news media is fond of depicting elderly Americans as balding men
who are hard of hearing or bulky women who can't remember where
they placed the car keys, but the realities of aging are far from
these myths. Today, older Americans are healthier than ever before,
and they are living longer and enjoying their retirement.
hasn't been too helpful in tackling the problem of hair loss,
studies have revealed that the aging brain retains most of its
mental ability. There are plenty of studies showing that men and
women continue to flourish well into their 80s and 90s with relatively
little loss in brain cells. In the past, researchers thought the
loss of brain cells occurred every day. Now we know that although
there is some loss with healthy aging, it is confined to specific
areas of the brain, leaving other areas intact. Changes in the
hippocampus may affect the rate of memory retrieval, but not the
accuracy of information.
expected the graying of America to increase the number of Americans
who were chronically ill or disabled. The reality is that medical
scientists have improved treatment for chronic disease, so elderly
people are living longer with less crippling disabilities. The
National Long-Term Care Surveys, a federal survey of nearly 20,000
people age 65 and older, shows that every year a smaller percentage
of people are unable to care for themselves. Disability rates
have steadily decreased by 1 or 2 percent a year since 1982. During
the same period, the percentage of elderly people with chronic
diseases like high blood pressure, emphysema and arthritis has
Why are Americans
less frail and feeble? Treatment advancements in osteoporosis,
heart disease and vision impairment are delaying or preventing
the burdens of chronic disease that have afflicted former generations.
Also, the educational level of elderly Americans is rising, and
study after study indicates that a higher level of education is
associated with better health. People with higher education generally
have more access to health care. They are also more likely to
adjust their diets or lifestyles to improve health, elect not
to smoke and seek out treatments like hip or knee replacements
that prevent disability.
physically and socially, contributes to successful aging. Research
established by the MacArthur Foundation Consortium on Successful
Aging and conducted at several universities and hospitals found
that people who entered their eighth decade healthy and independent
shared several predictors for successful aging: regular physical
activity, continued social connections, resiliency during the
loss of relationships and a sense of self-efficacy. All of these
factors helped older Americans maintain well-being through the
normal stresses of life.
have found that cases of mental decline among the elderly are
linked to less physical activity, but even these persons could
minimize their decline by engaging in cognitive training or exercises,
like chess or jigsaw puzzles.
testing healthy people over a number of years, researchers found
that verbal intelligence may even increase with age. While certain
aspects of intelligence, primarily the speed of information processing,
did fall off with age, older people did as well as younger people
on tests of cognitive ability.
study looking at the effects of increased exercise on cognitive
function revealed that physical activity raises the level of brain-derived
neurotropic factor (BDNF), a nerve growth factor that keeps neurons
healthy. This increase in BDNF occurred not just in motor areas
of the brain but in all areas involved in learning, memory and
cognition. Education, too, may stimulate the neuronal pathways
early in life and prompt people to remain cognitively active throughout
all of this mean to those of us who are approaching retirement?
Leading an active life--exercising, socializing, reading, learning--is
a prescription for successful aging. The message to young and
old alike is stay active, interested and involved. Your continued
good health depends on it.
Sprinkle is a family physician with UC Davis Medical Group. For
more information about healthy aging, plan to attend the Healthy
Aging Summit, Oct. 15 & 16 at the Sacramento Convention Center.
Check the Web site at: https://
Reference Source 105