Study Reveals Best Combination of Diet and Exercise for Obese Seniors

If someone you love is a senior with a weight problem, your loved one is facing a dilemma – and it’s probably making your role as a caregiver more difficult. Your loved one needs to lose weight, but dieting can have the adverse effect of making them even more frail. But now there’s a new study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine that answers the question, “What’s the best combination of diet and exercise for older adults who are overweight?”

We ran across this very helpful article on the website HealthDay. This study, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, demonstrated that a combination of two different types of exercise along with dieting to lose weight produced the best outcomes for overweight seniors. The key appears to be a combination of aerobic exercise and what health scientists call “resistance” exercise. “Engaging in aerobic and resistance exercise while losing weight,” says HealthDay writer Kathleen Doheny, “enabled study participants to maintain more muscle mass and bone density compared to folks who did just one type of exercise or none at all, the researchers found.” The research leaders described this method as “the best way” to improve function and reverse the problems of physical frailty.

First, how severe is the problem of overweight seniors? Sadly, weight problems among the elderly have reached epidemic proportions. Doheny writes that “More than one-third of people age 65 and older in the United States are obese, according to the study authors.” But simply losing weight is not the answer. “Obesity worsens the typical age-related decline in physical functioning and causes frailty, while weight loss can lead to harmful declines in muscle mass and bone density.” That’s why this research by Baylor is so important: doctors wanted to determine the combination of diet and exercise that produces the best outcomes among seniors.

To design the study, they took 160 adults age 65-plus, all of whom were described as obese and sedentary, and divided them into four groups. One did a combination of weight loss and aerobic training (including treadmill walking, stationary cycling and stair climbing). The second group combined weight loss and resistance training (involving upper-body and lower-body exercises on weight-lifting machines). The third group combined weight loss with both types of exercise while the fourth group – the control group – neither dieted nor exercised. The results, say the study authors were clear. After six months, the group who combined both types of exercise saw an increase of more than 20 percent in their physical performance test scores, compared with 14 percent improvement for the segment who only engaged in one form of exercise. The combination group also enjoyed better bone density and lean body mass than their counterparts. (Study participants exercised three times per week for 75-90 minutes per session.)

Experts in aging were quick to praise the study because it showed a clear comparison among several different health regimens. As one doctor observed, while many studies of obese or overweight older adults focus only on exercise and weight loss, this study concentrated on what really matters: living a healthy lifestyle that allows seniors to function the way they want to for as long as they want to. “Health in aging is really [about] functioning,” said Miriam Nelson from the University of New Hampshire. If a senior wants to remain active, mobile and functional, he or she needs to maintain muscle strength and bone density, and to take off excess weight. “All these multiple factors are what dictate to a large extent somebody’s ability to be independent, healthy and to live life to its fullest as they age,” Nelson added.

Here at AgingOptions we would add our “amen” to these words. If you want to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, it only makes sense to do all you can to preserve your health to the maximum extent possible. No, we can’t control every contingency – but there are somethings you and I can control, and making healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise is one of them. If you are a senior dealing with the health consequences of being overweight, or if that describes someone in your family, it’s never too late to start regaining your health, but as this article suggests, diet alone cannot be the answer. There’s a right way and a wrong way for seniors to exercise and lose weight, so we suggest you read the HealthDay article and take its recommendations to heart. Better still, contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a geriatrician in your area – a health care professional trained in the unique needs of senior adults. It’s the best way we know of to make sure you’re getting health care advice that’s right for you.

The best way we know to get retirement advice that’s right for you is by attending one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars. Here you’ll discover the unique power of the type of retirement plan we call a LifePlan – one that combines all aspects of retirement living into one comprehensive blueprint: financial planning, medical protection, housing options, legal safeguards and family communication. There’s nothing like a LifePlan from AgingOptions to help you enjoy a retirement that is safe, secure and fruitful. And here’s even better news: you can find out about the power of a LifePlan absolutely free, simply by investing a few hours and attending a LifePlanning Seminar near you. Click here for dates, times, and locations. Then you can register online or contact us for assistance during the week. Get the facts, and build the retirement of your dreams, with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)

If You’re Confused About How to Eat Healthy, You’re Not Alone

Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the supermarket aisle and you pick up a product labeled “Healthy.” But as you read the list of ingredients, something doesn’t quite add up. Or you’ve done some reading about healthy eating and you decide on a food regimen that seems right for you, only to read a new study a week later that contradicts everything you thought was true. Suddenly your healthy eating choices don’t seem so healthy after all!

Confusion and misinformation about what does and does not constitute “healthy eating” are widespread. That’s the conclusion from the Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health survey which was released just a few days ago, and which was the subject of this interesting article that appeared on the website of CNN. The headline says it all: “‘Healthy’ Foods Have Most of Us Confused.” In other words, if you’re baffled by conflicting claims about what types of foods make up a healthy diet, you’re not alone. Fully 80 percent of people responding to this survey say they have found conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid.

What’s even more revealing, according to CNN, is that, because of all the so-called facts that seem to contradict each other, more than half of us are finding ourselves second-guessing the food choices we’re making. All that barrage of information and misinformation is creating skepticism, so much so that even reputable sources of nutritional information are suspect. According to one of the survey’s co-authors, “Americans rely on many different sources for their information when it comes to what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Not all of these sources are really highly trusted, and it is likely that these sources share inconsistent information.”

The survey involved just over 1,000 adults and asked questions about healthy eating habits and basic nutritional facts. The research showed that, even though most people think dietitians and health care professionals are the best source of reliable nutritional information, most of us still turn to friends and family for guidance on our food choices. This reliance on untrained and biased sources, the study suggests, has the effect of perpetuating misinformation, especially in this day and age of websites and talk shows touting their own food-related recommendations. “Trusted nutrition information is hard to find,” said one doctor quoted by CNN, “and the public is inundated with conflicting messages, including from dubious sources.”

Some healthcare professionals think all this biased information and conflicting recommendations about food might be contributing to America’s twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes, including prediabetes.  One doctor from the Cleveland Clinic said bluntly, “Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese.” Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fifty percent of Americans have either diabetes or prediabetes by age 65.” She adds, “That means that whatever we’re doing, it’s really not working. So it’s proof that, yes, people are confused.” In spite of their best efforts, she says, we consumers are not making good food choices that will allow us to live healthier, longer lives.

Even the word “healthy” is itself part of the confusion. According to CNN, in 2016 the FDA tried to narrow the definition of the word “healthy” when used on food labels. “For a food product to be marketed as healthy,” says the article, “it should have low levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and have at least 10% of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients, according to the FDA’s current criteria.” Unfortunately, nutritionists claim, this definition leaves such a broad loophole that some highly processed foods have been labeled as “healthy” when in fact they are not.  Eating too much processed food, especially with added sugar, and skipping healthy whole grains, vegetables and fruits can be a recipe for a health crisis later in life, which explains why we see so many unhealthy, overweight seniors these days.

So here are a few recommendations from your friends at AgingOptions. First, avoid “food fads” and stick to common sense. When it comes to eating right, do your homework, getting your facts from reputable sources and not from your untrained friends and relatives. (The dietary guidelines on this government website are a good place to start.)   When you shop for groceries, spend more time on the outer areas of the store, buying fresh produce, whole grain baked goods, fresh eggs and healthy, lean meats, and avoid the processed foods down every aisle. Finally, as Rajiv strongly recommends, make sure your insurance carrier provides access to a nutritionist. “Not all carriers allow you to self-refer to a nutritionist,” he says, “but some do. Pick a company that will give you access to good nutritional advice and also membership in a health club. Don’t just pick the cheapest premium! Good health involves healthy eating, regular exercise, and plenty of socializing. Your insurance carrier can be part of the solution.”

When it comes to retirement planning, AgingOptions can definitely be part of your solution. Come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminars and you’ll see firsthand how your health needs, your housing choices, your legal protection and your financial security are all interrelated. You’ll also learn the importance of involving family members early on to help make certain your loved ones will support your retirement wishes. Don’t base your future on misinformation or incomplete and inadequate planning! Spend a few hours with us at a LifePlanning Seminar and you’ll never look at retirement the same way again. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or contact us during the week. We’ll see you soon!

(originally reported at www.cnn.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Another Benefit of Volunteering: It Can Reduce Risk of Dementia

There is a long list of benefits to being a volunteer as we age. Volunteers stay more active. They derive great satisfaction from giving back to the organizations they care about.  Volunteers generally report having a deeper sense of purpose in life. And now here’s another reason you may have never expected: regular volunteering can actually reduce your risk of developing dementia.

That’s the remarkable conclusion from a recent study conducted by the University of Calgary. We read about this groundbreaking research in this article on the website MedicalXpress (although it was also published in several newspapers, magazines and websites). The study tracked 1,001 Swedish citizens who had retired in 2010. These subjects were studied for a five-year period as researchers checked for any signs of cognitive impairment. Using personal questionnaires along with the reports from doctors, the cognitive health of all the survey subjects was evaluated in 2010, 2012 and 2014, analyzing memory, powers of concentration, and decision-making abilities.

In order to evaluate the effects of volunteering on mental health, researchers divided the subjects into three groups based on how engaged they were in volunteering.  As the article describes it, “One group is made up of individuals who consistently volunteered in their respective communities for at least one hour per week. The second group consists of those who sporadically engaged in volunteering. In the third group are retired workers who never engaged in volunteering.” The results were striking.

University of Calgary psychology professor Yannick Griep, author of the study, reported the findings. “We found that the people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer,” he said.  What’s more, the researchers found that those who only volunteered sporadically derived no particular benefit. “For this group, there are no differences than with the group that never volunteered,” Professor Griep reported.

Just to clarify the definition, the study authors defined “volunteer work” as something we do purely of our own free will, and for no financial compensation.  The activity has to benefit others – people outside of our core family.  Common places people volunteer range all over the board, from churches to seniors centers, from libraries to schools, from homeless shelters to outdoor camps. No matter where we live, there are opportunities galore to put our skills to work on a volunteer basis. The question is, why does regular volunteering have a positive impact on our cognitive health?

One reason suggested by the researchers is that regular volunteering brings with it “the latent benefits of work.” This may also help explain why sporadic volunteers never experience the same benefits of the “regulars” – they never settle into a regular schedule. “Work has many benefits beyond just a paycheck,” theorizes Professor Griep. “It brings a structure to the day…(and) it offers social contact with people outside of our family.” Regular volunteering also carries with it a social status, often even a job title, that is analogous to a regular job, combined with the sense that we’re making a meaningful contribution to society.” Being a regular volunteer also gets people up and moving, which doctors know helps mitigate cognitive decline.

Finally, the article alludes to something we’ve read about in multiple articles: the more you use your mind in social settings, the better your cognitive health. In the words of the the MedicalXpress article, “those in the regular volunteering camp stay sharper cognitively because they are continuing to engage their minds in these key ways.” Talking with others, solving problems, and learning new skills are all excellent ways to stay mentally sharper longer.  That’s why the scientists from the University of Calgary strongly recommend that retired seniors do volunteer work at least once a week. “As a senior,” says Professor Griep, “your risk of dementia goes up substantially every year. Anything you can do that’s low cost and easy to implement that will reduce the likelihood of developing dementia is invaluable.”

So if you’re retired or about to retire, planning how to spend your newly-rediscovered free time, the lesson from this article is clear: devote regular time to giving back through volunteerism. If you’re the adult child of a retiree, urge your loved one to get out of the house or apartment and reengage through volunteering. And when it comes to planning all the other aspects of retirement, AgingOptions can help you with the power of a LifePlan – a comprehensive plan that weaves together all the vital elements you must include in your plan for the future. A LifePlan is a seamless strategy linking your financial, legal, medical, and housing plans, and including an essential element often overlooked: a family communications plan to make certain your loved ones understand and support your wishes.

The next step is up to you: invest a few hours and discover just how powerful a LifePlan can be. We offer free LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region, and we invite you to attend. You’ll come away with a wealth of valuable information and a clear understanding of the next steps. For dates, times and online registration click here, or call us during the week. It will be a pleasure to meet you at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar soon.

(originally reported at https://medicalxpress.com)

 

 

 

Observing Memorial Day by Honoring and Helping Our Service Members

By Kirk Larson, Social Security Washington State Public Affairs Specialist

On Memorial Day, we honor the soldiers and service members who have given their lives for our nation. Social Security respects the heroism and courage of our military service members, and we remember those who have given their lives in defense of freedom. Part of how we honor service members is the way we provide Social Security benefits.

The unexpected loss of a family member is a difficult experience for anyone. Social Security helps by providing benefits to protect service members’ dependents. Widows, widowers, and their dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about Social Security survivors benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors.

It’s also important to recognize those service members who are still with us, especially those who have been wounded. Just as they served us, we have the obligation to serve them. Social Security has benefits to assist veterans when an injury prevents them from returning to active duty.

Wounded military service members can also receive expedited processing of their Social Security disability claims. For example, Social Security will provide expedited processing of disability claims filed by veterans who have a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent & Total (P&T). Depending on the situation, some family members of military personnel, including dependent children and, in some cases, spouses, may be eligible to receive benefits. You can get answers to commonly asked questions and find useful information about the application process at www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

Service members can also receive Social Security in addition to military retirement benefits. The good news is that your military retirement benefit does not reduce your Social Security retirement benefit. Learn more about Social Security retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/retirement. You may also want to visit the Military Service page of our Retirement Planner, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/veterans.html.

Service members are also eligible for Medicare at age 65. If you have health insurance from the VA or under the TRICARE or CHAMPVA programs, your health benefits may change, or end, when you become eligible for Medicare. Learn more about Medicare benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare.

In acknowledgment of those who died for our country, those who served, and those who serve today, we at Social Security honor and thank you.

Two Words that Equal Better Health for Body and Brain: “Get Moving!”

It sounds so simple, we keep thinking there must be a catch – but news report after news report, research study after research study always seems to say the same thing. The simplest, safest and most effective way to improve both the body and the brain can be boiled down into two words: get moving.

The latest news release we’ve seen on this topic comes in this article just published on the website of the Financial Review, a publication in Australia. It bears this provocative heading: “The single best type of exercise for your brain, according to scientists.” As the piece written by journalist Erin Brodwin asserts, “A wealth of recent research suggests that any type of exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you moving and sweating for a sustained period of time — known as aerobic exercise — has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain.” This type of exercise has the power “to lift your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against age-related cognitive decline.” Sounds pretty good to us!

For decades exercise physiologists have told us that aerobic exercise is great for the heart, proving the link between good cardiovascular health and longer, more robust living. But the Financial Review article goes farther, quoting a recent Harvard Medical School article that “aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart.” Some of the benefits – improved mood, for example – show up very quickly after we start exercising. Others, like memory or cognitive improvements, generally take longer to appear. “That means,” writes Brodwin in the Financial Review, “that the best type of fitness for your mind is any aerobic exercise that you can do regularly and consistently for at least 45 minutes at a time.” This could include brisk walking, jogging, riding a bike, or any of a whole range of exercise options.

Here’s one example of the mental and psychological benefits of exercise: a pilot study found that people with severe depression who spent 30 minutes on a treadmill for 10 consecutive days experienced “a clinically relevant and statistically significant reduction in depression.”

Aerobic workouts can also help lower stress by reducing levels of the body’s natural stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The research that we at AgingOptions find most intriguing involves the benefits of exercise among seniors. A study published recently in the British Journal looked at adults between the ages of 60 and 88 who walked four days a week for half an hour a day for 12 weeks. The test subjects seemed to experience improved connectivity in a region of the brain where impairment in connectivity has been linked with memory loss. Even though findings are preliminary, this is encouraging news for those seeking to link exercise with improved cognitive ability and a delay in the onset and severity of dementia.

Are people getting the message? We would like to think so, but from time to time we run across discouraging evidence to the contrary. Just a few weeks ago the May 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin arrived in our mailbox. There in the back was a map of the United States with the title, “Idling Away.” It shows, state by state, the percentage of adults age 50 and older who engage in no physical activity at all. Washington State is among the best performers, with just 20 percent of the 50-plus crowd claiming they are completely sedentary. The worst states are in the South, ranging from 31 percent of Texans getting zero exercise to 39 percent of residents of Missouri. That means that, depending on where you live, between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 50-plus adults you know do not exercise at all. No wonder health problems are so widespread.

Is there a simple reason why exercise helps both body and mind? Researchers still aren’t sure. “But,” says the Financial Review article, “studies suggest it has to do with increased blood flow, which provides our minds with fresh energy and oxygen.” In another study, older women who displayed symptoms of dementia found that aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in learning and memory.

If you’re an older adult, determined to improve your physical and mental health, exercise is almost certainly your best prescription. Remember, though, to check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise regimen. If you’ll follow our recommendation, you’ll go one step further and enlist the professional help of a geriatrician for your ongoing medical care. Also called a geriatric physician, these doctors are trained to care for the special physical and emotional needs of senior patients. Contact us at AgingOptions and we will be pleased to refer you to a geriatrician in your area. It could be among the most important choices you’ll ever make for your future health.

We also invite you to make one of the most important retirement choices you can make, and that’s to attend an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Here’s where you’ll discover how important it is to make sure all aspects of your retirement are interconnected. Your financial plan needs to work in harmony with your legal plan. These connect directly to your housing choices. Without a carefully crafted medical plan, you’ll be caught unprepared for a future medical crisis. But thanks to the power of LifePlanning, there is a way for all these components of retirement to be fully synchronized and interdependent.

The next step is simply to invest a few hours and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Click here for details and online registration. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon. Meanwhile, as we say here at AgingOptions, “Age On!”

(originally reported at www.afr.com)

It’s the Illness We Fear the Most – and in Many Ways Understand the Least

What is the one illness we tend to be most afraid of – the one we fear more than cancer, stroke or heart disease? The answer probably does not come as a surprise: it’s Alzheimer’s disease. But this fascinating article we recently discovered on the website of Kaiser Health News sheds new light on this feared disease and provides extremely valuable insight into how some relatively simple steps can dramatically improve the quality of life for a loved one with dementia. We highly recommend this insightful article, which was written by Kaiser contributing columnist Judith Graham.

In Graham’s words, all the language we use to describe Alzheimer’s reflects our deep fears and fundamental misunderstanding. She writes, “People ‘fade away’and are tragically ‘robbed of their identities’ as this incurable condition progresses, we’re told time and again. Yet, a sizable body of research suggests this Alzheimer’s narrative is mistaken.” The surprising truth is that “people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia retain a sense of self and have a positive quality of life, overall, until the illness’s final stages.” This has profound implications for how we interact with and care for loved ones who have dementia.

Far from being isolated inside a cocoon of mental incapacity, those with Alzheimer’s still retain a significant part of their personalities, at least until the disease reaches later stages. “They appreciate relationships,” writes Graham. “They’re energized by meaningful activities and value opportunities to express themselves. And they enjoy feeling at home in their surroundings.” The clear lesson is that it’s possible for loved ones and professional caregivers to actively promote engagement and well-being among those with dementia even in the face of memory loss, cognitive impairment, and other symptoms of these complex diseases.

The Kaiser article acknowledges that late-stage dementia is enormously difficult for everyone concerned. For caregivers, the challenges are compounded by the fact that they typically receive little support, financially or otherwise, and often have to deal with a loved one’s decline virtually by themselves. Nevertheless, as bad as late-stage Alzheimer’s disease can be, Kaiser’s Graham says that about 80 percent of those with dementia are in mild to moderate stages of the illness, and there is much that a caregiver can do for someone with less severe degrees of dementia to improve the patient’s quality of life significantly. The Kaiser article lists five specific areas in which creative, empathetic care can make a major difference for someone you love. Let’s take a brief look at each one.

First, focus on health. Don’t assume that someone with dementia is unaware of their physical health and well-being. The Kaiser article says this means “being free from pain, well-fed, physically active and well-groomed, having continence needs met, being equipped with glasses and hearing aids and not being overmedicated.” Those with mild to moderate dementia also said they wanted some form of cognitive rehabilitation to help them compensate for their memory loss. Caregivers should also note that up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from significant depression, so if someone appears sad and apathetic, treatment of their depression is probably called for.

Next, foster social connections. One of the tragic side effects of dementia is that it can destroy social relationships because of fear, discomfort and misunderstanding, says Kaiser’s Graham. She quotes one Alzheimer’s expert who says, “The saddest thing that I hear, almost without exception, from people all over the world is that family, friends and acquaintances desert them.” This is a basic social need that just about any one of us has the power to help meet.

Third, you may need to change your communication style. This can go hand in hand with the need to socialize, because, as Graham says, “Not knowing how to communicate with someone with dementia is a common problem.” Experts at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing suggest that caregivers should “speak slowly, simply and calmly, make one or two points at a time, allow someone sufficient time to respond, avoid the use of negative words, don’t argue, eliminate noise and distraction, make eye contact but don’t stare, and express affection by smiling, holding hands or giving a hug.” Sounds like great advice to us!

 Fourth, address some of your loved one’s unmet needs. These needs include some very real physical and environmental dangers and other pitfalls that often get overlooked for dementia patients. For examples, researchers report that a large majority of people with dementia are at risk of falling. Almost two-thirds were shown to have unmet health concerns. About half of dementia patients studied needed greater involvement in meaningful activities, and a significant number were living in unsafe surroundings not well suited to someone with reduced mental capacity. We need to pay closer attention to the conditions in which our loved ones with dementia are living and look beyond the surface.

Finally, respect your loved one’s autonomy and individuality. Your loved one is not simply his or her disease, experts emphasize – he or she is a whole person. In various Alzheimer’s focus groups, people with the illness said they longed to be “listened to, valued and given choices that allowed them to express themselves” and also “to be respected and have their spirituality recognized, not patronized, demeaned or infantilized.” Many research studies have corroborated this desire on the part of those with dementia “to experience autonomy and independence, feel accepted and understood, and not be overly identified with their illness.”

None of this is easy, as you know all too well if you are a caregiver for someone with dementia. Remember, you are likely to be their number one advocate and most significant source of strength, and your top priority may be to help your loved one see that he or she is not going through this journey alone. As we say at AgingOptions, aging is a family affair, and nowhere is that more true than when dealing with the effects of dementia.

Of course, the most important thing all of us need to remember as we age is that we need a solid plan for the future if we’re going to have the type of retirement we’ve always hoped for. Like most people, we’re certain you want to protect your assets in retirement. You don’t want to be forced into institutional care against your will, and you don’t want to become a burden to those you love. Is there a way to plan ahead so that your wishes will be fulfilled? Fortunately, the answer is a confident “yes.” We call our unique concept for retirement planning “LifePlanning.” LifePlanning is uniquely comprehensive because it takes into account all the critical aspects of your retirement future – your financial security, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical needs and your family support. A LifePlan is your blueprint to help you build the retirement of your dreams.

It’s easy to learn more, so we invite you to invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll find a list of current seminar dates and locations here. Once you’ve made your choice of locations, you can register online or contact us for further details and assistance. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to help guide you into a more secure and fruitful future.

(originally reported at www.khn.org)

 

Study Links Diet Soda to Higher Risk of Strokes and Dementia

If you’re like millions of Americans, you’ve read over the past decade or more that sugar-laden soft drinks and other sugary juices are bad for your health. So over the years you’ve made the switch to diet soda, because it’s the healthier choice, right?

Guess again. Diet soft drinks have been connected with a wide range of health issues – and now comes an authoritative study that appears to establish a link between consumption of diet soft drinks and two of the most fearful health crises of all: stroke and dementia. This study has become the topic of numerous media articles, including this one which appeared recently in the Washington Post. This information should concern us all, because when we drink diet soda even in modest amounts we could be increasing our health risks significantly.

As the Washington Post article put it, “Americans trying to stay healthy have abandoned sugary drinks for diet drinks in droves over the past few decades on the theory that the latter is better than the former. Now, more evidence has emerged to refute that rationale.” The article goes on to reveal that a new study appears to show “an association between diet soda and both stroke and dementia, with people drinking diet soda daily being almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia as those who consumed it weekly or less.”

The study was conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine and reported in the medical journal Stroke. Researchers did emphasize that the results of the study did not conclusively show that drinking diet soda caused strokes and dementia – but the study definitely shows a correlation. According to the Post, the study tracked almost 2,900 individuals age 45 and older for ten years, watching for development of a stroke. It simultaneously observed nearly 1,500 subjects age 60-plus checking for signs of dementia. The results were sobering. Those subjects who reported drinking at least one artificially sweetened drink per day were three times more likely to suffer a stroke, and also about three times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. This result was compared versus those in the study who said they consumed less than one such beverage per week on average.

(Interestingly, while regular sugary soft drinks and other sweetened beverages are associated with a range of physical ailments such as diabetes and obesity, there was no correlation in the study connecting sugared beverages with strokes and dementia.)

No one knows why this apparent correlation exists. The Washington Post article stated that the diet beverages covered in the study contained various sweeteners approved by the FDA, including saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, and stevia, among others. Another article we read postulated that diet soda has been shown to elevate blood pressure which may have been a contributing factor, but the Washington Post article didn’t mention that possibility. Also, researchers describing the study results were quick to point out that the actual number of study group participants developing dementia or suffering a stroke was low – about 5 percent and 3 percent respectively. It’s important to reiterate (as the American Beverage Association was quick to point out when this story hit the press) that this study does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between diet soda and strokes or dementia. However, in understated scientific jargon, researchers implied there may be a smoking gun here somewhere. This study, they said, “does identify an intriguing trend that will need to be explored in other studies.”

What’s the bottom line? One expert put it succinctly: “Have more water and have less diet soda. And don’t switch to real soda.” If you’re someone who drinks a lot of soda, with or without sugar, you’re not doing yourself any favors, and you could be opening the door to a host of major medical issues down the road. Our advice is to get a handle on your soda habit.

While you’re at it, now is also a great time to get a handle on your retirement planning. Maintaining your health is vitally important as we age, so planning for your medical needs is an essential component of a strong retirement plan – but it’s certainly not the only thing you need to plan for. A comprehensive retirement plan, the kind we at AgingOptions call a LifePlan, weaves five key elements of your future together: your medical protection, your legal preparation, your financial plan, your housing options, and even a communication plan for your family. When all these five fit together into a seamless whole, your future is secure. You can protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of unplanned institutional care.

If you’re ready to learn more, we have an invitation for you. Plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar, where in just a few hours you’ll gain powerful insight into planning for the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. For dates, times and online registration, click here. You can also call us during the week and we’ll gladly sign you up for the seminar of your choice. It will be a pleasure to talk with you soon at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)

The Best Way for Seniors to Prevent Dangerous Falls? Get Stronger!

Here’s a startling statistic: more than 800 Americans break a hip every single day. Most of those are seniors, and the overwhelming majority of those injuries – which can prove devastating, even life-threatening – are caused by falling down. For many years doctors have concentrated chiefly on treating the after-effects of falls. But now a physician out of Penn State University is advocating a different and far more effective strategy: preventing falls from ever happening in the first place. The best way to do that, he believes, is strength training for seniors.

This brief article on the website Healthday explains the idea behind this powerful approach, being pioneered by Dr. Richard Sciamanna. Everyone knows that older people are at greater risk of falling, due to diminished muscle mass and greater physical weakness. This is made worse by the fact that as we age our bone density also diminishes, making us far more prone to serious injury – such as a hip fracture – when we do take a tumble. But simply treating the injury isn’t enough: Dr. Sciamanna says it’s time for the medical community’s focus to “shift from fall treatment to fall prevention” through the power of exercise.

“Walking and other aerobic activities can boost heart health,” says the Healthday article. “Strength-training programs can also help older people gain muscle mass and improve their balance.” Penn State’s Dr. Sciamanna explained that “it doesn’t matter whether you go to a gym and work with weight machines or stay home and use resistance bands or other equipment. What matters most is that the exercise works different body parts, and that it’s progressive,” adding more weight and more resistance over time.

Just how serious is the danger of seniors falling? We discovered this sobering statistical information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some figures that should get your attention if you’re a senior or are caring for one.

  • Each year local emergency rooms treat 2.8 million people for injuries related to falls
  • Twenty percent of falls cause serious injury, including head injuries or broken bones
  • Falls are the cause of more than 95 percent of hip fractures, an injury from which many seniors never fully recover
  • And if you think it can’t happen to you, note that 300,000 seniors every year are hospitalized for hip fractures.

It seems that the CDC agrees with Dr. Sciamanna. Among the recommendations from the CDC: talk to your doctor, make your home as safe as possible, and exercise to build strength and balance.

Back at Penn State, researchers quoted in the Healthday article cite earlier studies that have shown that older people who participate in strength-training can build up their muscle mass to the tune of three additional pounds of muscle tissue each year. That may not sound like much but it can make a huge difference between feeling frail and unsteady and feeling stronger and more confident. According to Dr. Sciamanna, quoted in the Healthday article, “Even people in their 80s can increase their muscle strength by up to 100 percent after one year of strength-training with gradually increasing resistance.” In other words, it’s never too late to start.

Here at AgingOptions, we meet with people frequently in our seminars and at our offices who have settled into a sedentary lifestyle as they have grown older. In our view many of these people are literally growing older before their time, and it’s completely unnecessary, especially when they could improve their lives so much with a few changes in their exercise habits. According to the CDC, the positive effects of exercise on seniors are dramatic and far-reaching. Strengthening the body reduces pain, cuts down the risk of dangerous falls, builds confidence, reduces depression, and even improves sleep. The CDC goes so far as to state that “Successful aging is largely determined by individual lifestyle choices and not by genetic inheritance.” The CDC goes on to add, “Few factors contribute as much to successful aging as having a physically active lifestyle.” So we urge you, for your own sake and the sake of those caring for you, to get started now with a carefully managed, medically supervised strengthening program. The benefits will amaze you.

Our goal at AgingOptions is not merely to help you have a stronger body, but to build strength in every aspect of your retirement planning. Taking care of your health is important, of course, but unless you have also put a well-conceived financial plan in place you’ve missed a vital step. In the same way, even with plans in place to protect your assets and your health, you may be vulnerable to legal challenges that could have been prevented with wise preparation. Planning ahead can help you be ready to make the housing choices that are best for your situation instead of waiting until you’re forced into a decision that leaves you trapped in a lifestyle you never desired.

The only way we know of to weave all these strands together into a truly comprehensive retirement plan is the LifePlanning process from AgingOptions. We invite you to learn more about this revolutionary approach to retirement planning. Make plans now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. In just a few hours, we’re confident you’ll begin to see your own retirement as you never have before. Simply click here for dates, times and online registration, or contact us during the week and we’ll be glad to assist you.

Physical strength is important, but it’s not enough. You need a comprehensive “retirement fitness plan” with the help of AgingOptions!

(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)

Millions Won’t Take their Medicine – and the Costs are Staggering

What if you heard of an epidemic that was causing up to 125,000 deaths each year in the U.S.? What if this epidemic was also responsible for 10 percent of all hospitalizations in the country, and was costing the American health care system well over $100 billion annually? And what if you discovered that this epidemic was almost entirely preventable?

We suspect you’d be shocked, and so were we when we read this very recent article in the New York Times. Written by nationally known health columnist Jane E. Brody, the article is titled “The Cost of Not Taking Your Medicine,” and it reveals that this serious national health epidemic has a name: nonadherence to prescribed medications. Yes, that’s correct, all those deaths, hospitalizations and horrendous costs are the result of people who refuse to do what their doctors tell them to do, often with devastating consequences.

“The numbers are staggering,” Brody writes in the New York Times. “Studies have consistently shown that 20 percent to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled, and that approximately 50 percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed.” That, she says, is according to a review in Annals of Internal Medicine. Brody adds, “People who do take prescription medications — whether it’s for a simple infection or a life-threatening condition — typically take only about half the prescribed doses.”

(By the way, before you think more-compliant seniors are better at following doctors’ orders, think again. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 55 percent of the elderly are what’s called “non-compliant” with their prescription instructions, which simply means they’re not doing what their doctors tell them to when it comes to prescribed medications.)

This refusal to comply with prescription regimens applies across a full spectrum of patients and conditions. Brody writes, “Studies have shown that a third of kidney transplant patients don’t take their anti-rejection medications, 41 percent of heart attack patients don’t take their blood pressure medications, and half of children with asthma either don’t use their inhalers at all or use them inconsistently.” The article goes on to quote one expert, Denver physician Dr. Bruce Bender, who states bluntly, “When people don’t take the medications prescribed for them, emergency department visits and hospitalizations increase and more people die.” He calls prescription nonadherence “a huge problem, and there’s no one solution because there are many different reasons why it happens.”

So that brings up the question, “Why does it happen?” The reasons some people stop taking prescriptions, or never start in the first place, are varied. Among seniors, DSHS says factors such as mental decline, confusion about instructions, or isolation that leads to self-neglect can all play a part. But for the general population, people have plenty of different excuses. High cost, either direct cost or co-pays, can contribute to people stopping their medications. Some people dislike particular drug side effects, or they decide on their own to opt for a “natural” treatment instead of the physician-prescribed drug. Frequently, says Denver’s Dr. Bruce Bender, patients try their own experiment: “People often do a test, stopping their medications for a few weeks, and if they don’t feel any different, they stay off them. This is especially common for medications that treat ‘silent’ conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. Although the consequences of ignoring medication may not show up right away, it can result in serious long-term harm.”

So what’s our reaction to the Jane Brody article? We agree with the quote from former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who said “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” But we also share a certain skepticism about the argument that says one more pill or one more prescription is always the best solution to a medical problem. Our recommendation here at AgingOptions is that senior adults ought to place themselves under the care of a board-certified geriatrician, or geriatric physician, who is trained to understand the unique medical needs of older patients. We know from personal experience of geriatricians who have taken patients off of certain prescriptions when other doctors may have over-prescribed certain drugs or given their patients drugs that actually counteract each other. Please contact us during the week and let us recommend a geriatric physician in your area. (And remember, you should never stop or adjust a prescription without appropriate medical supervision – the results could be catastrophic for you or your family.)

So much for prescription drugs: now, what’s our prescription for a healthier retirement? Here at AgingOptions we prescribe a uniquely powerful and comprehensive solution to the challenge of retirement planning called a LifePlan. An AgingOptions LifePlan takes all the vital elements of your future planning and weaves them together into an interdependent whole: your finances, your legal protection, your health care needs, your housing choices, even communication with your family. With a LifePlan in place, you have the blueprint you need to build the retirement you’ve always longed for, one that’s rewarding, fruitful and secure.

There’s a simple way to find out more: attend a free LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these popular seminars at locations throughout the region, so click here for details, including online registration. You can also contact us during the week. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a fresh outlook on the process of planning for your retirement years. It will be a pleasure to meet you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Age on!

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

Industry is Pushing for a Big Change in Long-Term Care Insurance Pricing

According to an article we recently read on the website of the authoritative Forbes magazine, there may be big changes coming in the way consumers pay for long-term care (LTC) insurance. If you’re considering buying an LTC insurance policy or know someone who is, you owe it to yourself to read this timely article.

At first the change might not seem all that profound, but it marks a departure from the way in which LTC policies have been sold since their inception. To quote Forbes, “Genworth, the biggest seller of stand-alone long-term care insurance, is about to ask state insurance regulators for permission to fundamentally revise the way it structures premiums. Instead of holding premiums flat for several years followed by big double-digit rate hikes, it wants to be able to revise premiums annually.” The company has proposed this change before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and while it may take a few years before the Association gives the go-ahead, individual states could act more quickly.

Genworth calls their new premium design the “Annual Rate Sufficiency Model.” Under this new system, consumers would probably see relatively modest single-digit rate increases in their LTC premiums every year or two. It’s even possible, says Genworth, that in a year of higher returns on investments and lower payout of benefits, the company could actually reduce premiums, although that sounds like a long-shot to us. But to the company, the bottom line is flexibility. Genworth’s CEO Thomas McInerney argues that the present model doesn’t allow companies to price their products realistically, and it infuriates policy holders who have seen level premiums for five or more years followed by huge increases. Sometimes, Genworth implies, companies facing losses have approached state insurance commissioners seeking permission to raise rates more gradually only to be denied approval. All this has contributed to a huge decline in the number of companies offering long-term care insurance, and a plummeting drop in the annual number of policies sold from roughly 700,000 a decade ago to about 100,000 today. The market seems ripe for an overhaul.

Are consumers ready for this kind of continually-changing LTC premiums? The Forbes article asks the obvious question, “How would consumers respond to seeing their premiums revised every year? This happens routinely with health, auto, and property and casualty coverage. But not with most term life insurance, where premiums may not change for decades.” Still, in a recent survey cited by the Forbes article, a whopping 71 percent of long-term care insurance buyers stated they would rather have small premium increases every few years, while only a tiny group – about 2 percent – said they would prefer large, infrequent premium hikes.

Genworth even claims that if they were allowed more pricing flexibility, initial premiums could actually be about 10 percent lower than they are at present and that over the life of the policy buyers would pay about 17 percent less for the same coverage. “Why would an insurance company propose a pricing model that might bring in fewer premium dollars per buyer over time?” asks Forbes. “It would allow carriers to more closely match prices to claims experience and interest rates, and adjust policies as necessary (and through a far simpler regulatory process). It could generate more income in the early years which could produce more investment income, assuming interest rates finally return to historic levels. And lower initial premiums might attract more, somewhat younger, buyers.” Those sound like worthwhile goals to us.

But none of this answers the question many AgingOptions clients and radio listeners ask: “Is long-term care insurance right for me?” There’s no simple answer. For many, LTC insurance is an excellent way to preserve assets and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, if you can afford it – not just today, but ten or twenty years from now. For others, the high premium cost is just too steep to justify. As with all the other complexities of retirement, the most important thing you must do is to get good, sound, unbiased advice from professionals who aren’t selling any product. Asking a long-term care insurance salesman for objective advice doesn’t really make good sense.

Why not take advantage of one of the best resources you’ll ever find – an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar? There you’ll get a solid overview of today’s long-term care landscape, along with some alternatives to LTC insurance. But more importantly, at one of these highly popular, no-cost events, you’ll learn invaluable information to help you integrate all the important aspects of your retirement plan: legal, financial, housing, medical and family. These must all mesh together like pieces of a puzzle, or else your so-called plan can become dangerously unbalanced, destined to fail you in a crisis. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the answer to a fruitful and secure retirement. All you need to do is to click here to select the seminar of your choice, then register online – or, if you prefer, call us during the week so we can assist you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon. Meanwhile, age on!

(originally reported at www.forbes.com)