Making communities friendlier for those with dementia

Making Communities Friendlier for Those With Dementia

That’s the goal for the ambitious Dementia Friendly America initiative

By Beth Baker for Next Avenue


Credit: Courtesy of Paynesville (MN) ACT on Alzheimer’s Caption: Volunteers pass out laminated bookmarks with the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s at the local supermarket

Can a strong community network help ease the challenges faced by people with dementia and their families? That’s the hope of a national volunteer-driven initiative known as Dementia Friendly America (DFA), announced at the White House Conference on Aging in July.

“Our goals are to foster dementia-friendly communities that will enable people who are living with dementia and their care partners to thrive and to be independent as long as possible,” says Olivia Mastry, who’s guiding the effort. “The side benefit is that it’s beginning to normalize [Alzheimer’s], to reduce the stigma. It’s created an environment that’s allowed people to talk about this disease.”

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A cure for senior loneliness is within our reach

We can solve the problem of social isolation by thinking differently about senior housing

By Tim Carpenter for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required that packages of cigarettes display the warning “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health.” I wish the Surgeon General would issue this warning: “Caution: Loneliness and Social Isolation May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”

Yes, just like smoking, loneliness and social isolation are deadly. And just like smoking in the 1960s, our society is just beginning to understand the perils of loneliness and social isolation today. A 2015 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The New York Times recently ran a story with the headline “Social Isolation Is Killing Us.”

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Make every day Valentine’s Day

How to survive the holiday and keep romance alive 365 days a year — however long you’ve been together

By Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. for Next Avenue


I always look forward to February and especially Valentine’s Day, but I’m well aware that not everyone does. I love seeing all the red hearts in the stores and enjoy the romantic commercials on TV for diamonds, perfume and lingerie.

It’s hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed by the media barrage to buy cards, flowers and presents.

There’s another way to look at it, however. Valentine’s Day can serve as a useful reminder to practice simple acts of kindness and to show appreciation for the special people in our lives.

While it’s easy to say that every day should be as romantic as Valentine’s Day, we often wind up distracted by all the things we have to do and don’t make time for what I call “relationship upkeep.” Work, routines, kids and other obligations take precedence, and our attention gets deflected everywhere but toward our one and only.

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Want to age better? Join a choir

A groundbreaking study examines the health benefits of making music as we age

By Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow musicmakers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once.

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Fighting ageism and unfair treatment in health care

Among the problems: doctors who view depression and anxiety in older adults as ‘normal’

By Terry Fulmer for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

(Next Avenue invited all our 2016 Influencers in Aging to write essays about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. This is one of the essays.)

Everyone deserves equal treatment — in the broader society and in our health care system. Today, older people are often not treated fairly and do not get the care they deserve, simply because of their age. While one of our great success stories in the 20th century was the stunning gain in human longevity, recent research from The Frameworks Institute, funded by my group, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and others, has found that the majority of us still don’t recognize ageism or its deleterious effects. They call it a “cognitive hole,” a mental blind spot.

As 10,000 of us turn 65 each day, it is critical that we shine a bright light on this insidious prejudice. It is a matter of simple fairness and justice. It is a way to honor the priceless and irreplaceable contributions that older adults make every day to enrich our society and culture. And for those of us at The John A. Hartford Foundation, it is critical to the broader effort to improve care for older people.

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Art is Ageless® call for entries

Basic RGBManor of the Plains is accepting entries for the 2017 Art is Ageless competition through Feb. 28. The exhibit will be March 10-16 at Manor of the Plains, with an artists’ reception on the evening of March 16. Artists age 65 and older are eligible to enter artwork that has been created within the last five years. For more information, contact Kurt Lampe at 620-338-0240 or

Secret Valentine pals

GEWho is your Secret Pal for 2017? As always, you’ll have to wait until our Christmas Party at the end of the year to find out! But we’re already having fun giving one another secret gifts.

This month the Secret Pal Party in health care will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14, in the Health Care Dining Room. Make plans to join us and celebrate the love we have for each other as neighbors.

Learning to swim at 80

Tackling a lifelong to-do can be really enjoyable

By Louise Jackson for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Every Thursday night, I drive to the gym, wriggle into a swimsuit that does nothing to hide my bulging belly or my wrinkled, sagging underarms, put on swim goggles that make me look a bit like someone from outer space, grab my cane to help keep my balance while walking from the dressing room into the pool area and slowly ease down the steps into water smelling of chlorine.

I’m 80 years old and taking a swim class for the first time in my life.

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4 ways to beat the winter blues

Beat-Winter-Blues-2-2When the sun wakes up late and slips away before the workday ends, when many a day is dark and gray, when it’s Groundhog Day and even an early spring seems far away, many large, hairy mammals — Punxsutawney Phil, included — choose to hibernate. But not us!

We slog through, knowing that the passage of time will bring brighter days ahead. But we can do more than wait it out. Here are four easy ways to beat the winter blues and create a little sunshine of your own:

1. Bring light to others’ lives 

“I’m 87 years old and I can still finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle,” a friend wrote in a holiday note to me. She added, “And I love hearing from you!”

My aunt, who is 86 and lives in rural Illinois, also likes hearing from me. The joy is evident in her voice when I call to report any new funny stories about my grandson or even when I call just to say hello.

I care about both these women, and about other distant friends as well. Talking with them brightens my day and theirs, too.

No matter how behind in life you are, consider making time right now to pick up the phone and bring some sunshine into the lives of your older relatives and friends.

After the call(s), keep that smile on your face. Research shows that when you smile, your mood elevates and you feel less stressed.

In an article for Forbes, Roger Dooley writes that if you smile in public, those around you will be lifted as well. “UCLA scientist Marco Iacoboni notes that our brains are wired for sociability,” Dooley reports. “In particular, if one person observes another person smile, mirror neurons in that person’s brain will light up as if he were smiling himself.” (Or herself, I’m certain.)

2. Open a box of light 

In mid-December, my friend Carol Porter posted this on Facebook: “I’m enjoying an early Christmas present to myself — my new light box! I sit next to it for 30 minutes daily, relaxing with coffee, calendar, notepad, tablet, organizing my day and thinking beautiful thoughts as the bright light bathes my retinas.”

When Carol complained of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — also known as the winter blues — her doctor gave her a brochure about a company that makes several varieties of high-powered therapy lights and lamps.

“A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD,” says the Mayo Clinic. A light box may be an effective treatment on its own or, the Mayo Clinic adds, “in combination with an antidepressant medication or psychotherapy.”

Think you may suffer from SAD? The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms:

• Irritability

• Tiredness or low energy

• Problems getting along with other people

• Hypersensitivity to rejection

• Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs

• Oversleeping

• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

• Weight gain

Carol likes her lamp a lot. Sitting by it, she exhorts, “SAD, be gone!”

3. Light up the night

Me, I like the dark. (Cue “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which starts out with this evocative line: “In the velvet darkness of the blackest night…” What, you’re not a fan?)

Night is when I write, read, listen to music and relax. I also like vanilla-scented candles, and one recent rainy evening I gathered up five of them, put them on a placemat in the middle of my dining room table and lit them all.

I turned off the lamps and then, with a clear sight line from the living room couch, I sat with a glass of wine, enjoying my impromptu candle party and the subtle scent of vanilla.

4. Treat your “defects’ lightly

“The truth is that the older I get, the more I like my defects. Old age is the best moment to be and do whatever you enjoy.” That’s Alma speaking. She’s the 81-year-old main character in Isabelle Allende’s book, The Japanese Lover: A Novel, about a woman who carries on a secret affair well into her later years. What’s especially intriguing about Alma’s quote is the encouragement to embrace our flaws and emphasize our eccentricities.

Another important self-improvement tip comes from a recent book by Allen Klein, who insists it’s time to stop blaming other people for anything.You Can’t Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around is Klein’s 25th book on harnessing the power of humor to make a better life.

“You are the only person who can ruin your day,” Klein writes. He says our reactions to any thought or action determines how we perceive that thought or action, and we have ultimate control over our reactions.

To bolster his case, Klein, 77, quotes rabbis, Japanese proverbs, Desmond Tutu, Chinese philosophers, Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun) and even Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet.

The gist of Klein’s message? Lighten up.

How to become a Boomer tech genius

Humorous and helpful ideas to get savvy about electronics and apps

By Barbara Crowley for Next Avenue


(Editor’s Note: This article is a reader-submitted essay.)

I believe my generation, the boomers, will change the way the world views aging.

I think we’ll do this by railing against getting old, whereas the generations before us just sat back and accepted it.

Suppliers of cosmetics, plastic surgery, pharmaceuticals and vitamin supplements have voluntarily joined our cause. Actually, these businesses don’t see it so much as a cause, but as a potentially lucrative demographic  — now tagged the “grey market.”

For most of these businesses, the focus is “anti-aging.”

I take issue with that term. The dictionary definition of “anti” is “opposed to.” Can you really be opposed to aging? Like you have an option and can cast your vote?

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