Healthy and happy old age

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Dr. Jodi Friedman.
Dr. Jodi Friedman.

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People no longer experience life as a succession of roles which shift like clockwork purely on the basis on their age. What it means to be 40, 50 and 60 has changed. People are living longer than ever before, and as the first wave of baby boomers enters retirement the process of aging is evolving, beset by unique challenges as well as opportunities.

Many new types of facilities are sprouting up that not only treat seniors medically, but also help them maintain quality of life in extreme old age. The Center for Healthy Aging, a facility on the grounds of Northern Dutchess Hospital, in Rhinebeck, is an example. It offers geriatric assessments and works collaboratively with patients, caregivers and primary-care providers to deliver inpatient, outpatient, and transitional care to people age 65 and older.

The center opened in 2011 with a full-time medical director, Dr. Jodi Friedman. A year later she was joined by part-time social worker Allison Gould. The center caters to seniors in several counties, providing assistance in developing a customized, comprehensive wellness plan.

Friedman treats “mostly the oldest and most complicated medically patients,” usually referrals from other doctors. Gould sees younger seniors as well — people in their mid-seventies — who are dealing with emotional issues related to aging, such as bereavement or fears about dementia.

To further reach out to the growing community of retirees, the center has begun partnering with [email protected], a not-for-profit networking organization that’s located in the same building and dedicated to helping its 56 members stay at home and maintain their independence.

The center, which accepts private insurance and Medicare, can refer its clients to community services such as [email protected] It can come up with a program of therapy, including alternative modalities such as massage and acupuncture. It offers use of a medically based fitness center and educational programs. In the fall and spring, it hosts a lecture series, in which past topics have included financial wellness, relaxation and meditation workshops, and aging gracefully.

Isn’t “healthy aging” a bit of an oxymoron? “There’s more chronic illnesses, and people are on a lot of medications,” said Friedman, who has a background in family practice. “We try to look at their medications in the context of different medical problems. Part of being a healthy older person is managing these multiple problems.”

Keep Your Brain Healthy

[wide]alzheimer's[/wide]In the recently released trade paper edition of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life, Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan reiterate the latest prognosis about the insidious disease that steals our loved ones from us — indeed, as it takes away life as we know it from anyone stricken. No, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s. And diagnosis remains iffy, with detection often inadvertently postponed until frightening symptoms have presented themselves.

The hope Small and Vorgan point to hangs on research that has uncovered the possibility of prevention. By becoming aware of lifestyle habits that promote a healthy brain, we can, they proclaim, push back the onset of dementia caused by aging and even offset the potential of genetic predisposition for the disease.

For those of us still in possession of our mental marbles, this is good news. Solid scientific investigation into the vitality of the human brain indicates that measures can be taken to slow down and stave off the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the development of those pesky amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles evident in the autopsied brain matter of its victims. These waxy proteins and twisted fibers are the unwelcome microscopic evidence left in areas of the brain that control memory and functions such as language, decision making, and personality. What isn’t known is whether they are the byproducts or the causes of the ailment, but by studying what goes on in the brain as it ages, researchers have found that healthy lifestyle habits — a wholesome diet, regular physical activity, and robust cognitive engagement — might be key in preventing cognitive decline.

In an otherwise upbeat report, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program outlines some of the more sobering statistics of Alzheimer’s disease. Every 70 seconds, another American is diagnosed to be suffering from it. By midcentury, a new case will develop every 30 seconds. Victims currently number up to 36 million worldwide. The worldwide costs of medical and social care, including estimated informal care from unpaid family members and others, totaled $604 billion in 2010 — more than the annual revenue of Walmart. That plaques and tangles begin to build up in an affected brain decades before symptoms emerge, and even in the brains of otherwise healthy people as young as 30.