More than 550,000 Canadians are now living with dementia, and 937,000 are projected to be living with the disease in 15 years. A major new international study concludes that up to one-third of cases could be prevented by addressing nine modifiable health and lifestyle factors. You can lower dementia risk by being physically active, staying socially connected, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, and learning daily.
I was recently struck by the story of Shirley, a Chartwell resident living in one of their communities in Whitby, Ontario. Shirley was exploring retirement living because she thought the lifestyle would benefit her; she’d have more people to socialize with, less worry and responsibility, and just an overall increase in her peace of mind. The problem was, at age 82, Shirley didn’t think she should spend her money on a retirement residence; instead, she thought she should continue to save for her future.
The hum of pleasant conversation fills the room as you approach your white-linen table, complete with upholstered dining chairs. The delicious aroma of food fills the dining room, and just one glance at the daily menu confirms a diverse offering of flavours and fresh ingredients. An appetizing meal is served to your table, expertly prepared by an award-winning chef. This isn’t the trendy new restaurant in town, but rather the superb dining experience at Chartwell Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence.
There’s another, perhaps more surprising way to fight loneliness: mindful meditation. A research study at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation program reduced loneliness in seniors.
As a child, Marina remembers looking up into the sky and seeing countless twinkling stars light up the night—even from her home in Toronto. Now 81 years old and living at Chartwell Pickering City Centre, she dreamt of seeing that beautiful, speckled sky once again. However, due to the light pollution emitted from the city, the stars no longer shone the same way as they did in the past.
Every person I talk with about aging tells me they want to continue to make their own decisions about where and how they want to live as they get older. Yet, when I ask if they have taken steps to ensure they will have the life they want as they age, very few have done much—if any—planning. I believe that planning for our later years is extremely important, as it prevents us from being reactive in the face of changes that can be significant. Simply put, proactivity creates a much greater likelihood that we will get what we want as we age. An effective way to plan for our later years involves a three-part process: Contemplation, engaging thought partners, and communicating our needs and wants to people important to us.
A 2016 Yale University study looked at a group of 3,635 seniors, dividing them into three categories: non-book-readers; readers who read 3.5 hours per week or less; and book readers who read more than 3.5 hours per week. Regardless of other factors influencing longevity, the scientists found that the book readers who read more than 3.5 hours per week lived almost two years longer than the other two groups. Interestingly, participants had to read books to achieve this gain—reading newspapers or magazines didn’t have the same benefit.
As an older adult, you have the time and the freedom to choose what and how you want to learn, based on your interests. Research shows people who keep on learning as seniors sharpen their minds, improve their judgement and reasoning, and reduce their risk of cognitive decline. Lifelong learning can offer other health benefits too—by boosting immunity, lowering anxiety, overcoming social isolation and lifting your mood.
The digital divide among generations is growing smaller. A 2017 American Pew Research Center survey showed that Internet use among seniors has grown steadily over the past decade, with 67% of adults ages 65 and older reporting that they are now online. Smartphone ownership among American seniors has doubled over the past five years, and there’s no reason to believe that Canada is any different.
Dry mouth affects about 30% of older adults and increases the risk of cavities, gum disease and mouth infections. Lower saliva production can also make chewing, swallowing and speaking more difficult, potentially affecting nutrition and a person’s social life. You can reduce or eliminate dry mouth symptoms by identifying the causes and staying hydrated, using saliva substitutes, avoiding spicy foods, and minimizing dry mouth side effects from medications.