Posts tagged ‘aging’

How to be an Empowered Patient

Mick Jagger probably said it best, “What a drag it is getting old.” Eyesight gets blurry, knees go bad, back goes out, menopause hits…and let’s not forget hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other chronic health problems. As we Baby Boomers age, we usually make more visits to the doctor. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 57% of doctor visits were made by those 45 years old and over in 2008; that’s up from 49% in 1998. With life expectancy hovering at a little more than 80 years old for women and 75 years old for men, that’s a lot more doctor visits on our horizons.

Many Baby Boomers are also caring for their aging parents, who are living longer, too. It’s often up to Boomer sons and daughters to advocate for their parents’ care. Boomers are a generation known for questioning authority, and that nonconformist spirit shouldn’t stop at the doctor’s office. Marcus Welby, M.D. may have taught us “doctor knows best,” but Boomers need to empower themselves and their loved ones when it comes to health care.

The idea of patients taking control of their health care is catching on with the media. CNN Online has an Empowered Patient section by medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. The September issue of Scientific American featured an article on “The Rise of the Empowered Patient.” The basic message is that no one will look after the well-being of your family with more diligence than you.

So how do you become an empowered patient? Information is the key. Ask your doctor questions. Don’t know what questions to ask? Research health issues that are pertinent to you. Health information online is abundant, but may not be vetted thoroughly. An excellent place to start your information search is MedlinePlus, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus offers the latest health information, tutorials, directories, plus lots more.

And don’t forget that the Torrance Public Library has books on how to empower yourself as a patient:

Tell us your stories of how you were able to empower yourself or a loved one and receive better care.


November 5, 2010 at 4:32 am 1 comment

H.E.L.P. is on the way!

Do you have elderly parents, relatives, or friends that need assistance with planning for their future? Are you a “sandwich generation” Boomer seeking to help parents with their life needs? The Torrance Public Library is pleased to be hosting a series of life planning classes that will be provided by H.E.L.P. H.E.L.P. is a non-profit agency dedicated to empowering seniors, their families and caregivers to make wise choices. H.E.L.P. offers education and counseling programs focusing on elder care, law, finances, and consumer protection.

Beginning Wednesday August 4, 2010 and continuing on successive Wednesdays through September 15, 2010, individuals may attend classes on a variety of essential topics. Each two-hour session will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Class Dates and Topics:

August 4                Staying in Charge of Your Health Care and

August 11             Wills, Probate, and Probate-Avoiders

August 18             Trusts and Taxes

August 25             Elder Care and Residential Choices

September 1        Long Term Care Insurance: Pros and Cons

September 8        Medi-Cal for Nursing Home Care

September 15      Safe and Independent at Home

All classes will be held in the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library Community Meeting Room.  Classes are free; however, there is a suggested donation of $10.00 per person per class.  To reserve a spot, please call 310-533-1996.

August 2, 2010 at 4:26 am 5 comments

Bouncing Thoughts and Sharp Brains

As I go about my work day, my Boomer brain can become easily confounded by the many distractions and interruptions I encounter. I frequently find myself thinking, “What was I going to say?” or “What was I just about to do?” Such symptoms of bouncing thoughts are typical of many individuals as they age, and while the experience can be disconcerting and/or annoying, two recent stories overheard on National Public Radio helped to reassure me that I’m not necessarily in the beginning stages of dementia.

Morning Edition’s anchor, Renee Montagne, profiled a new book by Barbara Strauch, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind. Ms. Strauch is the health and medical science editor at the New York Times and when she began her research, she hoped to determine what happens to the middle age brain that makes us so forgetful. Her definition of “grown-up” (people roughly between the ages of 40 and 65) closely aligns with the widely accepted notion of Baby Boomers (those individuals currently between the ages of 46-64).

Yes, one common indication of aging is becoming more forgetful; however, memory is comprised of different components and some parts of our memory, for example autobiographical details and habits remain strong throughout middle age. It is episodic memory (remembering things in context such as the name of someone you are talking to) and short-term memory that pose problems. As Ms. Strauch says, “It’s a retrieval issue. Those names are not really lost. They’re just kind of temporarily misplaced.”

While conceding that our brains do decline as we age, Ms. Strauch sites research that suggests that the middle-aged brain actually improves in a number of areas including inductive reasoning, verbal memory, and vocabulary. In addition, as we perform tasks and learn, white matter, which is composed of fat and coats the tails of brain cells, increases and brain signals move faster. In fact, Ms. Strauch says that white matter peaks in middle age and studies have shown across all occupations and ethnicities that as people reach middle age, a sense of well-being also peaks and an older brain can see connections and solve problems better than a younger brain!

Rather than recommending mild mental stimulation to keep your brain healthy, Ms. Strauch says that people may have to work harder than they anticipated. For example, doing crossword puzzles may not be enough anymore because when doing them, you’re retrieving information you already know. She contends that you have to push your brain very hard – make it not comfortable. Some research shows that talking with people who disagree with you is basically good for you since it helps you sharpen your own thinking.

So the next time you become distressed at not remembering a co-worker’s name or where you left you keys, forgive yourself and think about all those areas where we outshine our 20-year-old co-workers: in general we Boomers are better at getting the gist of arguments, better at recognizing categories, better at sizing up situations, better at making financial decisions, and better at social expertise (judging character). And don’t forget to challenge your brain – get out of your comfort zone. The Library has an incredible array of resources to help you do just that!

For more information on current brain research and health you may want to check out these titles:

Brain:The Complete Mind: How it Develops, How it Works, and How to Keep it Sharp by Michael S. Sweeney

Buddha’s Brain:The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love &Wisdom by Rick Hanson

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Danel G. Amen (book on CD)

Rewire Your Brain:Think Your Way to a Better Life by John B. Arden

The Scientific American Brave New Brain by Judith Horstman

Your Brain: A User’s Guide by Jeffrey Kluger

May 4, 2010 at 5:21 am 5 comments

The Aging Brain: Bad News/Good News

As a Boomer who loves to eat much and often, I have learned that if I don’t take to the treadmill most nights, I will suffer for it with reduced energy and mental lethargy for several days to come, to say nothing of the pounds I seem to acquire almost instantly.  The way in which my body has appeared to guide me on its own, I now discover is based on scientific fact.  In a radio piece entitled “The Aging Brain Is Less Quick, But More Shrewd” airing on March 1, 2010, National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Michelle Trudeau provided information about research on the aging brain.

Listen to the story from the link above to get all the facts but here are a few gems:

  • Bad news:  Reaction time is slower in the aging brain – it may take longer to learn or retrieve new information
  • Bad news:  Our ability to multi-task diminishes with age – we’re quick but we may be sloppy and make more errors!
  • Good news:  Complex reasoning skills improve
  • Good news:  Empathy (the ability to understand the emotional viewpoint and feelings of others) increases as we age
  • Good news:  The brain is always changing and is capable of brain cell growth in middle age and beyond

My favorite part of the story was Ms. Trudeau’s revelation that memory can improve with treadmill workouts.  Citing research conducted by neuroscientist Art Kramer (University of Illinois), Kramer found that “three days a week, working up to an hour a day, people improved in various aspects of both short-term and long-term memory.”  Following treadmill workouts, individuals were given brain scans and those who had trained on the treadmill had larger hippocampi, the key brain area for memory, as well as growth in other brain areas controlling decision making and planning.

While my rationale for walking exactly one hour has not been based on scientific knowledge or method (I watch DVDs when I walk and I can view at least one full TV episode of a favorite series each night), I was delighted to discover all the positive benefits of my treadmill regimen…and I can feel my hippocampus growing as I write!

NPR has recently featured other stories on brain research including an article broadcast February 22, 2010 that reported how scientists are working to understand what hormonal and physiological cues in the body lead the brain to respond to food emotionally.

I have no doubt my Boomer brain is best served by regular physical and mental exercise and I regularly turn to the Library to obtain the resources that help accomplish both. Good news: If you don’t have a library card, it takes only a few minutes to apply, and once a “member” of the library, you’ll have access to a wealth of resources to keep your aging brain young!

March 7, 2010 at 7:07 am 8 comments

12 Again: the Importance of Play

In “Generation B,” a column written with Baby Boomers in mind, the January 29, 2010 issue of the New York Times, featured columnist Michael Winerip describing a weekly touch football game played among friends over the course of years.  The name of the group is “12 Again” and the participants are all friends in their fifties, playing a game that sends them limping home.  The rules have changed over the years to adjust for physical limitations.  One player describes how they don’t “go long” any more because they can’t really run that far that fast, and the time required to sack the quarterback has lengthened as a concession to age, but they still play every week when they can.

The name of the group, 12 Again, is a reference to how playing makes them feel. This is true of many favorite childhood games, bringing back memories and making us revert to a time in life when game playing was expected and routine. Do you and adults you know routinely play hide and seek, or do you wait for visiting grandkids or time babysitting the nieces and nephews to give yourself a reason? What about tag, or one of its many variations? The favorite in my neighborhood was called “TV Tag” and had the added element of embarrassment. If you were about to be tagged, you could sit down and call out a TV show or character and then you couldn’t be tagged.

There is an old Twilight Zone episode, called “Kick the Can” that was also included as a segment in the Twilight Zone movie. The residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home look and act old, until a character named Charles Whitely comes along with the secret to youth. If you act young, you are young, and he engages some of his fellow residents to play a childhood game called Kick the Can. In a review of that episode posted on the Twilight Zone project, it explains that Charles “…is saying that it’s not only a surrendering-to-the-inevitable mindset that makes people ‘old’, but that it’s a driving sense of fear, the sort that adults of any age often feel and what ultimately separates them from their youthful counterparts.”

Play has a significant role in aging. Studies show that creativity doesn’t change, and can help forestall some of the brain effects of age. Singing, painting, and even video games are being explored as brain boosters. Singing improves your health, even if there is nobody around to hear you. I know I will often gear up for a stressful day, or calm down on the way home by singing along with a favorite song, be it rock anthem or folk music. After all, there is nobody in the car but me! There is no doubt that games like tag, kick the can, hide and seek, and football have all the benefits of exercise too, boosting mood and sending a rush of oxygen to the brain.

So host a game night instead of a movie night for your friends, breaking out old favorites from the closet or shopping for second hand games at garage sales. Instead of gathering for coffee, gather for a walk (to a coffeehouse) and catch up on friends and family as your roam in a beautiful setting such as those highlighted in our previous post dated August 21, 2009. When you hear a favorite tune on the radio, turn it up and sing as loud as you can. And the next time you have a big family gathering that ends on the lawn, there is no law that says the adults must sit while the children go play. Embarrass your kids with a full-out run during Red Rover Red Rover or introduce them to Hospital Tag or any of the other fun tag games. Just do it all safely! As the guys in “12 Again” have reported, they all go to work sore the next morning.

And remember the saying I saw on a birthday card aimed at someone turning 50. Roughly paraphrased it said, “Don’t let anyone or any group tell you that you are too old to do anything you want to do. That is what knees are for!”


March 1, 2010 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

Healthy Aging: How to live to 100

In a previous post, we wrote about Boomers with Zip, or Zoomers.  One of the recent issues of U.S. World and News & World Report is devoted to the topic of aging well – a chief concern of Zoomers.  The issue covers a wide variety of topics: longer life spans and longevity research, Medicare, epigenetics, eating, diet, and exercise, hormone therapy, Alzheimer’s disease, long-term care, and nursing homes (including the magazine’s rankings for Best Nursing Homes).  I found the profiles of nonagenarians and centenarians inspiring and a featured 10-week plan for getting fit designed by orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright realistic (you don’t have to buy any trendy equipment). Issues of the magazine are available at the El Retiro, Henderson, North Torrance, and Walteria branches of the Torrance Public Library and you can borrow Vonda Wright’s book, Fitness After 40, or read the U.S. News & World Report special issue at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library.

Not to be outdone, Time Magazine also features the science of living longer in its February 22 issue. The focus of the Time Magazine special section is primarily on health, and thus a bit narrower than the U.S. News & World Report issue, but similar topics are covered and there are also profiles of centenarians with interesting information from the Long Life Family Study (LLFS), an investigation into the factors that help certain families produce members who live into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health and hopes to determine which genetic, environmental and behavioral factors contribute to longevity. Other research cited includes Dr. Bruce Yanker’s (Harvard Medical School) work on brain differences between those individuals that live to 100 with limited cognitive decline and those that show signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia before 85, and Dr. Mehmet Oz offers steps individuals can take to encourage longevity based on his research studying long-living populations:

  • The ability to exercise remains the single most powerful predictor of longevity so try to perform rigorous physical activity – at least three 30-minute workouts weekly that break a sweat
  • Get  15 minutes of sun every day (or take 1,000 IU of vitamin D) and take 1,000 mg. of calcium with 500 mg. of magnesium to avoid constipation
  • Eat foods that look the same when you consume them as when they came out of the ground
  • Sleep more than seven hours a day
  • Have a purpose (such as family, work, community) – it serves as motivation and inspiration

If you enjoy studying charts and statistics the “Map of Health” displays a chart on life expectancy at birth around the world – the longest is Macau at 84.4 years, the shortest is Angola at 38.2 years, with the United States recorded at 78.1 (12th on the chart).

Both articles mention the importance of keeping your brain active and what better place to find hundreds of free resources to aid you do just that than the Library!  Please do visit us to learn more about healthy aging.

February 20, 2010 at 11:30 am Leave a comment



  • Get On Your Feet…Get Up and Make it Happen! May 10, 2011
    Listening to NPR this week, I heard a story on the dangers of too much sitting,” Sitting All Day: Worse For You Than You Might Think” that reminded me of Baby Boomer, Gloria Estefan’s great song, Get On Your Feet.  So many of us have sedentary jobs and/or we come home from work (whether required […]
  • Tweet This January 25, 2011
    Having recently viewed the popular highly regarded film, The Social Network, it got me thinking about my use of computer technology and how much I personally depend on social networking to stay in touch with friends and family.  I remember when the Internet was still referred to as the Information Superhighway and dial-up modems were the […]
  • ‘Tis the Season to be Reading December 9, 2010
    It’s that time of year again! Families are coming together to visit and remember past holidays and traditions. Some of us are lucky enough to live close to our children and grandchildren, but there are those of us who aren’t so fortunate. We want to keep in touch and be more involved in our loved […]
  • Cooking Light (and Veg!) for the Holidays November 22, 2010
    I love the smell, taste, and feel of fall – the crisp, clean air, the warmth of vegetables roasting in my oven, and getting cozy with a steaming hot cup of cocoa and a book.  Fall is also a time of holidays and for many of us Boomers, a season of abundant eating and quality […]
  • Rich Retirement – Smart Retirement November 14, 2010
    It’s time for a round-up of recent magazine offerings on the topic of retirement, a chief concern of most Baby Boomers I know. Money Magazine’s October 2010 issue includes their Retirement Guide 2011. Penelope Wang’s cover story, “Seven Secrets to a Richer Retirement,” examines the latest research in the field of behavioral finance (a blend […]
  • How to be an Empowered Patient November 5, 2010
    Mick Jagger probably said it best, “What a drag it is getting old.” Eyesight gets blurry, knees go bad, back goes out, menopause hits…and let’s not forget hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other chronic health problems. As we Baby Boomers age, we usually make more visits to the doctor. According to Centers for […]
  • Film Festivals Part Deux – AFI Fest October 30, 2010
    It hardly seems possible that it’s been a full year since we posted about the pleasures of attending film festivals.   One of the biggest and best, the AFI Fest, is about to begin this coming week. AFI Fest is Los Angeles’ longest running international film festival and the 2010 event will be held in Hollywood, California, November […]
  • Conquer Your Inner Hoarder! October 26, 2010
    I’ve become fascinated with the hoarding shows on television. A&E offers Hoarders and TLC airs Hoarding: Buried Alive. The basic premise of both shows is that hoarding is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder whereby people become incapable of throwing out anything, and I mean anything: broken hangers, empty soda cans, and the hoarders’ classic, […] […]
  • Boomers Got a Bum Rap? October 22, 2010
    The October issue of Atlantic Magazine features a provocative cover story focusing on the Baby Boomer generation and their responsibility for and contributions to the country’s present situation. Whether you agree or disagree, Michael Kinsley has written an essay that will make you think. The issue also includes response commentaries from “experts.” Personal […]
  • ACK! and the Single Girl October 18, 2010
    Cathy Guisewite has penned the final panel of that forever dieting, forever shoe-shopping, forever everywoman, Cathy. For more than 30 years, Cathy was the picture of the stressed-out career woman trying to juggle love, work, body issues, mother-daughter relationships, and whatever else modern society threw at her. Cathy ran in 900 newspapers, won an Emmy [… […]

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