Friday, December 9, 2011

Elderly Issues by Michael Logan

Elderly issues are wide ranging, and trying to write a page that provides a broad range of typical information is daunting.

I am 61, working, a parent of an 11 year old, a husband, very active physically and mentally, and the focus of my life at this time is my family, and the well being of my children.

I am too broke to die as the saying goes.

Most others my age have finished their parenting, and are doing some baby sitting for their grandkids, and their elderly issues are a little more traditional than mine.

I also have friends who are caring for elderly parents, folks who are literally putting their own Boomer life on hold to do that.

Other elderly issues might include retirement planning, (much later, if at all), estate planning, end of life legal and spiritual issues, travel, health, sexuality, housing, nutrition, vision, or hearing loss, volunteering, mentoring, and on and on.

Boomer children may be dealing with the issues involved in eldercare for their parents, and there are certainly elderly issues with the federal government and social security.

So that picture I have always had of retirement, you know the one where you are napping in the hammock with one of your favorite books on your chest, that picture my never come to be for lots of us because of the economic times and uncertainties we are looking at in the Great Recession of 2009.

But there are some bright spots for us, because of what research is discovering about the aging process.

There are lots of things we can do ourselves to make sure we are of strong body and mind as we address elderly issues.

Ever heard of neurogenesis or neuroplasticity? If you haven't, then please pay close attention. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are recently discovered capacities of the human brain that can be enhanced across the life span, and a brain that is continuing to grow new brain cells (neurogenesis) and make new neuronal connections (neuroplasticity) is a brain well equipped to make decisions about elderly issues, rather than having your knucklehead nephew who just wants into the will do it for you.

Keeping My Brain Healthy? Another Elderly Job?

Actually keeping your brain healthy involves doing many of the same activities that you do to keep your heart healthy, which actually encourages the daily growth of new neurons.

The caveat?

My brain does not necessarily cement those new neurons into the brain circuits where they are most needed, memory for example, unless I give my brain a challenge.

The challenge that most brain fitness writers refer to is the challenge involved in learning a new language or a new musical instrument.

So for me, as a counselor, to read another counseling book does not provide the kind of challenge my brain needs to enhance neurogenesis, because my brain already knows how to do counseling. The challenge must involve novelty.

But the Payoff for Solving Elder Issues?

But let me back up a bit. Most writers in this field, like Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., authors of Brainfit for Life, refer to taking care of the pillars of brain fitness to enhance neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, and all of those pillars are easily withing the reach or attention of even the most elderly.

For example, 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat are following an exercise regimen called HIIT or high intensity interval training to keep them in shape for travel.

Physical activity/exercise is the most important of the brain pillars. Next comes nutrition, stress management, sleep, (ahhhhhh), and novel learning experiences including the use of computerized brain fitness programs.

You can take a look at the IMPACT and the PNAS studies to get a sense of how computerized brain fitness programs might fit in solving elderly issues.

Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. and Norman Doidge,M.D. have written interesting work in regard to neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Shortly after that I found the work of Evans and Burghardt which really corroborated the ideas Merzenich and Doidge were talking about.

Physical activity/exercise is the most important thing we can do to keep our brains growing new brain cells daily, and to keep them connection to each other in newly formed circuits.

The good news is that I do not have to do olympic caliber work outs for brain neurogenesis.

Evans and Burghardt spend a lot of time talking about nutrition and the vital role that antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid play in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, and I can make sure that I get plenty of both in my daily meals. The best source of omega 3 is fish though, and that means I have to monitor my mercury uptake, unless I take a supplement. I go the supplement route since I can get them with the mercury processed out.

Very important hormonal and memory consolidation events happen while we are asleep and if we do not get enough sleep, then there is an impact on our neurogenesis and neuroplasticity and our ability to attend to elder issues is diminshed.

Stress hormones, and booze or environmental toxins, actually kill those new brain cells I am hoping to grow and keep, so it is very important that I keep the appropriate hormonal bath, like DHEA, the anti-aging hormone running in my veins.

Yes, you can encourage both stress management and good sleep, and the best way to do that is breathe deep. So far deep breathing is free, but get going on it now, who knows if it will be taxed or not.

If you are interested in a wonderful stress management-sleep enhancing-golf score lowering tool to aid your sleep and stress management, look no further than the heart rate variability biofeedback tools.

The last pillar of brain fitness to look at for working on our elderly issues is the novel learning experience, which could be gotten from learning a new language or learning a new instrument.

While I want to do those things, my daughter has dance class, and my son has little league, so I am going to use computerized brain fitness programs that take less time and are much more convenient.