Aging Articles

Life Gets Better: An Interview with Wendy Lustbader

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

In order to confront the pervasive stereotypes about youth and what it means to get older, professor and author Wendy Lustbader draws on her decades as a social worker with elders and their families to present a message contrary to the one blasted over every media outlet: life gets better with age!

In her book, Life Gets Better: the Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older, Lustbader defies all conventional logic and discusses the process of getting older as an adventure in personal discovery and increasing vivaciousness.

Here is an interview about her new book.

1. What are some of the specific ways in which life gets better as we get older?

Wendy: First, our self knowledge becomes more extensive, and from this we become more adept at asserting our opinions and preferences. Then we start bungling our relationships less often because we gain a further understanding of our own and others’ motives, needs, and feelings. The benefits of clear communication also become increasingly apparent.

Gradually, we come to make better decisions, using the hard-earned benefits of hindsight. We look back at our earlier mistakes and misadventures, weighing our choices on the basis of experience rather than conjecture. We gain a much greater grasp of the mixture of luck and diligence required to live a good life. We know so much more about what contentment looks like and how to seize it when we can. Often, a wonderful kind of freedom and courage emerge from this consciousness.

Atypical Antipsychotic Medications Not a Good Choice for Alzheimer’s

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Atypical Antipsychotic Medications Not a Good Choice for AlzheimersPeople with Alzheimer’s disease often suffer not only from the debilitating effects of the disease itself, but also from the secondary psychological effects. Delusions and hallucinations appear in up to 50 percent of those with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 70 percent demonstrate aggressive behaviors and agitation. Both caregivers and family members are distressed by these symptoms, and so everyone is motivated to treat the person with Alzheimer’s with antipsychotic medications.

The problem?

Antipsychotic medications haven’t always been well-researched on older populations, and fewer still on people with a disease like Alzheimer’s. And when the research has been done, the results are often underwhelming.

Twitter Chat Tonight on Mental Health in Older Adults #mhsm

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Twitter Chat Tonight on Mental Health in Older AdultsI’ll be hosting my first Tuesday night …

Mental Health Needs of Older Americans

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Mental Health Needs of Older AmericansAs the baby boomers age here in the U.S., they are going to swell the ranks of seniors. And senior care — especially mental health care — is one of the most ignored in America. We act as though seniors don’t matter much, and few health care and mental health care professionals go into specializations, such as geriatric psychology, that can help senior citizens.

Perhaps that will change, with more attention and focus provided on this group of people. Because as we age, we often face many of the same difficulties as we did earlier in life.

Except these difficulties are often amplified, because of the loss of social support — our friends — and isolation — most often from our own family.

The New York Times profiles Marc E. Agronin, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist to showcase the mental health challenges of our aging population.

Introducing Boomers on the Rise: Aging Well

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Introducing Boomers on the Rise: Aging WellI’m pleased to introduce our newest blog, Boomers on the …

Concealed Sexual Orientation Is Like an Abscess

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Concealed Sexual Orientation Is Like an AbscessI once had an abscessed tooth, and in the absence of a dentist, I considered pulling it myself to end the intense pain. Secrets are like abscesses. They hurt when we touch them but we can’t stop touching them. When a secret is at the center of our integrity it produces excruciating pain. We long for the momentary intense pain that comes with releasing the pressure.

Each of us seeks to maintain a sense of internal integrity, while still making a positive impression on others. We are driven by a fear of being discredited. Sometimes that means keeping secrets, especially when the concealed information is sensitive. Concealment of sexual orientation requires considerable effort, constant vigilance, and behavioral self-editing. Although there is a wish to disclose the secret, the need to make a favorable impression on others often overpowers the need to disclose.

Coming out is a process of initiating forgiveness for what we or others may see as a serious mistake. Initiating forgiveness is associated with higher stress at all ages, but it is particularly complex for the mature man who has been living a heterosexual life. In the research for my book Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, I found that for mature men who have sex with men (MSM), initiating forgiveness creates one of the biggest barriers to their coming out. MSM have intense stress that may worsen their physical health and lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide. MSM may or may not feel guilty about their sexual behaviors, but most are tormented by the potential consequences of revealing their lies and deception.

The Longevity Project: An Interview with Howard S. Friedman

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

The Longevity Project: An Interview with Howard S. FriedmanIt’s the million-dollar question (of course not when you’re depressed): what do we need to do to live longer? Two professors decided to bring together their 20 years of work on a landmark eight decade study. Howard S. Friedman is Distinguished Professor at the University of California in Riverside. Leslie R. Martin is Professor of Psychology at La Sierra University, and Research Psychologist at UC Riverside. Together they wrote The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. Their scientific research on health and longevity has been published in over 150 influential and often-cited scientific articles in leading books and scientific journals.

1. I know that it’s hard to pinpoint one predictor of longevity. But I’m going to ask that anyway. Given all the research you present in this book, can you name the top three factors that contribute most?

Dr. Friedman: We looked very carefully at who thrived and survived from childhood through old age. So naturally, people ask, “What is the single most important tip to live longer and happier?” Is it telling jokes and laughing a lot? Maybe it is that hour in the gym every morning at 6 am? Or, is it vowing to lose that extra 10 pounds? Could the essential trick be keeping a positive outlook and whistling while you work? No.

The single most important bit of advice we can offer tip-seekers and list-makers is:
 Throw Away Your Lists!

Antioxidants and Your Health

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

antioxidants and healthAntioxidants are good for your health.

Or at least that is a popular claim.

An antioxidant is any molecule that slows down or prevents oxidation reactions.  Originally, oxidation reactions were defined as chemical reactions with oxygen.  More recently, oxidation reactions have been described as reactions in which an atom or molecule loses an electron.

Oxidation is a natural part of life.  Excessively high antioxidant levels are detrimental to health. Some people have suggested that oxidation reactions contribute to heart disease, declines in cognitive abilities, and cancer.

“Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene have been shown to be antioxidants in a test tube, and it is often claimed that they and many other substances are able to function as antioxidants in the body. However, whether any molecule can act as an antioxidant depends on its environment, and it is not clear which of these can be counted on to work in your body.  Further, even if they act as antioxidants in the body, it is not clear that they will have any effect on heart disease or cancer,” says Gerda Endemann, biochemist and author of Fat is Not the Enemy (Endemann, 2002).

Tips To Find a Good-Enough Doctor

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

doctor art.jpgInspired from all the comments she received from my interview with her on chronic illness, Dr. Elvira Aletta compiled some suggestions for finding a good-enough doctor.

In her previous Psych Central post called Tips to Find a Good-Enough Doctor, she throws out three basic qualities she looks for in a doctor:

  • Expertise, knowledge, intellectual curiosity and all the right credentials.
  • Warm, receptive, a good listener and communicator. The bedside manner thing.
  • A well-run office, with smart, efficient support & medical staff.

Then she follows up with a few more points to keep in mind while shopping for a doctor…

Sex Important to Older Men? Stop the Presses

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Here’s a news flash for you — people like sex. Even older people. Wow, what an astounding insight into human behavior.

I think some people have this conception that older people are somehow, like, not normal. Like they don’t have all the same needs, wants and desires as a younger person does. Like aging itself is some sort of disorder or disease that needs separate studying and understanding.

I’ll let you in on a little secret — most older folks don’t feel their age. Most middle-age folks don’t feel their age. Once you hit 25 or so, many people (most?) seem “stuck in time” in terms of their own self-image and what they imagine others see them as. Most people simply don’t seem to feel their chronological age.

The New Midlife Crisis: Suicide

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

The New Midlife Crisis: SuicideDan Fields, freelance health writer and former editor in chief of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self-Healing newsletter, recently sent me a link to his piece for a cool new online publication called “The Good Men Project Magazine.” I was especially intrigued by his exploration of midlife suicide and why the rate is highest among any age group. You can get to his fascinating piece by following this link. I have excerpted a few paragraphs below:

In 2007 (the latest year for which statistics are available), people aged forty-five to fifty-four had the highest suicide rate of any age group: 17.7 per 100,000. (The national average was 11.5 per 100,000.) And the rate for fifty-five to sixty-four-year-olds showed the greatest increase from the previous year.

Researchers don’t yet know why midlifers are becoming more vulnerable to suicide, especially since studies have found that middle age is generally the happiest time of life for most Americans. As a forty-five-year-old white guy, I was curious to know what makes my demographic group so self-destructive. After talking with experts, here’s what I learned…

Proof Positive: Can Heaven Help Us? The Nun Study – Afterlife

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Can Heaven Help Us? The Nun Study Afterlife“I donated my brain, so when the time comes, they can make a study of it. The fact that I have not had any of this Alzheimer’s disease, or even an inclination so far is something they would naturally want to study.”
– Sister M. Celine Koktan, 97 years old in March 2009

“We’ve received over 500 brains.”
– Dr. Karen Santa Cruz, neuropathologist.

Can you imagine being asked to be part of a study where the researcher asks if you not only would be willing to take part, but would mind terribly donating your brain to be dissected after you’re gone?

That is exactly what was asked of the nuns participating. Of the 678 sisters in the original study about four dozen are still living. But researchers already have begun analyzing the more than 500 brains saved to dissect and study.

The nun study is one of the most dynamic and powerful studies on the impact of positive emotions and thoughts in the history of positive psychology. Researchers Danner, Snowdon, and Friesen (2001) from the University of Kentucky sampled the nuns, perfect subjects for a study because of the profound similarities around their physical health. They have similar, regularized diets, live together in similar surroundings, do not have children, and do not smoke or drink to excess. In other words, their physical backgrounds and conditions are about as controlled for as any group of human beings might be.

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