Preparation and prevention means comfort delivered. It is critically important to secure your senior years by making sure you know ahead of time what will be happening to your body, mind and yes - your spirit. This is because loneliness and depression are currently some of the biggest issues in our current senior populations.
Healthy, proactive preparations can help you avoid the pain and heartache that comes with broken bones, a dementia diagnosis, social isolation and many of the other ravages of aging.
What’s happening to your brain as you age?
Aging is causing changes to your brain’s size, vasculature and cognition. Your brain is shrinking with your increasing age and there are changes at every level. Aging changes fundamental functioning from your molecules to morphology.
The incidence of stroke, white matter lesions and dementia also rise with age. And so does the level of memory impairment. There are also changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones.
The most vibrant protective factors - the factors that reduce cardiovascular risk - namely regular exercise, a healthy diet and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the aging brain along with increased cognitive efforts in the form of education or new occupational attainments.
A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defense against the changes of an aging brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease are also important.
The effects of aging on the brain and cognition are widespread. They have multiple etiologias. Aging has major effects on the molecules, cells, vasculature, gross morphology and cognition.
As we age our brains shrink in volume. Especially in the frontal cortex. As our vasculature ages and our blood pressure rises - the possibility of stroke and ischaemia increases. This means that our white-matter develops lesions.
Memory decline also occurs with aging, which means your brain activation becomes more bilateral for memory tasks. This may be an attempt by our brains to compensate and recruit additional networks. It could also be because specific areas are no longer easily accessed.
Genetics, neurotransmitters, hormones and experience all have a part to play in brain aging. But don’t despair... it is not all negative. Higher levels of education or occupational attainment may act as a protective factor.
Other protective factors include a healthy diet, low to moderate alcohol intake and regular exercise. Biological aging is not tied absolutely to chronological aging and it may be possible to slow biological aging and even reduce the possibility of suffering from age related diseases such as dementia.
Precautions: Your brain will slow, your perceptions and movements will slow, parts of your memory will go. Safe environment/fall and injury prevention, loneliness prevention and reliable in-home supports are where you will need to focus when you are planning your twilight years.
Preparations: You need to be stable in your physical environment. Whether you own or rent - it is critical to understand that any move after the age of 80 has the potential to cause you to have a significant cognitive decline. Make sure your income will keep pace with your living expenses. This will prevent the need for anyone to make you have to move.
Arrange for support. You will need support. Do not fall into the American myth that independence is more important than safety and maintaining a healthy aging environment. The most devastating situation you can imagine happens all the time right now;
Independently minded elders with progressing dementia, refusing the needed help and having to experience a fall, a trip to skilled nursing for an extended visit - the predictable cognitive decline that comes with it - and the time and pain and trauma required to heal from this very preventable event.
How to stay active and engaged? Retain meaning and fulfillment
Experts in aging are now telling us that the best thing we can do to prevent dementia and the slow drumbeat of decline due to an aging brain is to take long, brisk walks with someone we love - while at the same time having a passionate conversation about something we care deeply about.
Be kind to those who love you by appointing a legal decision maker on your behalf before you have any issues with dementia. Do all of your legal paperwork ahead of time! Tell your life-story, create your book of life for your family, make your will now and secure your palliative and end of life directives in writing.
Keep doing your hobbies. Find accommodation if your body becomes difficult to manage when working to keep your normal routines. Retaining friendships and activities that bring you joy have never been more important.
Accommodations: Do not underestimate the power of pain relieving approaches. Keeping your body out of chronic physical pain is essential. This is why so many people are into Yoga. Meditation and gentle muscle stretching are essential to keep the subtle-fibers of our shrinking muscles relaxed, elastic and mobile.
Relaxing and strengthening muscles is key to relieving pain. If you have chronic pain - find a muscle-whisperer. This is a Physical Therapist that is an expert in understanding muscles. They can identify the muscles related to your overactive nerve endings at your pain point, teach you to build up those muscles around that irritated fiber and lift that nerve ending up off the activation point of pain.
There is no way to tell how your aging process will go. It is your responsibility to be ready as it creeps up on you. Your family will thank you for it. Attending to your twilight years and preparing to be comfortable is the best love response you can offer to those who care about you.
So do not put off what you can do today! Write that book, paint that landscape, collect the family histories and put them in order for your kids or family. Make sure your environment is free of fall risks. Figure out who will help you when you need it and how they will be compensated. There is no time like the present - and your cognition may never be as good as it is right now - ever again!
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.