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Optimists For The Win: Finding The Bright Side Might Help You Live Longer

Good news for the cheery: A Boston study published this month suggests people who tend to be optimistic are likelier than others to live to be 85 years old or more.

That finding was independent of other factors thought to influence life’s length — such as “socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors,” the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say. Their work appears in a recent issue of the science journal PNAS.

A Brighter Outlook Could Translate To A Longer Life

“We wanted to consider, in the current issue, benefits of psychological resources like optimism as possible new targets for promoting healthy aging,” says Lewina Lee, who headed the study. She’s a clinical research psychologist at Boston University. “The more we know about ways to promote healthy aging the better.”

Researchers already knew from previous work that optimistic individuals tend to have a reduced risk of depression, heart disease and other chronic diseases. But might optimism also be linked to exceptional longevity? Lee looked at medical records from two long term research studies — one involving female nurses and the other involving men, mostly veterans.

The study included 69,744 women and 1,429 men. Both groups completed survey measures to assess their level of optimism, as well as their overall health and health habits such as diet, smoking and alcohol use. In the survey, study participants were asked if they agreed with statements such as “in uncertain times I usually expect the best” or “I usually expect to succeed in things that I do.”

Health outcomes from women in the study were tracked for 10 years, while the men’s health was followed for 30 years. Researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11-15% longer lifespan, and had far greater odds of reaching 85 years old, compared to the least optimistic group.

Now, researchers say they can’t tell from this study how optimism might affect longevity. Optimistic people might be more motivated to try to maintain good health — such as maintaining a decent diet, engaging in regular exercise and not smoking.

They may also be better at regulating stress, Lee says.The burden of unrelieved stress is well known to have negative effects on health, including an increase in heart disease, liver disease and gastrointestinal problems.

Clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says even if it doesn’t come naturally, optimism can be taught. In her practice she works mostly with adults who struggle with depression and anxiety — “a lot of folks who worry,” she says. Many are pessimistic and “tend to see things through a half empty glass and typically expect negative outcomes.”

In treatment, Dattilo works to expand their world view, so their set of assumptions about the world and themselves are more uplifting and empowering.

“We examine their thinking under a psychological microscope,” Dattilo says, discussing why they anticipate a particular negative outcome. “If we can look at that together, we can begin to uncover systems of beliefs and assumptions people are making about themselves in their lives and we can begin to change those.”

Dattilo challenges patients to pay attention when a negative outlook kicks in, and consciously shift it. “Just try it on, try on a different thought, attitude or mindset and play that out and just see what happens,” she advises.

 

Also, she emphasizes, optimism isn’t simply the absence of depression or sadness or stress.

“People who think in optimistic ways are still prone to stress,” she says. “They are functioning in our society, meeting demands, prone to burn out. And it’s not like negative events won’t happen.”

But the way they cope with problems makes a difference, she says. Difficulties don’t tend to cause them distress for extended periods of time.

“Resilience is our ability to bounce back, to recover,” she says. “And what this study shows is that optimism actually plays a very big role in our ability to bounce — even if we experience setbacks.”

So, are gloomy curmudgeons doomed to short, brutish lives, even if they are content to be pessimistic? Some people find eternal optimists insufferable.

Lewina Lee says she treats pessimistic patients “all the time.” While some seem satisfied with their outlook, others are more open to lightening up, once they know how, in order to achieve goals that are important to them.

“I would try to challenge their negativity and shake it loose,” she says, and get rid of some of the patients’ more rigidly held beliefs for their own benefit.

Pessimists who try this will likely end up happier, she suggests. And they might even extend their lives.

   September 1, 2019
source: www.npr.org


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Mushrooms May Reduce Risk of Cognitive Decline in Older Adults

Older adults who consume more than two servings of mushrooms each week may reduce their risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 50 percent, according to a new 6-year study conducted by researchers from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“This correlation is surprising and encouraging. It seems that a commonly available single ingredient could have a dramatic effect on cognitive decline,” said Assistant Professor Lei Feng, who is from the NUS department of psychological medicine, and the lead author of this work.

The study used six types of mushrooms commonly consumed in Singapore: golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms, as well as dried and canned mushrooms. However, researchers believe it is likely that other mushrooms would also have beneficial effects.

A serving was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two servings would be equivalent to about half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, the study found that even one small serving of mushrooms a week may still help reduce chances of MCI.

MCI falls between the typical cognitive decline seen in normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Older adults with MCI often exhibit some form of memory loss or forgetfulness and may also show declines in other types of cognitive function such as language, attention and visuospatial abilities.

These changes can be subtle, as they do not reflect the disabling cognitive deficits that can impact everyday life activities, which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The research, which was conducted from 2011 to 2017, collected data from more than 600 Chinese seniors over the age of 60 living in Singapore. The findings are published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“People with MCI are still able to carry out their normal daily activities. So, what we had to determine in this study is whether these seniors had poorer performance on standard neuropsychologist tests than other people of the same age and education background,” Feng said.

mushrooms

As such, the researchers conducted extensive interviews which took into account demographic information, medical history, psychological factors, and dietary habits. A nurse measured blood pressure, weight, height, hand grip, and walking speed. The participants also completed a simple screen test on cognition, depression and anxiety.

Finally, a two-hour standard neuropsychological evaluation was performed, along with a dementia rating. The overall results of these tests were discussed in depth with psychiatrists to come to a diagnostic consensus.

The researchers believe the reason for the reduced prevalence of MCI in mushroom eaters may come down to a specific compound found in almost all varieties. “We’re very interested in a compound called ergothioneine (ET),” said Dr. Irwin Cheah, Senior Research Fellow at the NUS Department of Biochemistry.

“ET is a unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which humans are unable to synthesize on their own. But it can be obtained from dietary sources, one of the main ones being mushrooms.”

A previous study by the team on elderly Singaporeans revealed that plasma levels of ET in participants with MCI were significantly lower than age-matched healthy individuals. The findings led to the belief that an ET deficiency may be a risk factor for neurodegeneration, and increasing ET intake through mushroom consumption might possibly promote cognitive health.

The next step is to conduct a randomized controlled trial with the pure compound of ET and other plant-based ingredients, such as L-theanine and catechins from tea leaves, to determine the potential of such phytonutrients in delaying cognitive decline.

By Traci Pedersen    Associate News Editor
13 Mar 2019

Source: National University of Singapore


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This Is Why You Shouldn’t Offer Your Seat To The Elderly, Claim Health Experts

Just stay put.

Standup citizens know that if you see a senior board the bus or train, you immediately get up and offer them your seat.

But according to health experts, we shouldn’t be giving up our seat for the elderly on public transportation — rather, we should just stay put.

Yeah, we’re a bit wary about this advice too, but hear us out.

As reported by The Independent, experts claim that offering your seat to seniors on public transport can hamper their health. Instead, they should be “encouraged to stand and discouraged from taking it easy in order to keep themselves fit,” advises Sir Muir Gray, a professor at Oxford.

Think twice before giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person. Standing up is great exercise for them.

Gray, a clinical adviser to Public Health England, recently explained that the elderly should walk for at least ten minutes a day.

“We need to be encouraging activity as we age — not telling people to put their feet up,” Gray told the British Medical Journal. “Don’t get a stairlift for your ageing parents, put in a second banister.

“And think twice before giving up your seat on the bus or train to an older person. Standing up is great exercise for them.”

A new report in The BMJ advises older people to stay active, as it can reduce the need for social care and allow them to live more independently.

In the report, researchers say the effects of ageing are often confused with the loss of fitness, when it’s really the lack of fitness that ages them, adding to them needing more care.

A lot of illness in later life is not due to older age, but inactivity.

Middle aged and older people “can increase their fitness level to that of an average person a decade younger by regular exercise,” Scarlett McNally, an orthopaedic surgeon at Eastbourne District General Hospital in the U.K., noted.

She added: “A lot of illness in later life is not due to older age, but inactivity.

“The more exercise we do the better.”

This piece of advice matches previous research conducted on the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

A study published earlier this year noted that too much sitting and not enough physical activity can age cells by up to eight years. And previous research has already linked too much sitting to health problems such as obesity, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Aladdin Shadyab, lead study author, noted, “Discussions about the benefits of exercise should start when we are young, and physical activity should continue to be part of our daily lives as we get older, even at 80 years old.”

Discussions about the benefits of exercise
should start when we are young.

However, we still think it’s important to offer your seat to a senior, especially if they’re using walkers, canes, or any type of support to help them walk, or if they clearly need to sit down. And if they ask if they can take your seat, you should absolutely give your seat up.

If you know someone who’s older than 60, you should actively (heh) encourage them to get, well, more active.

Some top exercises that will make seniors feel young again include:

  • Walking
  • Squats
  • Steps
  • Lunges
  • Bicep curls
  • Crunches
 
Chloe Tejada Lifestyle Editor, HuffPost Canada
10/18/2017 


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Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

“Whether you think you can,
or you think you can’t—you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

Perceptions of aging, or attitudes toward one’s own aging, have important implications for the health and well-being of older adults. Throughout the life span, people encounter many positive and negative stereotypes of older adults and the aging process. Some stereotypes portray common age-related changes, whereas others promote misconceptions about aging. As people grow older, age stereotypes become increasingly self-relevant; these stereotypes are reflected inward and they become incorporated into older adults’ self perceptions of aging.

THE PERCEPTIONS OF AGING LENS

Perceptions of aging can be thought of as a lens that shapes how older adults interpret their daily experiences and establish cause-and-effect explanations for events. For instance, older adulthood can be viewed as a time of continued development and learning (positive perception of aging) or as a time of physical and mental decline (negative perception of aging). Self-perceptions of aging tend to influence thoughts and behaviors without people being consciously aware that this is happening.

Imagine that two older adults, Diane and Nora, slipped on an icy sidewalk and they each sprained an ankle. Throughout her recovery, Diane diligently completed physical therapy, eager to return to full strength and resume her normal daily activities. Her mobility was limited for a while, but Diane took this opportunity to catch up on some books that she wanted to read and she learned new ways to keep in touch with family and friends on her tablet. When Nora fell, she knew that life was just going to get worse from there. Nora didn’t really see the point of the rehabilitation exercises, because she didn’t believe that a full recovery was possible. It was difficult to get around, so Nora started to keep to herself more and she stopped taking her regular walks even after her ankle was healed. Diane made a full recovery, but Nora’s physical health continued to decline because she never returned to the same level of activity. Despite experiencing the same injury, Diane’s and Nora’s perceptions of aging influenced how they responded to the injury and led to a very different chain of events.

OUTCOMES RELATED TO PERCEPTIONS OF AGING

The story above illustrates how self-perceptions of aging can create self fulfilling prophecies leading to long-term consequences for the well-being of older adults. Researchers have found Self-perceptions of aging tend to influence thoughts and behaviors without people being consciously aware that this is happening.

Negative perceptions of aging have harmful consequences for older adults’ bodies, minds, and healthy behaviors, as outlined below:

Longevity. In a 23-year study, older adults who reported more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than older adults with more negative self-perceptions of aging . Additional research supports this connection between perceptions of aging and longevity, leading the researchers to conclude that “…those who develop positive perceptions of aging over the life course enter late life with a distinct advantage that may be protective against negative consequences of health change”.

Illness. In a study of 1,286 people (average age of 57 at baseline), participants who indicated that aging is a time of continued learning and development reported decreases (or slower increases) in physical illnesses six years later . In contrast, participants in the same study who believed that aging is a time of physical loss displayed increases in physical illness over six years.

Functional Health. Older adults with more positive perceptions of aging report better future functional health, such as the ability to do household chores and climb stairs, compared to older adults with more negative perceptions of aging. Consistent with these findings, older adults with more negative perceptions of aging displayed greater limitations in activities of daily living (e.g., feeding, bathing) and instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., shopping, managing finances) three years later. None of those participants reported any limitations at the beginning of the study (ages 65 to 70).

Brain Health. Compared to people with more positive views of aging, people who endorsed more negative age stereotypes displayed greater signs of risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease when their brains were examined decades later. The hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory, decreased in size at a faster rate and there was an increased presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

Psychological Well-Being. Older adults with more negative perceptions of aging reported greater increases in depressive symptoms three years later, but high levels of optimism helped protect against this effect. The researchers concluded that positive emotions and optimism may help buffer the harmful effects of negative perceptions of aging. In another study, positive perceptions of aging contributed to better self-reported health and life satisfaction six years later, even for participants who reported a serious health event.

Healthy Behaviors. Older adults with more positive perceptions of aging tend to engage in more preventive health behaviors and physical activity compared to older adults with more negative perceptions of aging. For example, older adults with positive self-perceptions of aging reported engaging in more preventive health behaviors over 20 years. Evidence also links negative perceptions of aging with declines in walking speed two years later. Furthermore, older adults with more positive views of aging reported more frequent walking and sporting activities.

Overall, these findings support the conclusion that perceptions of aging create self-fulfilling prophecies. Older adults who associate aging with ongoing growth and pursuit of meaningful activities are more likely to engage in behaviors and view experiences in adaptive ways. As a result, these beneficial thought and behavior patterns further reinforce older adults’ positive perceptions of aging.

Older adults with positive self-perceptions of aging
reported engaging in more preventive health behaviors
over 20 years.

 

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS OF AGING

Changing perceptions of aging is a challenging issue, because it involves both individual perceptions of aging as well as age stereotypes that are conveyed at societal and cultural levels. Kotter-Grühn (2015) identified several strategies that could be effective at improving perceptions of aging. For example, at a societal level, increasing the presence of older adults in the media and reducing the use of age stereotypes could improve perceptions of aging. In addition, creating more opportunities for intergenerational interactions could help people develop more realistic expectations of aging. Finally, older adults could develop more positive perceptions of aging by learning more about the aging process—correcting misconceptions and increasing awareness of positive age-related changes.

Changing older adults’ expectations related to aging can lead to important behavioral changes. Here are two examples of research studies that increased physical activity in older adults through an intervention designed to improve their perceptions of aging:

  • Example 1. Older adults completed a four-week course designed to change their expectations that people become less active with age. Instructors taught that sedentariness is not a natural part of aging and there are things that the participants can do to control their physical activity levels. Participants also attended an exercise class after each meeting. Three weeks after the last session, participants reported more positive expectations about aging and they also walked approximately 2.5 miles more each week (compared to before the course). In addition, participants reported decreases in limitations to activities of daily living and increases in mental health.
  • Example 2. This study expanded upon a typical physical activity intervention by adding in two behavior change techniques aimed at changing perceptions of aging research-based information on common misconceptions about aging and the connection between positive perceptions of aging and health outcomes; and guidance on how to recognize and counter negative automatic thoughts. Participants who completed this intervention displayed more positive views of aging (e.g., greater satisfaction and optimism related to aging) and increases in physical activity compared to other participants who completed a standard physical activity intervention or who spent time volunteering (the control condition).

If negative perceptions of aging are preventing people from enrolling in programs, positive aging messages may need to be conveyed in recruitment materials or earlier.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS IN YOUR COMMUNITY

When developing or implementing a program to encourage healthy behaviors, it is important to consider how older adults’ perceptions of aging may influence their thoughts and behaviors. Based on the research described above, here are four recommendations for how to promote more positive perceptions of aging during programs for older adults:

  1.   Identify older adults’ age-related expectations about their ability to complete or benefit from the program. How do the expectations of people with positive perceptions of aging differ from people with more negative views? Keep an eye out for differences in feelings of control and beliefs about the possibility of change.
  2.   Develop communications to counter negative perceptions of aging. Start by focusing on the gap between the positive and negative expectations. Is accurate information needed? Do you need to encourage different patterns of thought? Keep the message targeted to information relevant to the specific healthy behavior that is being promoted.
  3.   Incorporate the message into your program. If negative perceptions of aging are preventing people from enrolling in programs, positive aging messages may need to be conveyed in recruitment materials or earlier.
  4.   Measure the effectiveness of the message. If possible, assess key program outcomes before and after introducing the positive aging messages. Depending on the program, outcomes could include enrollment rates, completion rates, behavior change, attitude change, knowledge attained, and satisfaction levels.

People are often unaware of the extent to which their views of aging shape their expectations and actions. Creating more positive perceptions of aging can motivate people to engage in healthy behaviors. The benefits gained as a result of these healthy behaviors further reinforces positive perceptions of aging and encourages people along the path to wellness.

 

REFERENCES
Kotter-Grühn, D. (2015). Changing negative views of aging:Implications for intervention and translational research.
Annual Review of Gerontology & Geriatrics, 35, 167-186. 
Levy, B. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 332-336.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years Levy, B. R., Ferrucci, L., Zonderman, A. B., Slade, M. D., Troncoso, J., & Resnick, S. M. (2016). A culture–brain link: Negative age stereotypes predict Alzheimer’s Disease biomarkers. Psychology and Aging, 31, 82- 88.
Levy, B. R., & Myers, L. M. (2004). Preventive health behaviors influenced by self-perceptions of aging. Preventive Medicine, 39, 625-629.
Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longitudinal benefit of positive self-perceptions of aging on functional health. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 57B, 409-417. Levy, B. R., Slade, M. R., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002).
Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 261-270.
Moser, C., Spagnoli, J., & Santos-Eggimann, B. (2011). Self-perception of aging and vulnerability to adverse outcomes at the age of 65-70 years.
The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 6, 675-680.
Robertson, D. A., Savva, G. M., King-Kallimanis, B. L., & Kenny, R. A. (2015). Negative perceptions of aging and decline in walking speed: A self-fulfilling prophecy. PLoS ONE, 10, e0123260. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123260
Sargent-Cox, K. A., Anstey, K. J., & Luszcz, M. A. (2014). Longitudinal change of self-perceptions of aging and mortality. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69, 168-173.
Sarkisian, C. A., Prohaska, T. R., Davis, C., & Weiner, B. (2007). Pilot test of an attribution retraining intervention to raise walking levels in sedentary older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55, 1842-1846. Wolff, J. K., Warner, L. M., Ziegelmann, J. P., & Wurm, S. (2014).
What do targeting positive views on ageing add to a physical activity intervention in older adults? Results from a randomised controlled trial.
Psychology & Health, 29, 915-932. Wurm, S., & Benyamini, Y. (2014). Optimism buffers the detrimental effect of negative self-perceptions of ageing on physical and mental health. Psychology & Health, 29, 832-848. Wurm, S., Tesch-Römer, C., & Tomasik, M. J. (2007). Longitudinal findings on aging-related cognitions, control beliefs, and health in later life. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 62B, 156-164.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years Wurm, S., Tomasik, M. J., & Tesch-Römer, C. (2008). Serious health events and their impact on changes in subjective health and life satisfaction: The role of age and a positive view on aging. European
Journal of Ageing, 5, 117-127. Wurm, S., Tomasik, M. J., & Tesch-Römer, C. (2010). On the importance of a positive view on ageing for physical exercise among middle-aged and older adults: Cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. Psychology and Health, 25, 25-42.

 

By Jennifer L. Smith, PhD, Senior Research Manager    Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging


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The Surprising Secret to Healthy Aging

You probably know that exercise and diet are important when it comes to aging well. But there is something else you control that can help you along: a positive attitude.

Research shows more and more that your approach to life may be just as important in making your “golden years” your best years.

Aging: It’s in Your Mind

Growing older brings with it some natural changes (think those creaky knees). But folks who see good years ahead and who don’t accept stereotypes about aging — such as you’re less useful — may actually live longer.

And there’s science to back that up.

One study found that thinking positively about getting older can extend lifespan by 7.5 years. And that’s after accounting for things such as gender, wealth, and overall health. Some 660 women and men in Ohio joined this study, and they were monitored for more than 20 years.

If you see the glass half full, it could play an even bigger role in living better and longer than things such as low blood pressure and cholesterol, which have each been shown to increase life span by about 4 years.

A good attitude also seems to have a greater effect on living longer than not smoking, low cholesterol, or a healthy weight, a Yale study found.

The researchers’ earlier work showed the power of positive thinking when older people were asked whether they see themselves as “wise” or “senile.” People who thought themselves smart did better with memory, stress, and even with math.

The Power of Optimism

It’s difficult to know what comes first — the good health or the positive attitude.

One possible answer is they build on each other: A rosy outlook may help you exercise more and eat better. And that in turn helps you stay hopeful and happy because you feel better. You may hear that called a “virtuous circle.”

Optimism has been linked to living longer.

The Mayo Clinic found this out in a study they conducted over decades. They gave more than 800 people a test to figure out whether they were optimists, pessimists, or something in between.

Thirty years later, they checked to see just how long these people lived. The optimists did better; the pessimists had a 19% greater chance of dying in any given year.

 

Less Chance of Getting Sick

Part of the power of optimism is that it may actually lower the chance of getting sick. For instance, it may play a role in keeping your heart working at its best.

Optimism can be good for your blood pressure, one of the most important factors in heart health.

One study of more than 2,500 men and women who were 65 and older used a scale to measure just how positive or negative the people were. They took into account whether they smoked, drank alcohol, and what medications they were on.

What they found: People who were positive had lower blood pressure than those who were gloomy.

 

Memory

Being optimistic may help you with thinking and remembering.

People who are hopeful about their futures are less likely to be forgetful, a recent study out of Europe found. More than 4,500 adults age 65 and older were in it. The optimists were also better at problem solving and making sound decisions.

Learning to Be Happy

What if you feel like you’re a natural-born pessimist? All is not lost. Optimism can be learned; it takes practice like anything else.

Things you can do include:

  • Check yourself. If you’re having negative thoughts, pause and see whether there’s a better way to look at what’s bothering you.
  • Seek out humor and laughter
  • Make time for things that give you joy
  • Find positive people and hang out with them

 

 
 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 17, 2016
 

Sources:
Levy, B.R. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August 2002.
Press Release, Yale University.
Maruta, T. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2000.
Ostir, Glenn V. Psychosomatic Medicine, August 2006.
Gawronski, K.A. Psychosomatic Medicine, June 2016.
News Release, University of Michigan.
Mayo Clinic, “Stress Management (Focus on Positive Thinking).”

source: WebMD


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Tired? Weak? You’re Not ‘Just Getting Old’; Something is Wrong

When Dr. Christopher Callahan examines older patients, he often hears a similar refrain.

“I’m tired, doctor. It’s hard to get up and about. I’ve been feeling kind of down, but I know I’m getting old and I just have to live with it.”

This fatalistic stance relies on widely-held but mistaken assumptions about what constitutes “normal aging.”

In fact, fatigue, weakness and depression, among several other common concerns, aren’t to-be-expected consequences of growing older, said Callahan, director of the Center for Aging Research at Indiana University’s School of Medicine.

Instead, they’re a signal that something is wrong and a medical evaluation is in order.

“People have a perception, promulgated by our culture, that aging equals decline,” said Dr. Jeanne Wei, a geriatrician who directs the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“That’s just wrong,” Wei said. Many older adults remain in good health for a long time and “we’re lucky to live in an age when many remedies are available.”

Of course, peoples’ bodies do change as they get on in years. But this is a gradual process. If you suddenly find your thinking is cloudy and your memory unreliable, if you’re overcome by dizziness and your balance is out of whack, if you find yourself tossing and turning at night and running urgently to the bathroom, don’t chalk it up to normal aging.

Go see your physician. The earlier you identify and deal with these problems, the better. Here are four common concerns that should spark attention — only a partial list of issues that can arise:

Fatigue. You have no energy. You’re tired all the time.

Don’t underestimate the impact: Chronically weary older adults are at risk of losing their independence and becoming socially isolated.

Nearly one-third of adults age 51 and older experience fatigue, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. (Other estimates are lower.) There are plenty of potential culprits. Medications for blood pressure, sleep problems, pain and gastrointestinal reflux can induce fatigue, as can infections, conditions such as arthritis, an underactive thyroid, poor nutrition and alcohol use.

All can be addressed, doctors say. Perhaps most important is ensuring that older adults remain physically active and don’t become sedentary.

“If someone comes into my office walking at a snail’s pace and tells me ‘I’m old; I’m just slowing down,’ I’m like no, that isn’t right,” said Dr. Lee Ann Lindquist, a professor of geriatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“You need to start moving around more, get physical therapy or occupational therapy and push yourself to do just a little bit more every day.”

Woman with photo of elderly woman's eyes on hers'

Woman with photo of elderly woman’s eyes on hers’

 

Appetite loss. You don’t feel like eating and you’ve been losing weight.

This puts you at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies and frailty and raises the prospect of an earlier-than-expected death. Between 15 and 30 percent of older adults are believed to have what’s known as the “anorexia of aging.”

Physical changes associated with aging — notably a reduced sense of vision, taste and smell, which make food attractive — can contribute. So can other conditions: decreased saliva production (a medication-induced problem that affects about one-third of older adults); constipation (affecting up to 40 percent of seniors); depression; social isolation (people don’t like to eat alone); dental problems; illnesses and infections; and medications (which can cause nausea or reduced taste and smell).

If you had a pretty good appetite before and that changed, pay attention, said Dr. Lucy Guerra, director of general internal medicine at the University of South Florida.

Treating dental problems and other conditions, adding spices to food, adjusting medications and sharing meals with others can all make a difference.

Depression. You’re sad, apathetic and irritable for weeks or months at a time.

Depression in later life has profound consequences, compounding the effects of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, leading to disability, affecting cognition and, in extreme cases, resulting in suicide.

A half century ago, it was believed “melancholia” was common in later life and that seniors naturally withdrew from the world as they understood their days were limited, Callahan explained. Now, it’s known this isn’t so. Researchers have shown that older adults tend to be happier than other age groups: only 15 percent have major depression or minor variants.

Late-life depression is typically associated with a serious illness such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis or stroke; deteriorating hearing or vision; and life changes such as retirement or the loss of a spouse. While grief is normal, sadness that doesn’t go away and that’s accompanied by apathy, withdrawal from social activities, disturbed sleep and self-neglect is not, Callahan said.

With treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-depressants, 50 to 80 percent of seniors can expect to recover.

Weakness. You can’t rise easily from a chair, screw the top off a jar, or lift a can from the pantry shelf.

You may have sarcopenia – a notable loss of muscle mass and strength that affects about 10 percent of adults over the age of 60. If untreated, sarcopenia will affect your balance, mobility and stamina and raise the risk of falling, becoming frail and losing independence.

Age-related muscle atrophy, which begins when people reach their 40s and accelerates when they’re in their 70s, is part of the problem. Muscle strength declines even more rapidly — slipping about 15 percent per decade, starting at around age 50.

The solution: exercise, including resistance and strength training exercises and good nutrition, including getting adequate amounts of protein. Other causes of weakness can include inflammation, hormonal changes, infections and problems with the nervous system.

Watch for sudden changes. “If you’re not as strong as you were yesterday, that’s not right,” Wei said. Also, watch for weakness only on one side, especially if it’s accompanied by speech or vision changes.

Taking steps to address weakness doesn’t mean you’ll have the same strength and endurance as when you were in your 20s or 30s. But it may mean doctors catch a serious or preventable problem early on and forestall further decline.

By Judith Graham, Kaiser        Health News       Fri December 16, 2016
 
source: www.cnn.com