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Successful Aging: How to deal with loss and maintain healthy habits

Dear readers,

I recently shared highlights of a talk I gave at the eleventh annual Daily Breeze Expo at the Torrance Marriott. My theme was Game Changers in Aging. I addressed topics that typically have positive implications for older adults, including longevity, information and movements.

During a discussion after my presentation, a gentleman politely took the microphone and said, “You have missed something: the subject of loss.”

Indeed, it is an important game changer.

A few weeks ago I asked a group of women in their 70’s and 80’s what has caused major changes in their personal lives – their game changers. They replied, “loss of a spouse, not being able to do the things they used to do, chronic health conditions, having less energy, no longer being able to travel, losing friends “and more.

Loss occurs on a personal level and also can occur as a result of our public policies, infrastructure, lack of awareness and unanswered research questions. Here is a snapshot of conditions that can easily diminish one’s quality of life.

Financial insecurity: According to the National Council on Aging, over 25 million Americans aged 60 and older are economically insecure. That means they are living at or below the federal poverty level, which is approximately $29,425 per year for a single person. They struggle with increased costs of housing and health care, inadequate nutrition, lack of access to transportation, diminished savings and job loss.

Inadequate nutrition: In 2015, almost 3 million households with an older adult aged 65 and older experienced what is called food insecurity; they didn’t have enough to eat. Many who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps, are not enrolled.

Loneliness: AARP conducted a study of loneliness and social isolation in a national survey of those 45 years and older. A little over one-third reported they were lonely and were less likely to be involved in activities such as attending religious services, volunteering, participating in a community organization or spending time on a hobby. Loneliness was a significant predictor of poor health.

Alzheimer’s Disease: In 2019, an estimated 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias. That number is expected to increase to 13.8 million in 2050. Here’s the current picture. One out of ten or 10 percent of those 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. That percentage increases with age: three percent of those ages 65 to 74; 17 percent of people 75 to 84 and 32 percent of those 85 and older have Alzheimer’s Disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association. No known agreed upon cause or cure is yet available.

Caregiving: About 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older. About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Age discrimination: Although illegal, it is alive and well, particularly in the work place. AARP reports two out of three workers between ages 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work. Working in hi-tech, entertainment and advertising industries increases the chances of experiencing age discrimination.

These are problems. So, what to do?

Exercise the democratic privilege and right to vote. Vote for candidates who make sense to you and look at their positions that relate to aging.

Continue to save and spend wisely. Consult a professional to review your status and plans.

If you cannot afford to buy food, apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in your state. In California, it is called the CalFresh program. Contact your county at In Los Angeles County call (866) 613-3777.

Stay connected to people, organizations and movements to avoid social isolation.

There is no known prevention or cure of Alzheimer’s Disease. However, researchers have identified healthy life choices such as exercise, diet and staying socially and intellectually active as possible deterrents.

If you are a caregiver, seek support from local community agencies.

If working, keep up your skills to avoid falling into the stereotype that older workers are non-techies and cannot learn new things. Also report age discrimination to a human resource person in your company or file a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

We will never have control over our aging experience for a host of reasons. However, each of us can exercise some influence.

Thank you to the gentleman who raised the issue of loss as a game changer. Note, fortunately most older adults are resilient; we collectively adjust and adapt to the best of our ability.

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