When winter weather hits us with cold and icy conditions, it’s no surprise that many of us can feel isolated or lonely. What may be surprising is that social isolation and loneliness can have negative health consequences, especially for older adults.
Recent National Institute for Aging research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, depression, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy just as much as smoking.
Do the short days and icy sidewalks get you down at this time of year? Turns out you’re not alone. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is estimated to affect 10 million Americans – and yes, most live in places far from the equator, like New England. For many seniors, especially those who live alone, the winter months can bring on a lesser form of SAD – the winter blues.
Sometimes the holidays can be a difficult time for parents and relatives, and it can be hard to see our loved ones struggling. If they’re beginning to get lonely or are having trouble living independently, the holidays can become a tough and stressful time – for everyone.
Tara Fleming-Caruso, collaborative care advisor at NewBridge on the Charles, a Hebrew SeniorLife continuing care retirement community, offers some advice on how to make the holiday season enjoyable while still honoring the needs of your aging loved one.
Q: What are some ways we can include our aging parents in holiday celebrations?
Life can be extremely hectic and there are many ways to get information in today’s world. Especially if you’re raising children of your own, it can be confusing to navigate when your own parents need support and help. You are moving so quickly between the demands of work and family, and can often find yourself unprepared to help your parent or loved one as they age.
Visit any retirement community, and you’ll hear one common fear among residents: falls. For many older people, a fall can lead to injury, decline, and a loss of independence. That’s why it’s an area of research focus at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research.
Brad Manor, Ph.D., is an associate scientist at the Marcus Institute. He’s investigating new treatments to alleviate the burden of balance decline that often accompanies biological aging, particularly among those with Parkinson’s disease.
It’s not uncommon to experience some memory loss as you get older. Although your parent or loved one may complain of memory problems, that does not mean they have dementia or even Alzheimer’s. Common memory issues include difficulty remembering names and details of events. If this does not interfere with any daily functioning, then it can be considered normal and likely related to natural aging. However, significant memory loss is not a part of normal aging.
Here is a warning sign checklist from the Alzheimer’s Association which outlines the signs to look for and when to talk to a doctor.
Joan Kaplowitz, a resident at Hebrew SeniorLife’s continuing care retirement community Orchard Cove, believes in the importance of the written word. Wanting to share her love of words, Joan established a fund at Orchard Cove, the Joan Kaplowitz Fund for the Written Word, to bring in speakers and writing programs for her fellow residents.
“I took writing courses over the years,” she says. “But I didn’t do it seriously. And then when I came to Orchard Cove four years ago, I signed up for a writing workshop.
Every year, around January 1, most of us make a list of New Year’s resolutions. Seems like it’s human nature to be introspective at this time and take a look at what we’d like to improve. At Hebrew SeniorLife, our seniors have many New Year’s resolutions, including many that may be on your list.
Since researchers have not yet determined what causes Alzheimer’s disease, you may be wondering if there is anything we can do to prevent it?
The answer is YES. RUSH University nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, ScD, and colleagues’ research has shown a link between nutrition and the role it may play to prevent or delay the onset of dementia decline. One of the studies showed the benefits of the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) on cognition – it included 960 participants with an average age of 81. The research analyzed food frequency and cognition scores over 10 years. Those on the MIND diet scored being 7.5 years younger cognitively!
In the doctor's office, examining how an older adult walks can reveal a lot. It captures a snapshot of overall functioning and well-being, provides insight into patient mobility and independence, and foresight into fall risk, hospitalization, and disability.
Believe it or not, walking is not an automated task – it is highly complex! It relies upon the full spectrum of our body’s systems: the heart and lungs, the bones, joints, and muscles, the nerves, and our brain and spine. But when one of these systems weakens or fails, the brain is needed even more to compensate.