What are you doing to make sure you’re aging well? Most people watch their diet, visit their doctors more frequently, and try to exercise more. But is that enough to make your senior years successful?

A documentary, Alive Inside, argues that to truly age well, one needs the arts. The film explores the role music plays in memory, citing cases of patients with dementia and even seniors with typically failing memories suddenly being able to recall vivid scenes from their past with the aid of familiar music. The idea is this: Playing favorite or familiar music for a subject will help trigger vivid recollections, even if the subject’s brain isn’t functioning as it once did. This musical therapy has even inspired the Music and Memory Project, which funds iPods for seniors who can deeply benefit from enjoying music that meant so much to them long ago.

But music isn’t the only thing keeping seniors young at heart. Both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Institute on Aging have programs that promote all forms of the arts to seniors. Whether painting, composing, dancing, or appreciating, an appetite for the arts seems to help seniors enjoy the aging process. Some seniors write novels or screenplays that a senior acting troop can bring to life. Some seniors paint abstract or classical art to decorate their rooms or local senior centers. The form of expression doesn’t seem to matter as long as something is being expressed creatively.

Some scientists believe that it’s not the art, but the social engagement that is critical to keeping seniors vital. But studies have shown that listening to familiar music, even without engaging with others, can improve memory.

So this weekend, why not plan to include a little art in your life? Catch a concert or go to the symphony with friends. Sign up for a painting class and learn a new technique. Or sit down and write out that story idea that’s buzzing around in your head. Expressing yourself creatively may be the key to keeping yourself happy as you age.

As your parents age, are you confident that they’re coping with the changes that come with age? Are you sure?

Many aging Americans don’t like to admit when they need help. Others can’t see that they might need some assistance with everyday tasks. While it’s important that parents know there is no shame in asking for help, there are a few ways you can assess your loved ones and make sure they’re still thriving while living independently.

  1. Check out the car. On your way into the house, take a detour to your loved one’s vehicle. Is there any noticeable damage? Did your parent tell you about scraping the paint or dinging a door? If a senior has a banged-up car and hasn’t mentioned any accidents, it may be time to take them for a driving evaluation.  
  2. Give a hug. You should, of course, always offer a hug to a loved one you’re visiting, but this hug isn’t only a show of love: Take the opportunity to gauge any frailness or weakness you spot in the hug. When you’re close, evaluate the senior. Are they brushing their teeth? Do they smell clean? If you notice anything odd, don’t hesitate to bring it up.
  3. Get a snack. Even if you’re not hungry, ask for a snack and something to drink. This gives you the chance to check out the senior’s kitchen, and evaluate its general upkeep and what’s in stock.. It also gives you the opportunity to watch your loved one in action. Can they make a cup of coffee? Are they struggling to cut up a piece of fruit? Pay attention to how they navigate the kitchen.

If you think your parents need assistance, it’s time to sit them down for a gentle, honest talk. Consulting experts in aging such as Capital City Nurses for home care, or A Geriatric Care Manager for other advice is a good idea. If there are any physical changes to your loved one or to their vehicle(s), it may be time to bring them to a doctor for an evaluation as well.

Whether you’re just checking on a relative or worrying about mom and dad, it can be hard to evaluate if a senior is thriving in their environment. With these tips, you can take a look at your loved one and determine if they need some extra help managing their home or their health.

David Letterman was famous for his Top 10 lists on his late-night television show. Most of them often brought a chuckle, while some were downright awful. But what Mr. Letterman understood was the power of creating an easy-to-remember list that could be recited the next day at lunch or around the water cooler at work.

We’ve created such a Top 10 list, but it’s not intended to make you laugh. It is intended to be memorable and frequently discussed with your loved ones. While you may not want to recognize one or more of the signs on this list because to do so would be to admit that your aging parents need some help at home, it’s vitally important that you know what to look for so you can act before an accident happens.

Here is the list: 10 Signs Your Elderly Parent Needs Help at Home

  1. Stacks of unopened mail or unread newspapers and magazines
  2. Spoiled food in the refrigerator
  3. Empty pantry and cupboards
  4. Declining personal hygiene (body odor, unkempt hair, unbrushed teeth)
  5. Mood swings and unexplained changes in mood
  6. Lack of interest in hobbies, reading, and conversation
  7. A strong smell of urine in the house
  8. Piles of dirty laundry and beds without sheets or blankets
  9. Difficulties with standing, walking, or mobility
  10. Forgetfulness beyond a simple “senior moment”

If you’ve noticed one or a combination of the above signs, then it may be time to start the conversation about next steps for your aging loved one. Many options ranging from part-time home care aides to assisted-living facilities are available. There are many ways to help you protect your elderly parent when you notice the signs. This list of indicators is a place to start.

 

Special contribution from Barbara Kane, LCSW-C and Linda Hill, LCSW-C, of Aging Network Services

As geriatric social workers, we work with adult brothers and sisters who are caring for their aging parents. They are often reengaging with one another in very intense circumstances, sometimes after decades of being focused more on their own families than on their family of origin.  The stakes are usually high, as can be the associated emotions and opinions about how to best help their parents. As they sit in our Bethesda office, sometimes with one or two siblings on a conference call, they may silently wonder whether they are even going to continue a sibling relationship once this last parent dies. The process is never easy, but once we have a plan of care in place, siblings frequently look at one another with a rush of gratitude and maybe even a new respect.

Coordinating care for aging and ill parents is difficult for many adult siblings and frequently reawakens old wounds and conflicts. The presenting problem is not the sibling relationship; it is the effective care of the aging parents. Still, working to resolve issues related to taking care of their parents may offer siblings a fresh opportunity to resolve past conflicts.

Division of Roles

We often find that discussing roles and responsibilities is an opportunity to coach siblings on how they can work together more effectively. In a consultation, we may interrupt them to show healthier ways of communicating, both listening and talking. With siblings, we point out that each has different temperaments. We work to help them acknowledge and respect these complementary differences and the strengths of both.

After a couple of sibling sessions with the help of our coaching, we advise siblings to continue these meetings on a regular basis themselves.  Perhaps monthly meetings which they can regard as care planning discussions or business meetings is a good way to check in with each other.

Here are some questions that siblings may use to guide them in their discussions:

  • Do you feel that I have been doing enough?
  • Do you feel that I have been doing too much?
  • Is there anything that I have said or emailed over the last month that bothered you?
  • Do you feel that I have asked you for approval for big care decisions during the last month?
  • Do we need to revise our division of labor?
  • Do you feel I have been respectful of you in tone and action?
  • Have we communicated enough over the last month?
  • Are any old wounds festering?
  • Overall, how do you feel we are doing as a team?

It may seem that monthly meetings are not necessary.  But even if the aging parent is quite stable, sibling relationships need to remain on an even keel throughout this journey of caregiving.  Many families are split by geographical distance and it is often the out of town sibling who has the harder time with feeling out of the circle of care. These meetings, even over the phone, can go a long way towards keeping all the siblings feeling good about each other and the work they are doing together.

For this may be the last time that adult siblings have such a profound reason to come together.

When we think of retirement, most people picture a life of ease: sipping cocktails by a beach, playing with grand-kids, or finally getting a chance to relax on the couch and catch up on your Netflix time. All of these activities can be great fun, but where’s the challenge?

For years, scientists have seen a link between engaging in enjoyable activities and maintaining a healthy brain. But could merely engaging in enjoyable activities be enough?

In a new study featured in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, researchers have found that the brain works best when it’s challenged. The study followed two groups of seniors: One group was assigned to socialize for 15 hours a week, engaging their peers, but learning no new skills. The other group was taught skills on a digital camera for 14 hours a week, taking on progressively more complex assignments. Scientists found that the group who spent their time actively learning new and challenging skills did better on cognitive tests.

Researchers are drawing links between strong neural pathways in the brain and cognitive challenges. This means that while chatting with friends might make you feel young, learning Russian could keep your brain young.

How do you challenge your brain? Scientists are still trying to determine what parts of learning preserve neural pathways, but they believe that increasingly difficult tasks are the best way to keep your brain healthy. Objectives like learning a language, developing a new craft, or memorizing a dance routine are good ways to engage your brain in active learning. Consider perusing the brochures for community college classes near you or check neighborhood bulletin boards to help you find an interest that will allow you to challenge your brain.

Whether you’re hoping to stave off memory loss or just want to spend retirement discovering all the things you didn’t have time for while you worked, the point is this: Learning isn’t always easy, but hard-won lessons impart precious knowledge as well as promote a healthy brain.  

Close your eyes and imagine someone who is “old.” What images does this word conjure up?  Do you see frailty, sadness, or people with memory loss? For most Americans these are the images they see. But why?

Getting older isn’t the end of one’s life; it’s a chance to embrace more of life. Aging should be seen as a grand adventure, not a slow march toward death.

Geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas believes our attitudes toward aging exacerbate some of the problems the senior community faces. He sees seniors as entering a new phase of life, something he calls “post-adulthood.” Thomas argues that the senior years can be vital years of self-discovery and adventure, given the chance.

But embracing your age also means that aging Americans have to stop chasing their youth.

‘You’re as young as you feel, and I feel like I’m 22 years old.’ That’s not good, that’s not right ... and the reason it’s wrong is it doesn’t allow you to be who you are,” Thomas explained to TheWashington Post. Instead of seniors pretending to be in their 20s, Thomas wants seniors to embrace their true age with the same energy and enthusiasm that would be expected of a 22-year-old.

Thomas points out that believing old age is a bad thing can lead to dementia, depression, and other maladies. The key to aging, in his mind, isn’t denying what’s happening, but refusing to view age as a burden. There are 80-year-olds who run marathons. There are 90-year-old grandmothers who make Christmas dinner each year.

Another culprit of the negative aging stigma are the very institutions we use to offer assistance to seniors. According to Thomas, American nursing homes are regimented against seniors, making them feel useless, and are designed for the convenience of the staff, not the benefit of the patients.

Whether you’re running marathons at 80 or need a little help with mobility, aging is nothing to be ashamed of. By embracing our age and celebrating seniors, we help build a stronger, happier elderly community.

Winter can be a bit of a downer.

Snow, ice, unsafe driving conditions, bitter cold—all of these factors can make winter seem depressing. But winter blues are more than just a passing notion; each year some people get SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a clinically diagnosable form of depression that can result in overeating, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in daily activities. Scientists theorize that SAD is brought on not only by the drop in temperature, but the reduced amount of daylight. In essence, our bodies respond to the change in season by slowing us down physically and emotionally.

For seniors, SAD can be especially debilitating. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 55 experience depression. To make sure that seniors are not suffering from SAD, caregivers and loved ones should keep an eye out for crucial signs. If seniors seem to have lost interest in activities they typically enjoy, isolate themselves from friends and family, or spend inordinate amounts of time sleeping, caregivers should consider intervention.

Unlike for many forms of depression, for SAD there is a simple, non-pharmaceutically based treatment: the sun. Exposing SAD sufferers to sunlight can help energize and cheer most patients. If you suspect a senior is suffering from SAD, bright, sunny areas of the home are the best way to elevate their mood without the use of chemicals. Light box therapy is another effective option—filling a room with artificial sunlight to help minimize the effects of SAD. Sunlight therapy lamps, which are inexpensive, might also be an intelligent addition to your home décor. Even those who aren’t suffering from full-blown SAD will get a natural boost from the simulated sunlight.

Whether you’re worried about a senior who seems down or trying to cope with the effects of the season yourself, no one has to be SAD. Stay mindful of the signs, and seek help if any SAD symptoms present to eliminate this highly treatable form of depression.

Travel isn’t for the young. You don’t need to be in your 20s to discover the world. As we age, learning new things and exploring new places can actually help our brains stay vital.

Unfortunately, there’s a stigma surrounding traveling with seniors.

Many people caring for seniors feel that travel isn’t an option, not considering the option of traveling with their aging loved one or partner. With a little bit of planning, seniors can experience new and wonderful corners of the world together, with their caregivers.

There are three essential steps to traveling with a senior:

  1. Know Limitations. Does your grandmother run marathons or barely get off the couch? Every senior can travel, but knowing the kind of vacation to prepare for is essential. Choose destinations that won’t over exert older travelers beyond their physical limitations, and offer places along the way to sit and relax. If you’re planning a trip that involves strenuous activities or lots of walking, it is best to have any senior travelers get a full health check beforehand.
  2. Plan. Traveling with seniors requires a bit of extra planning. Make sure that medications and essential items are available, even while on the road. Most airlines, trains, and bus companies will work with customers to safely store and provide access to temperature-sensitive medications. If your senior has a mobility issue, like a walker or wheelchair, plan for extra time in security lines, and do your homework regarding the accessibility of any hotels and venues you will be visiting.
  3. Research. Some destinations are naturally senior-friendly. Take a look through a list of destinations that cater to older visitors with your loved one, and choose a trip that you can both enjoy. Also be sure to look for senior discounts that can help make travel easier on your wallet as well.

Whether you want to explore great landmarks, visit museums, or take in some shows, traveling doesn’t have to be an adventure limited to the young.. There is no limit to the possibilities for you or your loved ones as they age, with a little planning; enjoy the chance to explore the world.

Do you have any idea what life will be like when you’re 80?

Genetics and a look at your senior family members might offer you a clue, but scientists are working on creating ways for people to experience aging without the years or medical problems.

Applied Minds LLC has created the R70i, a suit that ages the wearer 40 years. The exoskeleton works in tandem with an Oculus virtual reality headset to impair vision and hearing, reduce mobility, and add weight to the wearer. In essence, you can experience all the medical drawbacks of aging. The suit will be used by insurance company Genworth Financial to help them predict the physical risks of muscle deterioration, arthritis, and more.

Why would anyone want to age forty years in a matter of minutes?

The inventors of R70i believe that the suit can help companies effectively understand the aging process, and the risks that accompany it. Medical research teams can use the suit to simulate the aging process when investigating common risks for seniors, caregiver companies could use the suits to help employees understand the challenges facing their charges, and the R70i suit could help innovators learn about the how the needs of seniors change as they age.

Tech companies are also working on ways to monitor senior health without intrusive machines. The Bodycap e-Celsius might be the newest way for medical professionals to take vitals for seniors. The e-pill is a small, swallowable pill which can track temperature, fluctuation in vital signs, and even spot irregular patterns in body functions that will predict a future illness. Imagine having the ability to monitor a senior’s heart, without dragging an EKG around.

Whether monitoring vitals or letting the able bodied experience rapid aging, technology is helping us understand the aging process in new and innovative ways.

What’s your favorite song?

Whether it’s a golden oldie or new music, chances are, if it’s your favorite you know the lyrics by heart. You sing them on long car rides, in the shower, or when you’re having a good day. It turns out, these impromptu karaoke sessions are good for more than your vocal training.

Finnish researchers have found that singing may be a way to improve brain function, even in patients with early stage dementia. Singing improved the mood and the cognitive abilities of everyone in the study, especially those with early stage dementia.

Researchers studied the effects of music on the brain for 10 weeks, allowing seniors to sing their favorite tunes, hum music, and listen to tunes. Seniors with mild dementia showed improvement in memory, thinking skills, and their ability to get around. Those without dementia showed improved memory skills as well.

Singing also served as a mood elevator. Seniors who were encouraged to sing reported mood improvement and increases in optimism.

What does this mean for the seniors in your life?

It means it’s time to get musical.

If your loved one is having trouble with memory or mood, consider signing them up for a music class or a senior singing group. An activity with a musical theme is also an excellent idea for seniors with no memory problems, as it will help keep them sharp. If you can’t find a music-based activity, singing along may be the key to victory. Get your senior’s favorite music and arrange for an interactive concert. Afraid of sounding off-key? The study shows that even those who listen to music can reap the mental benefits.

Whether you’re hoping to keep your mind honed or simply interested in a sing along, music may be the key to keeping healthy in 2016.