• Judith Wallace

Growing Older

Think you know the facts about growing older? Think again.

Myth: Dementia is an inevitable part of aging.

Fact: Dementia should be seen as a modifiable health condition and, if it occurs, should be followed as a medical condition, not a normal part of aging. In other words, if you or your loved one becomes forgetful, it could be related to medication, nutrition or modifiable medical issues. Don't assume Alzheimer's. Not only is dementia not inevitable with age, but you actually have some control over whether or not you develop it. Studies find many of the same risk factors that contribute to heart disease - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity - may also contribute to Alzheimer's and other dementias.

For instance, studies on the brains of elderly people with and without dementia find significant blood vessel damage in those with hypertension. Such damage shrinks the amount of healthy brain tissue you have in reserve, reducing the amount available if a disease like Alzheimer's hits. One way to dodge the dementia bullet? Exercise your body and your brain. Physical activity plays a role in reducing the risk of diseases that cause Alzheimer's. It also builds up that brain reserve. Then there's intellectual exercise. It doesn't matter what kind, just that you break out of your comfort zone. Do word puzzles, memorization exercises, or journaling.

Myth: If you didn't exercise in your 20s, 30s and 40s, it's too late to start in your 50s, 60s or 70s.

Fact: It's never too late! In an oft-cited study, 50 men and women with an average age of 87 worked out with weights for 10 weeks and increased their muscle strength 113 percent.

Myth: Getting older is depressing so expect to be depressed.

Fact: No way! Depression is highly treatable. If older people discuss feelings of sadness or depression with their doctors, they can live a much more active and healthy life. That's because studies find that older people who have untreated depression are more likely to develop memory and learning problems, while other research links depression to an increased risk of death from numerous age-related diseases, including Parkinson's disease, stroke and pneumonia.

Myth: The pain and disability caused by arthritis is inevitable as you get older.

Fact: While arthritis is more common as you age, thanks to the impact of time on the cushiony cartilage that prevents joints and bone from rubbing against one another, age itself doesn't cause arthritis. There are steps you can take in your youth to prevent it, such as losing weight, wearing comfortable, supportive shoes, and taking it easy with joint-debilitating exercise like running, basketball and contact sports. Studies show that regular controlled exercise 2-3 times per week helps to reduce the incidence of arthritis of the knee.

Be Well!

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