I recently completed a 9-month program on gerontology at Kennesaw State University. The course was facilitated by Dr. Lois Ricci and she covered a wide range of topics, including theories on aging, anti-aging myths, successful aging, and:
- memory issues and mental function
- Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security
- alternatives to retirement
- housing, long term care, and transportation
- widowhood, social support and caregiving
- elder abuse
- hospice and palliative care
- death and dying
- living wills and healthcare directives
In addition to the text readings there was a series of speakers. They included a nursing school instructor; representatives from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Area Agency Aging (who spoke on the Aging Network, older drivers, health and wellness programs, and lifelong communities); professors who talked about mental health, memory, and the biology of aging; representatives from AARP, the Georgia Dept. of Health & Human Services, and the Alzheimer’s Association; a pharmacist; a geriatric cardiologist; and an eldercare attorney.
The people who took the course with me came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Each had come with their own personal or professional needs. I came to the class after completing a study on successful aging and was interested in learning more about how people can improve their later years. Having competed the course, I’m looking for ways to continue learning about how to age well.
Use It or Lose It
One thing we learned about was how to keep the body and brain functioning into late old age. The mind and memory can stay intact longer if we use them. Learning a new language, taking up a new hobby, traveling, even doing puzzles or dancing can help exercise the brain and delay cognitive decline. Having a stimulating environment gives your brain good exercise. Engage in conversations with people, do something on the computer that’s new to you, and read materials you don’t usually pick up to get those neurons firing and build new brain connections. Be willing to experience exciting and different things. Who doesn’t want better memory and thinking ability as they age?
I like to learn new computer software, try out new technologies, and take classes to keep challenging my brain. Studies show that even physical exercise and good nutrition are good for a healthy brain. Everything you can do to keep your mind working can help slow the progress of cognitive decline.
In addition to mental challenges, physical exercise is good for staying healthy as we age. We need to keep moving! A brisk walk every day can keep joints flexible and help maintain balance. Working out with weights and resistance bands reverses muscle loss. I like swimming laps and find that in addition to getting an aerobic workout, my energy level has improved and I sleep better. Walking, swimming, riding a bike, dancing, anything that gets you moving on a regular basis can help. There are too many diseases and conditions that threaten your independence as you age, so why not take a step (pardon the pun) to keep your body working well?
Aging well has less to do with genetics and more to do with our attitudes about aging and life. What we believe is possible as we grow older will limit or expand the life we have. Just take a look at the Masters, the National Senior Games, and the Senior Olympics. People in their 60s, 70s, and 80s are cycling, playing tennis, running marathons, and participating in competitive swimming events. You don’t have to be an athlete, but you don’t want to be a couch potato, either. Realize you have more influence on the way you age than you could imagine.
What Did You Get?
If you took this or any other gerontology course, I’d love to know what you got out of it. What information surprised you or encouraged you? What do you want to learn more about? Two years ago, baby boomers started turning 65. The proportion of the population over 85 is one of the fastest growing age groups in this country. It’s time to know as much as we can about aging—and how to age well. Feel free to leave your comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!