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Organization can extend your lifespan.

Will getting organized help increase longevity? It makes sense to say yes; because it puts you under less stress, reduces the frustration of continually having to search for things in your home, and reduces accidents by having everything in its place. One study even found that people who worked in a neat space tended to have healthier snacks during the day than those who lived or worked in a messy work space.

As an octogenarian, I find that my body doesn’t always keep up with my mind and I have to make certain adjustments. Although we may hate to admit it, we become frailer and more susceptible to falls the older we get. The National Center for Injury Control & Prevention reports that over one third of people 65 and over suffer falls and related injuries. Our bones are usually more brittle. So keep both home and office relatively clutter-free. Avoid placing furniture or other obstacles in high-traffic areas. Don’t wear hard-soled shoes and avoid having loose throw rugs on the floor. You might consider balance training as well.

The best advice I can give is to recognize that as you age, your body and mind change, and you have to pay more attention to organizing your environment and yourself as you may have done in the past.

According to Home Safety Council statistics, older adults in the U.S. experience more than 2.3 million home injuries each year. The most dangerous rooms in any home are the bathroom and the kitchen – mainly due to trips and falls. So install grip bars. And remember that bathroom rugs are dangerous.

Pets in the home can also be a hazard as well as a help. Large dogs can push you off balance and small dogs and cats can trip you up. Cats and dogs are blamed for 86,000 annual falling injuries that send humans to the emergency room, according to the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention. Dogs cause seven times more injuries than cats. So be aware of where your pet is at all times.

The major causes of fires in the home include leaving on a curling iron or heating blanket or an electric heater too close to flammable material – or an unattended kitchen burner or stove. I think it would be a good idea to have a checklist to go over each night before retiring – such as pull the plug on electric heater, turn on nightlights, lock door, etc. I’m a great believer in checklists.

Seniors should definitely keep a checklist for all the prescription and over-the-counter medications they take. Include supplements and vitamins. For each medicine, mark the correct name of the drug, the amount you take, the time of day you take it, and whether it should be taken with food. Store two copies of the list: one on the refrigerator door or where your medications are stored, and one in your wallet or purse. Drugs frequently get mixed up because many of them look alike and even the names sound the same.

Some people are notorious for keeping old medications. Periodically organize your medicine cabinet and toss out all the expired and unused stuff. You should store things in the room they are used. For medications, that could be the kitchen. Highlight the expiry date on all your medications. Use pill containers that have separate compartments for morning, afternoon and evening, and fill them with your week’s medications every weekend. I have one that holds enough medication for an entire month and it’s convenient when taking vacations.

Before heading to the runway for takeoff, pilots must complete a procedural checklist to assure the aircraft is ready for flight. Now many hospitals require surgeons to complete a similar checklist before doing even the most minor procedures — including, to the amusement of some, confirming which limb or organ is to be operated upon. While it seems silly, it’s not — it’s a way to be assured that every possible step is being taken to assure patient safety. Research is demonstrating that when hospitals adopt this practice, there is a measurable improvement in outcome. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a reduction in both deaths and complications when hospitals used a 19-item surgical safety checklist.

It makes sense that if individuals establish a structure with routine procedures for health-related matters, it would not only reduce stress, but also help lower the risk of at-home medication mistakes and other mishaps that can have serious consequences. Many people put themselves at risk because they are haphazard about letting important papers pile up or, equally problematic, throwing out things they should keep for future reference. Keep a copy of all medical records in a clearly marked folder. Make it a habit to request copies of all test results, X-Rays, and treatments.

As Leonardo da Vinci has been quoted as saying, “Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”  To that I would add, “and who will manage it with care.”

Note: The above article was taken from the book. “How to grow older without growing old,” by Harold L Taylor, Taylorintime.com, 2018. 147 pages. Available in both paperback (Perfect bound, 8 ½ X 11 format, and electronic format.)

 

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Planning the rest of your life

Life begins at _____. Fill in the blank with your actual age. Because at this moment, regardless of your age, life really does begin now. This is the beginning of the rest of your life. Anything you ever wanted to do should be started now, and anything you started but never finished, assuming it is something you really want, should be finished now.

It’s great to think young; but don’t live in the past. You have already been there and done that. Live now for the future. If you think you have made mistakes in the past, forgive yourself and move on. Never feel sorry for yourself or envy others. Don’t make yourself a victim. Combine your teenage spirit with the wisdom of age, and you have a recipe for a successful future.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, and author of a book describing the regrets of people who were dying, The top five regrets of the dying, lists the following as their most frequent regrets. If you have similar regrets, you still have a plenty of time to correct them – or at least make peace with yourself and others that you actually have them. Few of us are totally without regrets. But we did the best that we could with what we knew, felt or thought at the time.

Here are the most common regrets heard over and over again by Bonnie Ware. People wished that they:

Had lived a life true to themselves rather than the life others had expected of them.

Hadn’t worked so hard.

Had had the courage to express their feelings.

Had stayed in touch with their friends.

Had let themselves be happier.

You are still able to rectify such regrets; but don’t dwell on them. When you focus on what you could have done or been in the past, you reduce the odds of achieving what you are able to do or become in the future.

There’s a website that will calculate how many days have gone by since you were born. If you pick the day you got your first job instead, you could get the number of days you have had at your disposal since the day you got your full-time job. That might be shocker – especially if you can’t remember many really exciting activities or accomplishments since that time. It could be rather depressing. I can’t believe the number of days I must have wasted.

I find it more useful and motivating as you get older, however, to choose today’s date as your birth date, and estimate how many years you have left. For example, if you are 55 now and assume you will live another 30 years until 85, you have approximately 10,950 days at your disposal. You can accomplish a lot in that many days if you manage your time well.

A version of this has been used as an exercise in workshops to determine your priorities. The workshop facilitator would ask everyone to quickly jot down things they would do if they only had one day to live. People would invariably jot down administrative things such as revise their will, choose an executor, and decide who should receive your coin collection, return the overdue books to the library, and determine which hymns they wanted played at their funeral and so on.

Other things would include telling those nearest and dearest to them how much they loved and appreciated them, visit briefly with each grandchild, contact those they may have offended or failed to thank, buy that special gift for their spouse, ad infinitum.

The point is, we could never possibly do them all in one day. And besides, the exercise is only theoretical. You will probably continue to procrastinate on many of the important things anyway. After all, we’ve got more than one day to live – or so we think.

The older we get, the more conscious we are of our own mortality and using the latest statistics, could probably count the years we have left with a certain degree of accuracy. We might also have less tendency to put off what we really would like to do. Certainly by starting now we can do a lot more in years than we could in one day.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life regardless of your age. You have time, not only to look after those things mentioned above, but to make an impact on the people in your life – and leave the world just a little better than you found it.

There are countless ways you can do this. You don’t have to invent time travel in order to make an impact. You make an impact when you volunteer, make a donation to a needy family, counsel people, become active in your local church, spend time with a child, become active in an association, teach someone how to knit, play the piano or plant a flower garden and so on.

And you don’t need a website to determine how many days since you were born or graduated or retired or might have remaining; simply multiply 365 by the number of years and you’ll be close enough.

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How to communicate with the elderly

The author of The Brain Training Revolution claims that two thirds of Americans older than 50 complain of memory problems. According to the Alzheimer’s Association in Canada, where I live, over 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Dementia is a general term for decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, usually involving memory loss and a decline in thinking skills.

When it comes to octogenarians, there are many of us. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million in 2016 to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. The age bracket of 85 years and over is the fastest growing segment of the population.

I don’t share the belief of younger people who feel octogenarians are old. In fact I’m already preparing for the nineties. There are several nonagenarians in our local friendship club. I had to look up the term on the Internet. When I asked my son what you call a person in his nineties, he replied, “Dead.” Young people think ninety is old. That’s why I’m currently writing a book on “How to grow older without growing old.”

Since I became an octogenarian several years ago, and have to communicate with others my age and older at our Tuesday morning gatherings, I have picked up a few pointers on communicating with the elderly.

It can be difficult, you know, when you are struggling with a bit of a memory or a hearing problem. I take that back; you’re probably a young buck of sixty or less, looking for some quick time tips so you can cram even more activities into your fast-paced life so it will seem to fly even faster – so you can end up seriously wanting to communicate with other seniors. You might file this article until then; it won’t be long.

People in their seventies, eighties or nineties are not necessarily old; but for many of us, memory, hearing and mental quickness do decline, and communication skills require sharpening.

Be aware that 80% of people over 85 experience hearing loss. Only 16% of those with hearing problems have hearing aids – and only 8% actually use them. But raising your voice doesn’t help. In fact, it makes it worse. When you are explaining something or giving information to seniors, lower your tone of voice, and speak more slowly.

Let me interject here why most of us don’t like to wear our hearing aids – and it’s not because there is nothing worth listening to or that we don’t want to hear our spouse’s requests or we’re too vain to let people think we don’t have perfect hearing. It’s because we can hear the toilet flush three houses down the street – and if it’s in the same house, it sounds like Niagara Falls. A pen dropping sounds like a bomb just exploded, and when the woman three doors down the hall in an apartment calls her husband, you answer. (I found out later we have the same first name.)

When talking to a senior, repeat any important segments using different words if they look confused. Face them directly and maintain eye contact so they can see your facial expressions. It also helps if you use appropriate gestures, and exaggerate your frown or smile depending on whether you are delivering bad or good news. All seniors may not hear everything you say, but they become adept a reading lips, facial expressions and other body language.

If you have control over any background noise, such as a radio or TV blaring or multiple people all speaking at once, so much the better

50% of seniors over 75 have cataracts, and 20% to 30% of people over 75 have impaired vision, so keep that in mind when communicating with the written word. The elderly also need good lighting. As we age, our eyes process only about one third of the light – so lights need to be about three times brighter. And of course we could have trouble reading small print or thin fonts.

Don’t rush seniors. There’s nothing more frustrating than being asked a question and not having enough time to respond. The “7-second rule” in questioning (allowing at least 7 seconds for a response to a question before continuing) might become a “14-second rule” for most of us.

Someone told us that a 25-year old learns a new skill after about 40 repetitions, while the elderly take 400 repetitions. I’m not sure I agree with those figures; but don’t rush through instructions, and make sure you allow us enough time to learn something new or form a habit.

Seniors also have a harder time ignoring interruptions, according to Scientific American Mind, January, 2009 issue. I don’t really believe that…Oops, someone’s calling me – gotta go.

 

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Friendship clubs can increase longevity.

 I promised periodic updates on country living and how it can increase health and longevity. Here is a description of a local friendship club, simple and informal, that I mention in a new book I am writing with the working title of “How to grow old without growing older.” Following the description, I summarize in point form those benefits relating to health and well-being that could result from participating in all of the activities provided by the club.

Associated with the Sussex and area seniors’ centre, a group called the Fundy Silverados Friendship Club, was started by a handful of senior men who penned the mission statement “To enhance the quality of life for members through fellowship and the helping of others in need.” I joined shortly after arriving in Sussex, NB just over a year ago.

There are about 50 of us at the time of writing, and our ages vary from the late fifties to the late nineties – all of us young enough to attend regularly and participate in the events, which are not physically demanding. We get together every Tuesday morning at 9:30 for fun and friendship.  Most of us arrive early around 9 AM and listen to various members playing the fiddle, banjo, organ, or guitar as well as singing. I’m amazed at the talent of some of our members.

We all wear name tags (with extra-large lettering) at every meeting, and greet one another as we arrive.

Our meetings usually last 90 minutes, with the first 30 minutes spent meeting and greeting, renewing friendships and taking part in or listening to music. We start the “formal” part of the meeting by singing “Oh Canada” and have a guest speaker at most meetings – one who talks and answers questions on a topic of interest to seniors.

We have a “Fines Master” who dreams up ridiculous 25-cent fines for members – such as anyone not wearing a red tie (I have never seen a tie worn there yet) or anyone who isn’t wearing his “Silverados” cap. (Few would risk doing so in public.)

Some members contribute items that are auctioned to the highest bidder – usually at ridiculously low or ridiculously high prices. The items are frequently healthy, fresh vegetables, honey or maple syrup from the farms; but could be anything from 30-year old National Geographic magazines to someone’s hand-made bird house.

The members agree on which of the local charities should receive any extra funds we may generate through these “fun” auctions, trumped up fines, membership fees, and miscellaneous activities.

There is also a tradition of telling jokes or reading humorous poems – a popular part of the program.

We have about a dozen committees on the go so that everyone has an opportunity to actively participate, including volunteer drivers, visitation to those who are ill, telephone committee, membership, program, and so on. We have a roll call at each meeting so we can keep track of our members and identify who may be ill – or simply “on vacation.”

We also have dinners and other activities with our spouses/companions throughout the year, and once a month our meeting venue is a local restaurant, where we have breakfast that morning.

We adjourn all our meetings with the singing of “God Save Our Queen.”

 Health benefits of groups such as this:

  • Provides members with the social interaction and opportunity to build the friendships so vital to increased health and longevity. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die from any cause than their non-social counterparts.
  • Provides an opportunity for involvement at the committee level and active volunteering, which has been shown to increase longevity. Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for 5 years and found that those who volunteered for even one organisation, were 26% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer.
  • Adds purpose and significance to a senior’s life, which in some cases might be lacking. According to research on aging, those with purpose and goals in life reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being.
  • Provides mental stimulation and moderate exercise and an opportunity to get out of the house and become both physically and mentally more active. Keeping the brain active, even if it’s just listening to a speaker, writing or memorizing someone’s name, helps grow new brain cells.
  • Introduces caring into the lives of those with limited mobility by regular visitation, telephone conversation, and “get well” or “thinking of you” cards. People thrive on attention. Hugging, for instance, based on research, is believed to fight infection, boost your immune system, ease depression, and lessen fatigue and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Through the “joke period” and personal interaction, and levity of most of the activities, fun and laughter are introduced into the seniors’ lives, which in themselves have been known to aid in healing and even cure diseases. Laughter has been known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines.
  • Provides lifelong learning through guest speakers and one-on-one conversations, one of the major ways of keeping cognitively fit and avoiding or delaying dementia. Research indicates that lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.
  • Both playing a musical instrument and listening to music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration.

One of the greatest benefits of a friendship club, regardless of whether it consists of five people at a coffee shop or 55 people in a Golden Jubilee Senior’s Centre, which is the case with our Silverados group, is that it gets you out of the house and counteracts loneliness. The lonely are twice as likely to have ulcers. And go back to an empty house after your first heart attack and you double the risk of a second heart attack within a few months – proof that you should seek companionship at all times.

You will also find that seniors with common interests tend to get together at other times during the week – in groups of two to ten or more – at Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s, either for early morning coffee or breakfast. And according to the many scientists, the more friendships you develop, the longer you live.

Friendship clubs are excellent places to meet people who have formed these smaller groups that meet more frequently.

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Growing old is optional.

It’s important to get rid of the myth that you’re old when you reach retirement age. There’s a difference between growing older and getting old. Old age is a destination. Growing older is a journey. I’m not old. I’m only 83, getting older all the time, and enjoying every minute of it. I believe my destination is heaven, not old age, and I’m in no hurry to reach my destination.

It is not essential that you retire at all. The main reason people retire in the first place is probably that they are tired of doing what they’re doing or they have no choice. There could be other reasons depending on their circumstances, such as wanting to become a full-time caregiver to their spouse or whatever. But it’s not always because they need the money. The December 8, 2017 issue of Telegraph-Journal contained an article on retirement that included survey results on why many retirees are continuing to work part-time. 82 percent expressed a desire to remain mentally active, 65% cited the need to for social interaction, and only 32 percent reported financial necessity. But regardless, when people retire they should retire to something – other than a rocking chair, that is.

If you have your own business or are working in a profession or job that you really love, you may choose to continue doing so as long as you are physically and mentally able to do so. Of course there are normally other things you want to make time for as well, which leads to part-time employment. That’s the situation I find myself in now – still in my own little business, but limiting myself almost entirely to the parts of it that I enjoy the most – writing and speaking. Oh, and the odd game of golf. (At least the people I play with think it’s an odd way that I play golf.)

The more variety in your life, the better it is for your brain. Combine physical and mental activity with a sensible lifestyle that includes adequate sleep, proper diet, social relationships and a positive attitude and you have a recipe for a long, healthy and fruitful life. There are other things that will improve the odds – such as a sense of humour, volunteering, connection with nature, an organized and supportive environment, lifelong learning, and so on.

One thing that I want to avoid is dementia. Like many people, I don’t want to outlive my mind. Perhaps this fear is exacerbated by the fact that one of my older brothers died from Alzheimer’s at a younger age than I am right now. Because of this, I am currently writing a book on how to grow older without growing old that includes a lot of information on avoiding this particular disease.

So if I miss posting a weekly blog article now and then, please forgive me. I want to finish the book early in the New Year – and still enjoy the Christmas season. Speaking of Christmas, I wish you a merry one whether you celebrate it or not – and happy, healthy year ahead.

And remember, growing older is inevitable; but growing old is optional.