Social Life: How Does Yours Impact Your Longevity

According to the UN, by 2050, the number of over 60’s is expected to double – however, when examining the cause of this, scientists are beginning to realize that diet and exercise are not the only factors. A person’s social life may be playing a more important role than anyone initially thought.

In the latest episode of Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN International, the program hears that science is showing our social lives are just as important to living a longer life. The program reports from Tiana in Sardinia, Italy, which is home to male residents who are 10 times more likely to reach the age of 100 than the rest of Italy. CNN hears that studies are being undertaken in the UK and Italy that examine whether socializing, relationships and avoiding loneliness are directly connected to an increase in life expectancy.

Dan Buettner identified four of the world’s five “Blue Zones”. These are Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and Sardinia, and “Blue Zones” are known by their longevity, and this “measurement” is used to identify villages with demographics like Tiana. Click on the link to discover these places’ biggest secrets to longevity. Vital Signs also heads to a new retirement home in South London which combines one of the UK’s largest care centers with a nursery school. The project is the first of its kind in the country and allows the children to work and play with the residents every day. The project initially began as an attempt to bridge the age divide, but instead has injected a new lease of life into the residents, many of which suffer with advanced levels of dementia, by encouraging them to engage with the children and forgetting their own physical limitations.

Why Have Studies Now Moved Beyond Analyzing Diet And Health To Other, Social Factors?

Dr Gianni says: “20 years ago everyone was convinced that the explanation was genetic. The Sardinian population is well known for a gap in the genetic background, because we have an isolated population, so we have explored many genetics, but I was disappointed. Now I learnt to move to a broader approach, adopting a multidisciplinary approach.”

Why Are Researchers Considering Psychology As Just As Important As Our Physical Health?

Professor Sarah Harper is from the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. “What we’re beginning to realize is that it isn’t just food and exercise which is important,” she explains to CNN. “The social world we live in is really important. Social connectivity and healthy friendships both within ones own peers, within a family, between generations. We know that in many ways that can have almost the same effect as living a good life, eating well, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol.”

What Is The Impact That This Initiative Has On The Residents And Children?

“Children are very non-judgemental,” says Judith Ish-Horowicz, the founder of the Apples and Honey Nightingale intergenerational nursery.  “They’re very accepting and they’re also very interested and very creative. They see things often from rather quirky directions. The children, because of their stories, because of their experiences and their memories of meeting and playing and talking and sharing with the residents here, they’re going to keep the memories of those residents, many of whom have not got other children to keep their memories alive.”

For the most important lessons we can learn from our grandparents, click on the link to find out what they regret most – and how to avoid the same trap.

(Ed’s note: Previously we reported Doctor Gianni Pes coined the term “blue zones”. We’ve amended this to be factually correct. Dan Buettner identified four of the world’s five “blue zones” and his findings. His findings originally appeared in his National Geographic cover story, and he also wrote a book on it.)

Intergenerational care: Where kids help the elderly live longer

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Story highlights

  • The first intergenerational care facility in the UK opened in 2017
  • Residents are more engaged and “very often forget their own physical limitations”

(CNN)On the surface, Nightingale House in London looks like any other residential home for the elderly. With almost 200 residents, it’s one of the the largest care homes in the country.

It’s Tuesday morning, and more than 20 residents are seated around a room flooded with natural light, holding weights and performing moderate physical therapy exercises with an instructor.
The mood is calm, and people are engaged, yet there is excitement in the air. Every few minutes, residents glance toward the door in anticipation.
Their guests of honor are late.
“You can’t help but feel the infection,” said 90-year-old Fay Garcia, who was waiting patiently. It’s like someone comes in and turns the light on, she said.
close dialog
The infection — and light — comes in the form of a class full of children 2 to 3 years old who frequent the physical therapy session — and many other parts of the daily lives of the residents at the Jewish care home.
Residents of Nightingale House during a physical therapy session.

In September, Nightingale House opened the doors to its on-site nursery, Apples and Honey Nightingale, the first co-located nursery in the UK. Children and elderly residents have access to a program filled with activities that include baking, gardening and art, as well as exercise. Residents can also access the nursery to spend time with the kids.
“The children work with and play with the residents every single day,” said Ali Somers, co-founder of Apples and Honey Nightingale, who also heads evaluation and impact for this program.
The premise is intergenerational care, providing wisdom to the young and relationships — and, in turn, longevity — to the old.

‘Good things are happening’

“When we bring children and residents together, the elderly together, you can see right away that good things are happening,” Somers said.
These “good things” are evident to any observer.
The centenarians dominating one region of Sardinia

More than 10 children make their way along the garden paths into the lounge where the residents are stretching their arms and shaking their legs. Most faces in the room are smiling, and a few residents reach out to encourage the kids to come toward them specifically.
As small children roam about, trying the exercises themselves, cuddling up to residents and in some cases performing headstands, the rest of the room comes alive.
“They’re responding to an external stimulus, which is a toddler with an adorable grin fumbling towards them, carrying a toy, trying to interact,” Somers said.
The benefits in terms of health are also clear to see.
Residents “very often forget their own physical limitations, and they find that they are encouraged; they stretch themselves; they will lean up out of their chair, extend a hand, engage in conversation,” she added.
Fay Garcia, 90, visits with a child from her care home's on-site nursery.

The average age of residents in the home is over 90, with 10% of them over 100, meaning issues regarding mobility and frailty are a priority, as well as loneliness.
If residents are more engaged, “they’re encouraged to walk from the home down to the nursery. They’re going outside more. They want to opt in to working with and spending time with and playing with the residents,” Somers said.

‘Adopted grandchildren’

At first, “I couldn’t see the connection between early years and old age,” said Garcia, who moved into the home a little over three years ago, having lived in New York for most of her adult life.
The idea of intergenerational care didn’t mean much to her, she said, as she had never had children of her own. But once she was informed about the benefits and began spending time with the children, she soon changed her perspective.
“When the children come in, they recognize you after some time, and now I have all these adopted grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Garcia said.
“It’s a whole new beginning for me,” she said.
The team at Nightingale has seen the change in Garcia and most of the home’s residents — both physical and psychological.
She has been going to the mother and toddler groups and visiting the nursery, walking around and just having fun with the little ones, said Simon Pedzisi, director of care services at Nightingale House. His daughter attends the nursery and spends a lot of time with Garcia.
“I see (Garcia) move round and round the building walking, going to different places,” he said. “That’s physical exercise with a purpose, because she’s got somewhere to go, and she’s got something that she’s doing, which is different from trying to motivate herself.”

Ending age apartheid

The idea of intergenerational care is new to the UK, but the idea stems from similar centers in the United States and other parts of the world.
“People are becoming more and more aware of the age apartheid that we live with,” said Judith Horowitz, who co-founded the nursery with Somers.
Horowitz highlighted the fractured society that is increasingly dominant, “where people actually don’t mix, where you often don’t have extended family that are living close to you.”
“We’re not learning from each other,” she said. “Very small children are very nonjudgmental. They’re very accepting, and they’re also very interested and very creative. They see things often from rather quirky directions.”
Any significant differences made by the program are yet to be calculated, as the nursery has been in operation for only a few months. But a baby and toddler group preceded the creation of the nursery in January 2017, from which Somers is already seeing results — and expects to see more.
Improvements for the elderly participants include reduced depression, increased mobility, better communication and language, and lower levels of dementia and memory loss.
“The residents enjoy watching the children and observing them,” Somers said. “They engage different parts of their brains.”
Somers believes the days of institutionalizing — and separating — child care and later life care are coming to an end.
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford, agreed, adding that today, people go to school and work and often then live with people of a similar age.
The consequence? As partners, siblings, cousins and other lateral generations die, people “may find themselves very isolated and alone,” said Harper, who is not involved in the Nightingale project.
“In the old days, people used to live together in households … (or) with different generations just down the road,” she said. “In a way, it’s very sad that we have to set up intergenerational programs. It should be actually very natural thing for the generations to live together.”
While programs are typically set up to benefit the elderly, Harper believes they end up equally benefiting the younger ages: Both young children and teenagers having older people as role models.
“Love and relationships and getting into the world it isn’t new for (the older) generation. I think that can be really comforting and reassuring,” she said. “We should naturally try to get the generations to live together.”

This was music to my ears

A Conversation with Anne Basting, Founder of TimeSlips

by Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative

I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Anne Basting, Founder of TimeSlips, about the power of creativity, how it enables us to be fully self-expressed, and its ability to revolutionize relationships.  On May 3, Anne will open our 2018 Eden Alternative International Conference and offer us a taste of how creativity can transform how we come together and build community.  Here is what Anne had to say about this amazing work…

LB: What inspired the work you do and how did it unfold for you?

AB: Way back in 1996, I volunteered in a nursing home, the kind that we all fear, and yet, we all have seen: pharmaceutical restraints, loud TVs, alarms going off. Staff were nowhere to be seen and residents in the common room tucked themselves deep inside.  After many weeks of trying to engage people, I gave up on memory and invited people to imagine. Anything they offered, I would weave into a story. Sounds, songs, movements, words, facial expressions – anything they would offer, I would echo and enthusiastically weave them into a story.  I’ve really been doing it ever since.  Inviting, echoing, weaving, sharing with the public the miracle that is the joy and imagination of people the world has discarded.

LB:  As your work has evolved, what has surprised you or touched you most deeply?

AB: I have been immeasurably moved by the response of staff and family members who suddenly realize that they can connect with someone they thought was “gone.”  You can see it in their eyes – the shock — sometimes the embarrassment at having underestimated the person — but always the eagerness to try it themselves.  I love when college students, who always start as hesitant and afraid, fall in love with working with elders and release themselves into the raw joy of creative engagement.

LB:  What is the message you hope to share through your general session at the 2018 Conference?

AB: Our general session shares the story of an amazing project we did when we trained 50 nursing homes in WI in creative engagement and community building.  The elders told stories, read them aloud, and choreographed the stories. We collaborated with a team of artists to bring those stories to you in what we call Keynote Karaoke – singing, moving along with, and generally marveling at their stories. We end by teaching you all the choreographic method, so you can take it home with you.

LB:  As an advocate/activist/artist, how do you most want to effect change?  What do you wish to rise up for ?

AB: At TimeSlips, we aim to inspire the creativity in everyone, and we turn that creativity outward – sharing it with others, so they too can be inspired.  When people experience the joy of creativity engagement, they fight for its inclusion in the everyday lives of all elders. We aim to pour it into the water of care – so that meaningful engagement is part of the lives of every elder and every care partner.  It is the connective tissue that brings them into meaningful relationship with their extended communities.

All of us want to know that someone cares

Bette Northover is sharp, independent and happy at the age of 97 and loving life at Grove Park Home.

She has her four children to chat with but knows there are many seniors who lead isolated lives without family contact or visitors.

“I think there are probably a lot of seniors that are not as lucky as we are in this nursing home because they’re lonely,” said Northover.

The Senior Wish Association is tackling the problem of isolation with seniors – the largest demographic of citizens in Simcoe County.

Barb Richards started the charity in 2011 with 100 seniors. That number has grown to 3,500 who are helped by Senior Wish programs.

Granting Wishes is one of those programs.  Requests run the gamut from someone in hospice who wanted to hear the bagpipes one last time to another person who asked for a special movie and dill pickle chips.  There was a man turning 95 who wanted a visit from his MPP and his favourite hockey team, the Barrie Colts.

“This generation of seniors are really reluctant to ask for anything,” said Richards.

Senior Wish aims to expand beyond Simcoe County but needs sponsors and volunteers.

Ashley Kelly is a married mother of two young children who gives of her time and says the payback is immeasurable.

“It makes you proud to be a volunteer with Senior Wish. To know that you’re helping so many people and to see the smiles on their faces,” Kelly said.

“A lot of people they put them in homes or away and they’re left there. They’re forgotten. So this helps them get remembered,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears.

Over 40 residents at Grove Park benefit from Christmas Wish, another very popular Senior Wish program.

Local senior facilities are asked to submit names of seniors who will be alone during the holidays to ensure they get a special gift package of wrapped donations like pyjamas, slippers and candies.

Grove Park hands out the gifts Christmas Day.

“It is inspiring and humbling to watch the reaction. Every little gift is opened with such joy.  The joy on their faces is so sincere and humbling for all of us here,” said Linda Muszynski, Manager of Fund Development at Grove Park.

“What we really like about the program is that Senior Wish involves us in the decisions. They ask us who needs things and what do they need.  Not just a random gift.  We put lists on backs of doors of residents’ rooms around that time so staff can write down what they need.”

Lucillie Dalziel joined Senior Wish last fall and shudders to think at how big their numbers would be if Senior Wish was in every community.

“There are many seniors who see the visitors walk right past their room. It’s heartbreaking. Senior Wish gives them sense of belonging, community, self worth,” said Dalziel, who is trying to get corporations and individuals involved.

“We really do need the support. We have some corporate sponsorships but we really need more.”

Senior Wish programs also include Adopt a Senior, Seniors Helping Seniors, Intergenerational Programs and educational programs in schools.

“I think it’s a good idea if you can find that person that is lonely and hasn’t got family,” said Northover, who moved into Grove Park two years ago.

Richards founded the organization when she was an auctioneer and met seniors who were downsizing.  She saw first hand how many were alone and decided to act.

“All of us want to know that someone cares about us and whether it’s someone in the community or someone that gives you a hug, or pats you on your shoulder. They say ‘I just know now that somebody out there cares’ and that’s pretty powerful in itself.”

3 Visits

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 2.13.06 PMYesterday, My dog and I went to visit a friend of mine who is 95 years old and lives in an independent living situation. She is a little forgetful, so when ever we show up, it makes her day. Hugs and kisses abound. Yesterday, she was reminded that she was going to be moving to an assisted living facility very soon. She grabbed my hand with a look of fright on her face and said she didn’t want to go.  I told her Buddy and I would follow her wherever she went. She felt a little better but she still didn’t want to go. This has been her her home for about 10 years but she doesn’t really remember.

Then we went to visit another friend who is in her mid 80’s I imagine.  She is doing well,  we enjoyed our visit and she talked about what would  happen to her when she got so old she couldn’t live by herself.  She didn’t want that to happen and hoped she died first.  She does have a son who assured her that he would take care of her, but she doesn’t want to move in with them. She is doing everything she can to stay healthy.

Lastly, we visited my friend who is 91.5  years of age and miserable. She wants to go home but doesn’t know where home is. She is in an Assisted Living Facility that is marginal and  she is lonely. I walked into her room and she was sitting on her walker staring into space. She does not have Altzheimer’s or Dementia, she is just old and feels like no one cares for her.

These women are not even part of the thousands of baby boomers coming up the pike.  Facing the end of ones life is complicated but everyone wants to be part of something and to feel loved.

Just saying…..

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I for one, am so appreciative of the elders that have survived a long life. I think of how many times, in my relatively short life, I have  escaped the fingers of death and how my parents died relatively young and younger. To sit with an elder who has live 90+ years, that is an accomplishment to be admired. I respect them and love them and have learned to just listen. In my opinion, the worse thing we can do is warehouse them away because maybe they are a little frail or slow or forgetful.

I have seen with my own eyes, how just sitting and being with some of our elderly citizens just brings them back to the land of the living.  I believe boredom and a lack of connection to other people is the death knell to this population.

Baby Boomers

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The density of Baby Boomers will put a strain on Medicare. According to the American Student Association, the population of individuals over the age of 65 will increase by 73 percent between 2010 and 2030, meaning one in five Americans will be a senior citizen.

(How baby boomers will affect the health care industry in the U.S. /Carrington, edu)




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