In the space of one week I attended two lectures and viewed a film, all related to Alzheimer’s and aging. Both lectures, part of Senior Seminars at the University of Manitoba, highlighted the importance of healthy living in ‘age-friendly communities.’ Most of us have read and understood the importance of a balanced diet, daily exercise and a supportive environment for people of all ages. Babies sleep to consolidate their learning. If we, as older individuals (read seniors) do not get enough sleep any new learning will disappear. Neurogenesis still occurs, despite advancing years IF we eat a healthy, balanced diet that we enjoy, exercise our bodies, exercise our brains, sleep, and choose to be happy.
The film, entitled “Remember’ follows a widower who suffers from dementia on a lengthy journey to find and kill the guard who had murdered his family at Auschwitz. We watch him as he receives assistance from fellow travellers, consults the letter that provides him the details of his trip, and interacts with those he meets. He manages to cope with several false leads that require his problem-solving skills to help him sort through his options. We also watch him when he is not able to cope with the journey. We rejoice at the kindness of strangers, often children, who help him when he is lost in time and space—a blank slate.
Active Aging encompasses one’s health, one’s participation in daily activities, and one’s sense of security. The World report on Aging and Health (WHO, 2015) outlines a framework for action to foster Healthy Aging built around the new concept of functional ability. Making these investments will have valuable social and economic returns, both in terms of health and wellbeing of older people and in enabling their on-going participation in society. A fact sheet about ageing is also available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs404/en. In Canada, we know that those aged 65+ outnumber the youth and by 2020 will outnumber children 5 years and younger.
The diversity among the elderly with a range from independent to various levels of dependency needs to be considered when planning for the future and involves looking at transportation, social participation, housing, outdoor spaces and buildings, community support and health services as well as collaboration among agencies and information about services.
In the last few years, studies have demonstrated that active living, including a wide range of activities can enable individuals to maintain their independence for many years. That message is one that is important for those of us who are baby boomers—we can take steps to change some habits and include physical activity and mental stimulation in our daily lives. My grandmother died at 74 years; my mother lived to 96 but her last 5 years were lived in ever decreasing concentric circles and increasing isolation as her once active mind lost its flexibility. These losses are not inevitable.