Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Kaiser Health News ran a story about the impact of loneliness in elders. Like Hunger Or Thirst, Loneliness In Seniors Can Be Eased explains that loneliness is "fixable".
[L]oneliness is the exception rather than the rule in later life. And when it occurs, it can be alleviated: It’s a mutable psychological state... Only 30 percent of older adults feel lonely fairly frequently, according to data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, the most definitive study of seniors’ social circumstances and their health in the U.S....The remaining 70 percent have enough fulfilling interactions with other people to meet their fundamental social and emotional needs.
There are significant physical and psychological manifestations of loneliness but the good news is that it can be resolved. The article discusses a study on loneliness, with one result worth mentioning here, "[w]hat helped older adults who had been lonely recover? Two factors: spending time with other people and eliminating discord and disturbances in family relationships." The study also examined loneliness prevention factors; the "study also looked at protective factors that kept seniors from becoming lonely. What made a difference? Lots of support from family members and fewer physical problems that interfere with an individual’s independence and ability to get out and about."
The article distinguishes between loneliness and isolation, an important point. The article discusses a couple of ways to alleviate loneliness: altering perceptions and investing in relationships. The article also mentions a project from The Netherlands, "a six-week “friendship enrichment program” [with the] goal is to help people become aware of their social needs, reflect on their expectations, analyze and improve the quality of existing relationships and develop new friendships."
Monday, May 22, 2017
The Pew Research Center released a new report on tech use and older adults. Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults explains the rise in "wired" elders: "[a]round four-in-ten (42%) adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013. Internet use and home broadband adoption among this group have also risen substantially. Today, 67% of seniors use the internet – a 55-percentage-point increase in just under two decades. And for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home." That seems like good news, but what about those who aren't connected? "One-third of adults ages 65 and older say they never use the internet, and roughly half (49%) say they do not have home broadband services. Meanwhile, even with their recent gains, the proportion of seniors who say they own smartphones is 42 percentage points lower than those ages 18 to 64."
The report shows a correlation between use and age, income and education. The report discusses tech adoption by type of tech, obstacles to adoption and use, levels of engagement and perceptions of the value of tech on society. A pdf of the 23 page report is available here.
Monday, May 1, 2017
I blogged a few days ago about an upcoming hearing for the Senate Committee on Aging. That hearing, on April 27, 2017, concerned the Mental and Physical Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness. Testimonies from the hearing can be accessed here.
The April 27, 2017 hearing was the first of two parts looking into the issue. As noted in the first hearing
The risks of social isolation and loneliness compare with smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed those associated with physical inactivity and obesity. According to researchers, prolonged isolation is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation and loneliness are associated with higher rates of heart disease; weakened immune system; depression and anxiety; dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease; and nursing home admissions.
The next hearing is set for May 10, 2017 and will focus on Aging With Community: Building Connections that Last a Lifetime.
Late last week I learned that CMS may be reversing course on prohibiting pre-dispute arbitration clauses in nursing home admission contracts. I couldn't decide if my response should be "say it isn't so" or "you have got to be kidding me". Nevertheless, Justice in Aging reported in their weekly newsletter, This Week in Health Care Defense that:
CMS Backtracks on Nursing Home Arbitration Prohibition
As part of last year’s revision of nursing facility regulations, CMS prohibited federally-certified nursing facilities from obtaining arbitration agreements at the time of admission. CMS concluded that it was unfair to have residents and families waive legal rights during such a difficult and chaotic time. Now, however, CMS has reversed course and has filed language that would revise the regulation to allow facilities to obtain arbitration agreements at admission. For more on the revised regulations, see the series of issue briefs developed by Justice in Aging in partnership with the Center for Medicare Advocacy and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
May is the time of many things. Spring is in full swing, flowers are blooming, we celebrate mothers, the school year is ending, and more. Not only that, May is also Older Americans month and National Elder Law month. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has a website dedicated to older Americans month. The theme for 2017 is Age Out Loud. Need ideas for events? ACL offers that here. Helpful hints for using social media are offered as well.
Elder Law attorneys... are you considering an event or activity? Need ideas? Take a look at NAELA's toolkit for National Elder Law month. Although it's the end of the academic year, consider involving your students in planning and offering events.
If you have something planned, share it with the rest of us?
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
The Senate Special Committee on Aging has a hearing scheduled for April 27, 2017 starting at 9:45 a.m. The topic of the hearing: Aging Without Community: The Consequences of Isolation and Loneliness. Four witnesses are scheduled to testify, including two academics and the head of a Council on Aging from Pima County, Arizona. Video of testimony and resources will be posted to the committee's hearings website subsequently. Stay tuned.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
The New York Times ran an article earlier this month about a 94 year old genius. To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old features Dr. John Goodenough. who "at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles." Back when Dr. Goodenough was 23 and starting college, he was told by a professor that he was too old to succeed in his chosen field of physics. The article mentions how for some creativity increases with age but there are biases and hurdles in their way.
At least in Silicon Valley, the article notes, youth seems to be the common denominator. But, for others "there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers." Even someone from the Patent Office has noticed that “there’s clear evidence that people with seniority are making important contributions to invention.”
The author asks Dr. Goodenough for his thoughts.
When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.
Plus being a 94 year old scientist is freeing. "Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, 'You no longer worry about keeping your job.'"
Friday, April 14, 2017
The AARP blog, Thinking Policy last week posted about new data: Labor force participation rate for people ages 55+ edges up in March
The monthly Employment Situation Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the economy added 98,000 jobs in March 2017 — an unexpectedly smaller increase from the first two months of the year. The number of persons ages 55+ who are employed increased slightly from February. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for those ages 55 and older remained unchanged, at 3.4 percent and approximately 1.2 million unemployed. The percentage of the 55+ population that is either working or actively seeking work, i.e. the labor force participation rate, increased slightly to 40.1 percent. The labor force participation rate of persons ages 55+ has remained at around 40 percent throughout the past year. In March the labor force participation rate of men ages 55+ was 46.1 percent, compared with 34.9 percent for women ages 55+.
The post specifically examines the data about women in the workforce, with the highest percentage of those 55 and older hitting the high in 2013. "Education has been a key factor influencing women’s labor force participation and is likely to continue to have an impact in the future. Over the past several years, women earned the majority of college degrees of all levels. If this trend continues, employers faced with the need for college-educated workers are likely to seek more ways to attract and retain female employees. This in turn may influence the number of women in the labor market – and the number who continue to work at older ages."
Monday, April 3, 2017
The way Americans currently think about aging creates obstacles to productive practices and policies. How can the field of aging help build a better understanding of aging, ageism, and what it will take to create a more age-integrated society?
To answer this question, a group of leading national aging organizations and funders commissioned the FrameWorks Institute to conduct a Strategic Frame Analysis®, an empirical investigation into the communications aspects of aging issues. In this toolkit, you’ll find this original research as well as a variety of materials to help you apply it. If you use communications to make the case for adapting society to the needs of an aging population, the evidence-based insights here will be useful to you.
You’ll notice that the materials here are primarily designed to build framing concepts and skills. You won’t find “turnkey” handouts that are ready to print, but rather, examples and guidelines that help you work more intentionally and strategically to advance the conversation about older people in the United States.
Sharing and telling a common story is part of what it takes for a movement to drive major and meaningful social change. We invite you to begin to use these framing recommendations in your work, learn more about them, and share them with others working to create a more equal, more inclusive society.
There's a quick start guide and a "frame brief" that provides "an approach to changing public thinking about aging in America." Among other things, the toolkit provides resources as well as suggestions for conversation. Check it out. It could be a great exercise for your law students!
Thursday, March 30, 2017
The AARP Foundation Drive to End Hunger with their ambassador, Jeff Gordon, "is committed to solving the hunger crisis among older Americans." The commercial is available on You Tube. If you haven't thought about the issue of hunger amongst older Americans, you will be shocked when you look at the data. For example, over ten million folks age 50 and older are in danger of being hungry. As well, the costs of health care resulting from food insecurity is in the billions (yes billions). The website offers the opportunity to volunteer, donate and resources.
Here's some background about the initiative
Since 2011, AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger campaign has been raising awareness about the problem of food insecurity among older adults, meeting the immediate daily food needs of hungry seniors, and working to establish permanent solutions to end senior hunger once and for all. Through a collaboration with NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports, four-time Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne, and both public and private sector organizations, Drive to End Hunger has donated more than 37 million meals to help feed hungry seniors across the country.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Have you gotten one of these telemarketing calls? You answer, and then a female voice, sounding surprised you answered, makes a comment about her headset and asks if you can hear her. Before you realize this is a robocall, you say yes. Then you realize, it's a recording and you hang up. All's good, right? Maybe not.
The LA Times recently ran a story that explains all of this and what may happen if you say yes. Whatever you do, don’t say yes when this chatbot asks, 'Can you hear me?' calls this scam as the "Can you hear me" scam. "This is a new and highly sophisticated racket known as the “can you hear me” scam, which involves tricking people into saying yes and using that affirmation to sign people up for stuff they didn’t order."
Wait, you say. How can you be signed up for stuff if all you said was yes to the question, can you hear me? The article explains how this spins out
As the scam plays out, the recorded voice will raise the possibility of a vacation or cruise package, or maybe a product warranty. She’ll ask if you could answer a few questions. Or she’ll make it sound like her headset is still giving her trouble and say, “Can you hear me?” ... Don’t say yes.... Police departments nationwide have warned recently that offering an affirmative response can be edited to make it seem you’ve given permission for a purchase or some other transaction. There haven’t been many reports of losses, but a Washington State man reportedly got bilked for about $100.
So don't say yes. But what should you do? If you get one of these (and I have several times), hang up!!! Also, sign up for the do not call list, block the number, screen your calls and check your credit reports. (remember you can get your credit reports free annually).
How is that this robocall is even possible? Technology. As software evolves, this scam will be child's play. According to one expert quoted in the article
[A]s the technology improves and becomes more commonplace, it almost certainly will be embraced by telemarketers and scammers to try to dupe people into thinking they’re speaking with a real person, thus making a questionable sales pitch all the more believable. ... She said machines become more human-sounding the more they can be taught to pepper conversations with the occasional “um” or “uh-huh,” or to laugh at the right moment. They’ll soon convey what sounds like emotion and will adjust their vocal pitch to match the context of the discussion.
The author of the article concludes "[t]ink the “can you hear me” scam sounds devious? Just you wait." Sheesh. I think I'll just quit answering my phone.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
- Over the past 10 years, the population 65 and over increased from 36.6 million in 2005 to 47.8 million in 2015 (a 30% increase) and is projected to more than double to 98 million in 2060.
- Between 2005 and 2015 the population age 60 and over increased 34% from 49.8 million to 66.8 million.
- The 85+ population is projected to triple from 6.3 million in 2015 to 14.6 million in 2040.
- Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased from 6.7 million in 2005 (18% of the older adult population) to 10.6 million in 2015 (22% of older adults) and are projected to increase to 21.1 million in 2030 (28% of older adults).
- The number of Americans aged 45-64 – who will reach 65 over the next two decades – increased by 14.9% between 2005 and 2015.
- About one in every seven, or 14.9%, of the population is an older American.
- Persons reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.4 years (20.6 years for females and 18 years for males).
- There were 76,974 persons aged 100 or more in 2015 (0.2% of the total 65+ population).
- Older women outnumber older men at 26.7 million older women to 21.1 million older men.
- In 2015, 22% of persons 65+ were members of racial or ethnic minority populations--9% were African-Americans (not Hispanic), 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander (not Hispanic), 0.5% were Native American (not Hispanic), 0.1% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, (not Hispanic), and 0.7% of persons 65+ identified themselves as being of two or more races. Persons of Hispanic origin (who may be of any race) represented 8% of the older population.
- Older men were much more likely to be married than older women---70% of men, 45% of women. In 2016, 34% older women were widows.
- About 29% (13.6 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (9.3 million women, 4.3 million men).
- Almost half of older women (46%) age 75+ live alone.
- The median income of older persons in 2015 was $31,372 for males and $18,250 for females. Median money income (after adjusting for inflation) of all households headed by older people increased by 4.3% (which was statistically significant) between 2014 and 2015. Households containing families headed by persons 65+ reported a median income in 2015 of $57,360.
- The major sources of income as reported by older persons in 2014 were Social Security (reported by 84% of older persons), income from assets (reported by 62%), earnings (reported by 29%), private pensions (reported by 37%), and government employee pensions (reported by 16%).
- Social Security constituted 90% or more of the income received by 33% of beneficiaries in 2014 (21% of married couples and 43% of non-married beneficiaries).
- Over 4.2 million older adults (8.8%) were below the poverty level in 2015. This poverty rate is statistically different from the poverty rate in 2014 (10.0%). In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau also released a new Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) which takes into account regional variations in living costs, non-cash benefits received, and non-discretionary expenditures but does not replace the official poverty measure. In 2015, the SPM shows a poverty level for older persons of 13.7% (almost 5 percentage points higher than the official rate of 8.8%). This increase is mainly due to including medical out-of-pocket expenses in the poverty calculations.
*Principal sources of data for the Profile are the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Profile incorporates the latest data available but not all items are updated on an annual basis.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
So how about a post that is a feel good story? The Washington Post ran a story about an uptick in the adoption of older dogs. Older pets are typically harder to place, so this is happy news. More people are adopting old dogs — really old dogs focuses on those adoption agencies that specialize on adoptions of older dogs, a "growing number of animal organizations focusing on adopting out older dogs, or “senior dogs” that are typically 7 years or older. Their age makes them some of the hardest-to-place animals in a society that still adores romping puppies, although that is changing as books on elderly dogs and social media campaigns convince pet-seekers that the mature pooches often come with benefits, such as being house-trained, more sedate and less demanding of people with busy lifestyles."
For those thinking about bringing a dog into the family, the article offers that this is a good way to get started with pet companionship. There are even hospice for dogs and adopting one in hospice, can make a major difference in the dogs final days.
The article highlights several of those lucky dogs and their lucky owners. We all know about the research regarding the benefit of pet ownership. Not only are old dogs never too old to learn new tricks, they are also never to old to get new homes.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
20 New Yorkers from all different circumstances and backgrounds who have both exceeded life expectancy and who are disrupting commonly-held expectations of what it means to grow old.
Every few weeks, [the authors] introduce the story of a new person to our readers. You will meet a woman who cares for her 1-year-old great-grandchild, a man who was in prison for 30+ years and is trying to make up for lost time and an optometrist who has retired four times but keeps returning to work.
Isn't it time for a little positive news?
Monday, February 13, 2017
Late last month the Congressional Research Service published the following: The Elder Justice Act: Background and Issues for Congress. Here is an excerpt from the executive summary
Elder abuse is a complex issue that often requires a multifaceted policy response that combines public health interventions, social services programs, and criminal law enforcement for abusive behavior. To address this complexity, the Elder Justice Act was enacted on March 23, 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148, as amended). The act attempt s to provide a coordinated federal response by emphasizing various public health and social service approaches to the prevention, detection, and treatment of elder abuse. The Elder Justice Act also represents Congress’s first attempt at comprehensive legislation to address abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly at the federal level.
To date, most activities and programs authorized under the Elder Justice Act have not received federal funding through the annual appropriations process. For the first time, Congress appropriated $4 million for a new Elder Justice Initiative in FY2015 and $8 million in FY2016. However, the authorizations of appropriations for most provisions under the act expired on September 30, 2014. Despite the lack of discretionary appropriations prior to FY2015, some elder justice activities have received funding from mandatory funding appropriated through the ACA Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). As a result of this limited federal funding, the federal government has not substantially developed and expanded its role in addressing the prevention, detection, and treatment of elder abuse.
For FY2012, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) transferred $6.0 million to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) from the PPHF for new grants to states and tribes to test elder abuse prevention strategies. Funded projects included using forensic accountants to prevent elder financial exploitation, increasing medication adherence to prevent elder self-neglect, and developing screening tools to identify elder abuse. For FY2013, $2.0 million was transferred to ACL from the PPHF for elder justice activities, which funded development of the National Adult Protective Services Data Reporting System Project. No PPHF funds were transferred to ACL for elder justice activities for FY2014 or subsequent fiscal years.
For FY2017, the President’s budget request included $10.0 million in discretionary funding for Elder Justice/Adult Protective Services (APS) that would be used to fund APS, research, and evaluation activities. The 2017 budget request did not specify an intended transfer of funding from the PPHF for elder justice activities. For FY2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $10.0 million for the Elder Justice Initiative in its FY2017 Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bill. The House Appropriations Committee recommended $8.0 million in its FY2017 LHHS appropriations bill. Neither House nor Senate floor consideration of the bill occurred in the 114th Congress. Since the start of the fiscal year (October 1, 2016), funding for LHHS programs and activities has been provided by two continuing resolutions (CR; P.L. 114-223 and P.L. 114-254). The second FY2017 CR provides continuing appropriations for LHHS appropriations through April 28, 2017, or until full-year appropriations are enacted.
The report offers some observations for Congress as well as some concluding thoughts:
The Elder Justice Act represents one set of policies that exist in the broader context of domestic social policy to address the complex issue that is elder abuse. That is, as a federal legislative response, the Elder Justice Act may best serve as a catalyst for further federal coordination and action that can bring about greater public awareness and attention to the needs of a growing, and potentially vulnerable, aging population. According to GAO, the Elder Justice Act "provides a vehicle for setting national priorities and establishing a comprehensive, multidisciplinary elder justice system in this country."44 Such a response touches on a range of domestic policy programs and issues that are not specific to one congressional committee’s jurisdiction or area of expertise. Furthermore, congressional oversight into federal administration, implementation, and related activities must rely on different committees of jurisdiction as well as the experience of select committees such as the Senate Special Committee on Aging....
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Robert Fleming sent out some info on a listserv about a series of videos his firm has created and placed on You Tube to educate clients about specific substantive areas of law as well as answers to practical questions. That got me thinking about the value of such a service to clients and how you could even have a video on what to expect when you go to your lawyer's office for the first time. I wondered if any of our readers also have videos on You Tube (or on your firm's webpage) along these lines. Let us know?
BTW, the Fleming and Curti videos are just the first batch in a series. If you want to be kept apprised of new videos, you can subscribe to the Fleming and Curti You Tube channel (click on the red subscribe button-mine is on the top right hand of the screen).
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
The New York Times ran an article about the use of robots for elders. Seniors Welcome New, Battery-Powered Friends explains retirement communities are among the leaders of testing out new technologies. "Early adopters ... are on the front lines of testing new technologies that some experts say are set to upend a few of the constants of retirement. Eager not to be left behind, retirement communities are increasingly serving as testing grounds that vet winners and losers."
Here is something that I thought particularly interesting regarding technology development pointed out in this article. "Some technologists see the most promise in the social dimensions. For too long, technology has been chasing problems rather than trying to delight human beings, said Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Where are the devices that help us learn and expand our horizons?” he said."
The article explores the advantages of robot companions with some of those designed specifically for neophytes of technology. For example, one company has developed a robot that requires little tech expertise to use, and the robot "is connected to Wi-Fi and operated remotely. In its next iteration, the company is working on training the robot to pick up objects... [The company's] robots will be offered by a consumer health firm ... to retirement communities and people aging in place. The yearly cost is about 20 percent of the cost, on average, of hiring full-time caregivers...." The article explores the role of elders in testing tech products and the value of the feedback that they give.
I love technology "stuff" and can't wait for the next new shiny thing. But, I am concerned if we begin to rely on technology solely as the means of providing caregiving. I can't wait to have my own personal robot, but will it give good hugs?
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Do you use social media? You aren't alone if you are. Pew Research released a new social media fact sheet that breaks down social media use, with 69% of Americans using social media at some time. But since this is an elderlawprof blog, I know you want to know more--specifically the percentage of older persons using social media. Wait no longer! 34% of those 65 and older used social media as of the time of the survey, with 64% of those age 50-64 using social media. But which social media are older persons using? That 50-64 age group has a significant presence on Facebook, 61%, compared to 36% of those 65 and older. Pinterest and LinkedIn came in close seconds for those 50-64 (24% and 21% respectively). LinkedIn was a distant second for those 65 and over. Another report from Pew breaks out usage by social media platforms.
Monday, January 16, 2017
So Meals on Wheels has an idea. We all know the dangers of isolation and how important it can be to check in with an elder on a regular basis. Kaiser Health News explains the idea, Meals On Wheels Wants To Be The ‘Eyes and Ears’ For Hospitals, Doctors. "Meals on Wheels, which has served seniors for more than 60 years through a network of independent nonprofits, is trying to formalize the health and safety checks its volunteers already conduct during their daily home visits to seniors. Through an ongoing campaign dubbed “More Than a Meal,” the organization hopes to demonstrate that it can play a critical role in the health care system."
Many nonprofits face challenges, including funding challenges, and Meals on Wheels is no exception. There are competitors now, less funding and increasing demand for services. So how would this work? "Meals on Wheels America and several of the local programs around the country have launched partnerships with insurers, hospitals and health systems. By reporting to providers any physical or mental changes they observe, volunteers can help improve seniors’ health and reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and nursing home placements, said Ellie Hollander, CEO of Meals on Wheels America." It's a very cost-effective system according to the article and has the potential for bigger savings in health care costs.
There has already been some research done on the effectiveness and advantages of Meals on Wheels. Consider this:
Studies conducted by Brown University researchers have shown that meal deliveries can help elderly people stay out of nursing homes, reduce falls and save states money.
Kali Thomas, an assistant professor at Brown University School of Public Health, estimated that if all states increased the number of older people receiving the meals by 1 percent, they would save more than $100 million. Research also has shown that the daily meal deliveries helped seniors’ mental health and eased their fears of being institutionalized.
There are projects taking place, with one between Meals on Wheels, Brown U and West Health Institute. Another is with Meals on Wheels, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, which will attempt "to keep seniors at home and reduce their need for costly health services after hospitalization. The idea is to have trained volunteers report red flags and ensure, for example, that patients with congestive heart failure are weighing themselves regularly and eating properly." The Maryland project is being run by Dr. Dan Hale (friend and former colleague at Stetson U).
Sounds like a great idea!
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Who doesn't want to be a super "something"? How about a Superager? What is a Superager anyway? (and no, capes and tights are not needed). According to a recent story in the NY Times, Superagers are "those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds." How to Become a ‘Superager’ reports on a study of the brains of Superagers to figure out what makes them so.
How do you become a Superager? Well, the researchers aren't quite ready to tell us that yet.
Of course, the big question is: How do you become a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort.
There is a downside to becoming a Superager, according to the story. The author explains
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline. Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
This means that pleasant puzzles like Sudoku are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Neither are the popular diversions of various “brain game” websites. You must expend enough effort that you feel some “yuck.” Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.
The author points to the desire of Americans to pursue happiness, which leads us to" consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it."
So shall we all work on becoming Superagers? The author closes the article with this bit of advice, "make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember."
Also remember, capes and tights are optional!