan: “I’m his great-aunt by marriage, and Mitch wouldn’t write to me about his daily life otherwise. I wouldn’t expect it; but now I get to see him [on Facebook], and it’s fun for me to follow what he’s doing,” she says.
“Some of it’s just chatter,” she adds. “But it’s meaningful, sure.”
Source: Matt Rocheleau, The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine.
On Death and Dying, Blogging and Reality TV
Forty years ago, Elisabeth Kubler Ross railed against the indignity and inhumanity of cancer patients being shunted to the back wards of the hospital to die alone. “We isolate both the dying and the old, and it serves a purpose,” she testified to Congress in 1972. “They are reminders of our mortality.”
More than 8.5 million people tuned in to the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” as Captain Phil Harris, a fan favorite on the crab-fishing reality show, died of stroke-related complications, and as his family’s struggle turned from caretaking to mourning. Over the past year, more than one million people followed the passionate life and the death of Eva Markvoort, the daughter, sister, friend and aspiring actress who chronicled her struggle with cystic fibrosis on her vivid blog, 65 Red Roses. And every day, thousands upon thousands tune in to smaller, more intimate blogs and online journals on Facebook, personal websites, and sites such as CarePages and CaringBridge, to follow and share support for the life, struggles and death of loved ones, friends and coworkers.
How far we’ve come from the days of Dr. Kubler Ross. Says my colleague the Rev. Paul Metzler, D.Min., Director of Community and Program Services for Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice Care: “People who are dying have moved from the back wards of the hospital to my living room.”
Death and dying are part of life, and I welcome that they are also part of the 21st century chronicles of life, reality television and the Internet–mediums that have the power to inform, connect and entertain. To some, “entertain” may seem an off-putting notion in the arena of death and dying, and I know it can raise the red flag of exploitation in certain situations. But I’m not talking about entertainment as simply diversion. Entertainment, when done well, can shed light on our own lives and give us greater access to the full range of human experience and emotion. When entertainment is effective, what we witness can become part of us forever, and it becomes a deeper part than if those experiences were isolated in the far corners of the hospital, as Dr. Kubler Ross suggests.
Opening the Channels of Communication
Social networking venues and sites like CarePages, which VNSNY Hospice provides for its patients allowing them to connect to family and friends, and CaringBridge, which reports 36 million visitors over the past year, can go a long way towards building community and alleviating isolation for those with a terminal illness and their inner circle of family and friends. The Internet is tailor-made for opening the channels of communication, in this case between someone living through a terminal illness and those who want to help in the most immediate and supportive way they can, even if they live far away.
Following a life-limiting diagnosis, more and more patients and their families turn to some kind of online communication to update loved ones on details of a diagnosis, symptoms, and daily ups and downs. This both informs and creates a sense of community. Logistics such as a good time to visit or even a request to refrain from visiting can be easily shared. If it’s been a tough few days and words of encouragement are much needed, a post on Care Pages, a CaringBridge online journal or a Facebook page can bring an instant onrush of well wishes from far-flung friends. Online communication can also be vital during bereavement, especially–and perhaps necessarily–when it allows people to carry the conversation from the virtual world into the corporeal one. Web memorials, which keep memories of a loved one alive after death through words, photos and video, also provide a sense of community for those struggling with loss.
A term we use often in hospice is “life review,” and it refers to the process of weaving together reminiscences that can help patients and their loved ones facing life-limiting illness shape a personal sense and meaning of their lives. Coined by Dr. Robert Butler, the renowned expert on aging who died this month at age 83, life review is a therapeutic process that can provide comfort and a sense of closure for both the dying and the bereaved. Visiting Nurse Service of New York has a guidebook titled Lifetime Review that helps hospice volunteers learn how to guide patients through this important end-of-life process.
Today, blogs, online journals and, in the case of “Deadliest Catch,” even reality television, have become immediate and natural venues for life review for many people. Telling one’s life story is an essential part of the human connection that is so vital for both living and dying. That we have new mediums through which to do this–mediums that can reach hundreds, thousands, millions of listeners and learners–is largely a good thing, as long as the new media augments, rather than replaces, the traditional in-person, face-to-face life review process.
Death as Part of Life
Another tenet central to hospice is that death is an integral part of life, rather than the disconnected, isolated affair that Dr. Kubler Ross saw again and again in the 1960s. The raison d’être of blogs and online journals, and even reality television, is to capture and compel readers through day-to-day experience. What people like Eva Markvoort and Phil Harris are living through, day to day, is their illness and ultimately their death. We witness as their families and friends live the caretaking, grief and mourning that accompanies the death of a loved one.
VNSNY Hospice volunteer Abby Spilka, in her recent A Day in the Life blog entry about the season finale of “Deadliest Catch,” wisely concludes, “I think if it helps even one member of one family feel less alone while sitting in a hospital waiting room hoping for answers, it is a line that is well drawn, not crossed.”
In “Unexpected Treasure of a Day,” a blog posted a few months before her death, Eva captures, with haunting immediacy, the quotidian details that comprise living–and dying. She details, “Boxes of wine/a trunk full of costumes/…sushi adventures/conversations about everything.” And, with equal clarity and passion: “Fits/bursts/attempting to breathe/holding it in only makes it worse.” These words are evocative reminders of our mortality, and they resonate loud and clear.
Source: Jeanne Dennis, The Huffington Post