Category / Exercise

How Meditation Can Help With Chronic Pain

December 30, 2019

Experts say meditation can work as well as medications for some people
By Patricia Corrigan

You’ve probably figured out that taking a few deep breaths in a stressful situation can calm you down. And you may know that practicing meditation on a regular basis helps many people cultivate serenity. But did you know that some studies show meditation can alleviate pain?

“We have pretty strong evidence that mindfulness meditation is helpful for chronic pain conditions,” says Wen Chen, chief of the basic and mechanistic research branch at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s Division of Extramural Research in Bethesda, Md. The center is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“We experience pain where the body is injured, but we also experience the psychological and social aspects of pain. Mindfulness meditation works on the psychological aspect,” Chen says.

Meditation is an ancient practice, and we know very little about how it works,” she adds. “We do know that it’s low risk, it’s not invasive and you can do it on your own. Lots of people find it beneficial.”

And it appears that an increasing number of Americans are finding meditation beneficial for a variety of different reasons. In 2012, only 4.1% of adults in the U.S. practiced meditation, but by 2017, the number had increased to 14.2%.

Wen Chen

A government-sponsored site with an overview of mindfulness meditation reports that research about the practice’s ability to reduce pain “has produced mixed results,” but in some studies, “scientists suggest that meditation activates certain areas of the brain in response to pain.”

Reducing Pain Through Mindfulness Meditation

An estimated 11.2% of the U.S. adult population suffers from chronic pain, according to a research post Chen published three years ago.

“Prescription opioid medications present serious risks, both medically and socially,” she wrote, and she cited a study that provides “compelling evidence for the existence of a non-opioid process in the brain to reduce pain through mindfulness meditation.”

“With mindfulness meditation, you accept the (pain) message, and gradually, your body and brain stop sending it. It’s like turning down the volume control.”

So what is mindfulness meditation? One evidence-based form, known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), is an eight-week program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s.

A teacher-certification program has placed its instructors in almost every state, but you also can learn the method through Kabat-Zinn’s MP3s and CDs. Plus, some pain-management programs offer mindfulness-based stress reduction training, so check with your doctor.

“MBSR has a breathing component where you focus on your breathing as you meditate. That aspect of slow breathing is very helpful,” Chen says, “and quite a few researchers point toward the breathing component as quite important to relieve pain. Just twenty minutes of mindful breathing can often do the trick.”

She adds that in addition to looking at MBSR, researchers also are evaluating mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, a modified form of psychotherapy, and progressive relaxation techniques for pain management.

Other Benefits of Meditation for Pain Control

Danny Penman

Danny Penman, a journalist in Bristol, England with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, teaches and writes about meditation. He is the co-author with Vidyamala Burch of the book Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing, published in the U.S. as You Are Not Your Pain.

The British Medical Association honored the book with first place in the organization’s 2014 Medical Book Awards competition. In 2013, a clinical trial conducted at the University of Manchester in England showed that the eight-week program outlined in the book is “highly effective at reducing anxiety, stress and depression.”

Other clinical trials have shown that mindfulness is “at least as effective as the main prescription painkillers,” Penman says.

Powerful painkillers do dull the sensation of pain, but the medications also lose their effectiveness over time and have addictive qualities. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them and between 8% and 12% develop an opioid use disorder. About 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

“We all have to come to terms at some point with illness or suffering, and I believe that in the longer run, mindfulness is at least one of the answers,” Penman says. Pain, he adds, is a message, and the body and the brain keep sending that message.

“With mindfulness meditation, you accept the message, and gradually, your body and brain stop sending it. It’s like turning down the volume control,” he says.

Professional Reassurance: ‘You Can’t Fail at Meditation’

While still in school, Penman started meditating as a means of stress reduction. In 2006, he was in a paragliding accident.

“Once my pain was under control, I started meditating seriously, and after a couple of weeks, I was able to reduce my painkiller intake by two-thirds,” he says. He later trained as a meditation teacher specializing in pain relief.

Many of us know people who say they have tried meditation, but failed. Penman says that’s not possible.

“You can’t fail at meditation. Ironically, the moment you think you’ve failed is a moment of mindfulness because you have come back into the present moment and are no longer wrapped up in your other thoughts,” he says.

Some people who think they have failed “build a catastrophe around it, letting in fears and anxieties that can amplify their pain,” Penman says.

“Meditation is like physical exercise,” he continues. “The more you do it, the more you begin to relax, and the easier gets. You may still have doubts or fears, but it gets easier each time you do the basic practice and focus on your breath. The more you meditate, the more you will benefit.”

Whether you’re just starting or giving mindfulness meditation another go to help cope with pain, once you understand what to do, you need to set aside only 10 or 20 minutes each day for the practice.

Over time, it will become a comfortable habit, so Penman suggests you simply begin. He says, “The hardest thing in the world is taking that first breath.”

By Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia on her blog.

Staying Mobile in the Hospital Helps to Get Better and Get Out

October 22, 2019

It’s counterintuitive to some, but activity is proven to make all the difference
By Edie Grossfield

Part of the Age-Friendly Health Care Special Report

(Editor’s note: This story is part of a series for The John A. Hartford Foundation.)

In her work as the chief nursing officer for Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md., Barbara Jacobs recently found herself dodging a lot of patients walking in the corridor as she made her way down the hall.

“There were so many people up and moving, and that was a good problem to have,” she recalls. Jacobs is pleased that the hospital’s initiative of the past two years to keep patients — especially older ones — mobile during their time there is working.

Because staying mobile helps maintain muscle function and overall healing, it also reduces the risk of falls.

Like many hospitals around the country, Anne Arundel is recognizing the important role mobility plays in healing, reducing the risk of medical complications and ensuring that older patients will be able to return home after they’re discharged, rather than having to go a nursing home or rehabilitation facility.

Immobility Leads to Problems

“One of the things that is absolute is when a person becomes immobile, the loss of muscle tone is very, very quick — the actual loss of muscle mass is quick,” Jacobs says. “So, when a person comes into the hospital and becomes immobile, it’s significant — even if you’re young, you will go out feeling weak.”

And weakening muscles is just one of the negatives of being in a hospital bed for days.

“When we lay in a bed, our lungs are laying back against the back of our body,” Jacobs explains. “For maximum performance of our lungs, you’re supposed to be standing or sitting, where gravity is helping open our lungs. So, we’re more prone to developing pneumonia (and other respiratory illnesses) because our lungs are not in the position that they should be if we leave you in bed all day long.”

Immobility during a hospital stay is connected to a number of other problems, including frailty, falls and even death, “even after controlling for illness severity and comorbidity,” according to a 2018 article in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine.

Hospitalized older adults who remain mostly in bed are 34 times more likely to die and six times more likely to end up in nursing homes after their hospital stays than those who move around at least twice per day, according to research that included nearly 500 people age 70 and older.

Mobility Priority at Anne Arundel

In 2017, Anne Arundel Medical Center began its new mobility practices in the hospital’s geriatrics unit, which is an Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) unit. Anne Arundel’s ACE unit is part of the hospital’s “age-friendly” initiative, with the goal of aligning care to what matters most to each patient.

Patients of all ages, inside and outside the ACE unit, who are able to get out of bed and move are encouraged to do so — ideally at least three times per day.

“It depends on the patient, obviously,” Jacobs says. “There are times when the person is too sick to get up. But for most people, they should be getting up and mobilizing as far as they can every day.”

That means doing some walking, even if it’s only a short distance.

“If the farthest you can get is walking from your bed to the door, great,” Jacobs says. “If you only go from the bed to the door two times today, but the next day you go fifty feet, that’s great.”

To help get patients moving, Anne Arundel has people called “mobility quality technicians,” whose main job is to ensure that patients who are able to move do so daily.

Movement and Socialization With ACErcise

The ACE unit also launched “ACErcise,” a group exercise program that Jacobs says is popular with patients. The groups do chair exercises and walk to and from their hospital rooms. Other hospitals around the country with ACE units have similar programs.

“Part of what makes it great is the socialization of being together,” Jacobs says. “Then, we had some (patients) who said, ‘Can we just eat together?’ So, after ACErcise, we put up a table and they can eat together.”

This emphasis on mobility has been important to patient Cline Warren’s recovery, says his wife Martha Warren. The couple live in southern Anne Arundel County. Cline Warren, 91, who has dementia, was brought into the hospital after he accidentally ingested a caustic substance.

“He’s much better,” Martha Warren says, adding that along with the exercise, the socialization aspects have been especially helpful. “It certainly contributes to being less bored — you know, being in your room alone. And (it helps to) be able to focus on other patients or the activity director.”

Patients ‘MOVE’

At St. Mary Mercy Livonia, a hospital in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, hospitalized patients have been staying active through “Mobility Optimizes Virtually Everything,” or MOVE, since 2017.

“As I was researching this topic prior to implementation of MOVE, I found out that every day a person spends in the hospital bed can take up to four days to regain their strength,” said program manager Belinda Dokic, adding that the hospital implemented MOVE because “mobility can also be a medicine.”

As part of MOVE, each patient receives “personalized mobility goals,” which nurses and aides review daily with patients.

MOVE began in St. Mary Mercy’s observation unit. This included adding full-time ambulation aides who were trained by the hospital’s physical therapists on how to safely move patients to avoid falls and injuries. Toward the end of 2018, the hospital added MOVE to its medical/surgical unit.

The goal of MOVE is to walk patients twice per day. Patients who are unable to walk are encouraged and helped to at least move from their bed to a chair for some period of time during the day.

“Any movement is good.” Dokic says. “Even if the patient is laying in bed and we (adjust) the bed for them to sit up and eat (a meal) that way, or we move them from bed to chair or even help them walk from a chair to the shower — all of this is considered movement.”

Mobility Helps With Fall Prevention, Too

Because staying mobile helps maintain muscle function and overall healing, it also reduces the risk of falls. This is something Dokic has seen at St. Mary Mercy, where the patient falls rate in the two units with the MOVE program decreased from 2.7% to zero from the last quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018.

For some, more movement brings concern of more risk of falls, but a study led by Johns Hopkins Hospital researchers in 2016 found that increasing patient mobility did not increase the number of patient falls with injuries.

St. Mary Mercy carefully trains its ambulation aides, Dokic says. “I think it was four hours of training, where they were shown how exactly to move the patients without putting them at risk to have a fall,” she says.

Patient and Family Buy-In

Nurses and other staff working on mobility programs occasionally encounter concerned family members who believe their parent or other loved one shouldn’t be moving around while in the hospital.

“The family member might say, ‘Well mom’s been sick. Just let her rest in bed,’” Jacobs says. “But we’re actually not helping mom if we just let her rest in bed the whole time. So we have to actually say to the families, ‘No, this is an important part of your mother’s healing, that we get up and ambulate with your mom.’”

Staff also encounter patients who would rather not get up, understandably, because they don’t feel well. In that case, Jacobs says, it’s important to remind patients and families that remaining immobile could lead to a longer hospital stay, or worse.

“There’s a question we ask everybody every day (in the ACE unit), and that’s ‘What is it that really matters to you?’ This is part of our age-friendly work,” Jacobs says. “And the majority of patients answer that they want to get home. Well, the best thing we can do to get you home is to keep you moving. So, if that’s your plan, let us help get you there.”

By Edie Grossfield

Edie is Next Avenue’s health and caregiving editor. In this role, she reports on the information people need to make sound decisions about caregiving, their health and the health of their loved ones. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. Edie has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Reach her by email at egrossfield@nextavenue.org.

UPRITE Fall Prevention Education Program in our Care Communities

September 23, 2019

September 23 is Fall Prevention Awareness Day!

Learn more about our fall prevention efforts in our care communities.

Every community that serves the older population is looking for ways to reduce falls. There is no one concrete way to prevent falls. "Knowing this, we take special precaution to keep our residents as safe as possible while they are in our care, and one way we do that is through the UPRITE Fall Prevention Education Program,” says Ginny Burke, director of clinical education and quality.

The main focus on the UPRITE Fall Prevention Education is that everyone in the community, from nursing to housekeeping to maintenance, can help prevent falls. In fact, UPRITE stands for YoU help Prevent Resident Incidents with Team Effort!

“All team members who work in the neighborhoods in our skilled nursing and personal care communities know the residents just as well as a nurse does, so we have trained different disciplines to be looking, watching, and pointing out any potential fall risks,” says Ginny.

“UPRITE really focuses on the importance of being aware of what’s going on around you. If a team member is passing through a neighborhood and notices someone is trying to get up alone, they assist them or get a team member that can. If they notice a call light is on, they will pop their head in – a resident may need something that is just out of reach such as the television remote or a tissue. It’s the little things like this that can prevent bigger things from happening,” Ginny says.

In our care communities, we have a larger number of residents who are wheelchair bound, or who use walkers to get around. Because the mobility of some of our residents is limited, they often experience weakened legs and muscles due to inactivity. Ginny says, “In order to assist those residents who have limited mobility, we encourage our team members to frequently ask if there is anything the resident needs, even if they have just helped them or are just checking in. We have found that rounding consistently has improved resident satisfaction and safety.”

Interested in learning more about fall prevention? Check out this article for stats and other facts about fall prevention.

How to Successfully Adopt a New Healthy Habit

September 20, 2019

Experts offer tips to increase your chances of sticking to it
By Patricia Corrigan

Tell my massage therapist you’re struggling to stick with a healthy habit of any kind and her reply sounds like something your dental hygienist would say: “Only floss the teeth you want to keep.”

That’s a spin, of course, on “use it or lose it.” If you want a strong body, a calm mind and an elastic brain — not to mention clean teeth — you’ll want to tend to them all in turn. Plus, remember to eat your vegetables, work on your balance and go to bed at the same time every night, too.

Bernice Brandmeyer, 86, of Creve Coeur, Mo., admits that sticking with healthy habits isn’t easy. “Right now I’m out of the habit of going to my water exercise class,” she says. “I’m gradually forcing myself back into it by having my pool bag ready at the door. When it’s time to leave for class, I don’t think about it, or I’ll stay home. I just go.”

Deciding to Change and Following Through

Forming new habits or reinstating ones we’ve let slide is tricky, according to Wendy Wood, a social psychologist and provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California. “We underestimate how complicated the change process is,” she says. “We’re impressed when we just make an initial decision to establish a new habit, but then we have to follow through — and that’s hard.”

“Once you make a decision to form a new habit, figure out a way to make it fun, because the initial motivation is hard to maintain.”

Wood has a few tips for establishing healthy habits that stick:

Assess your environment. “Our actions are closely tied to our environment, so explore opportunities to make desired changes easier,” Wood says. “Having a TV or laptop in the bedroom makes it harder to turn off the screen and stick to your plan of going to bed earlier.” If your goal is to incorporate more exercise into your day, place some of the equipment in plain sight, such as dumbbells or a yoga mat, so they become part of your environment and remind you to do it.

Some years ago, a Weight Watchers leader told me that you don’t need will power to establish healthy eating habits — you need a strategy. My friend, Susan French, 69, of San Francisco, applied that wisdom to her exercise routine.

“I decided I was done going to the gym,” she says. “I’ve been going a long time, and I’m tired of putting on my sports bra and my yoga pants and going out the door. It’s a long walk there and back.”

Now she exercises at home, working out for an hour six days a week with an aerobics class on the computer. “I really, really like this,” French says, “and I’ve been doing it for over two months.” How confident is she that she will keep it up? She laughs and replies, “Yesterday, I canceled my gym membership.”

Make change fun. “People are likely to repeat behaviors they find rewarding, so once you make a decision to form a new habit, figure out a way to make it fun, because the initial motivation is hard to maintain,” Wood says.

Gail Pennington, 70, of University City, Mo., finds learning new languages fun. “I’m on my two hundred and ninety-ninth day of learning Italian,” she says. “I have no plans to go to Italy, but this entertains me, and it’s good exercise for my brain.”

Pennington is going to Quebec later this year, so she’s also refreshing her French. “A shopkeeper in Paris once complimented my French, and speaking to a native speaker and being understood makes me happy,” she says.

That good feeling comes from a release of dopamine in the brain, Wood says. “If the brain responds to an activity with dopamine, that makes a stable memory trace and cements what you did to get that reward. That’s your brain enabling you to repeat what was rewarded in the past and makes it easier next time.”

Be patient. Experts say it takes two to nine months to establish a new behavior as a habit. “Many behaviors we try to make habitual have multiple steps to them — complicated steps that involve decision-making and some habitual response,” Wood says. “If you make a new behavior easy and fun, then it will be something you keep doing. As that practice accumulates, it becomes a habit.”

One mind trick that works for me is to put my qigong (a mind-body-spirit practice) sessions and aqua yoga classes on my calendar; I schedule them just as I would for lunch with a friend or an appointment. I consider these classes commitments, and when my phone “dings” to remind me it’s time to get ready, I do.

‘Prove to Your Brain That You’ve Got This’

Marcia Reynolds, a behavioral scientist based in Phoenix, recommends talking about changes you want to make. “Say it aloud, ask for help from family and friends; that makes you more accountable,” she says.

A leadership coach and author of the book Outsmart Your Brain, Reynolds also believes in posting quotes or pictures in places where you will regularly see them to remind you of your goal as you work to establish a new habit. She also cautions against beating yourself up when you don’t always live up to your new expectations.

“We often focus on where we lapsed, what we didn’t do,” she says. “As we move toward change, the brain needs evidence that we will be successful, so, remember to look at what you did well, even when it’s just one thing. Prove to your brain that you’ve got this.”

Whether you want to start meditating, stop smoking or practice random acts of kindness, Reynolds recommends making these or other changes for personal reasons. “If you’re doing it for a family member or for your doctor, that’s not good enough,” she says. “For the best end result, a strong emotional launch requires a deep personal desire.”

By Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia on her blog.

Ready, Set, Go – Starting an Exercise Routine Now May Extend Your Lifespan

September 12, 2019

Whether you’ve done it for years or are just getting started, a new study suggests that maintaining the recommended physical activity level may extend your lifespan.

We all know that getting a good workout in regularly is beneficial to your overall health. However, a recent study from The BMJ has concluded that it’s not too late for those who haven’t yet prescribed to the recommended two to five hours of moderate-intensity exercise.

The population-based study took a look at over 14,000 middle-aged and older people’s baseline physical activity. Then, over the course of approximately 12.5 years, it compared those who maintained, increased or decreased their physical activity level with causes of mortality, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

The findings?

“Middle aged and older adults, including those with cardiovascular disease and cancer, stand to gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more physically active, irrespective of past physical activity levels and established risk factors—including overall diet quality, body mass index, blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Maintaining or increasing physical activity levels from a baseline equivalent to meeting the minimum public health recommendations has the greatest population health impact,” stated research program leader Soren Brage, Ph.D., the University of Cambridge.

At Longwood at Oakmont, our successful living retirement community, we help our residents thrive by offering a variety of wellness options to choose from. We are here to help keep your physical, intellectual, social and spiritual pillars active and growing. We offer many options for different levels of fitness and are always exploring new choices for our residents. To learn more about what Longwood at Oakmont offers, head here.

You can find the rest of The BMJ study and more details on the results here. 

Learning New Things: No Audience Required

September 10, 2019

For writer Elaine Soloway, improving on later-life skills is best done solo
By Elaine Soloway

As the instructor was assembling foam dumbbells for her upcoming water aerobics class, I was grateful her busyness kept her from looking my way.

Because I was wearing goggles instead of my eyeglasses, her image had a soft blur, as if she were a figure in an impressionist painting. But there was no mistaking the steel grey hair, her body as slim and muscled as someone decades younger, and her air of drill sergeant.

“Please don’t watch me,” I sent silently through the moist air of the indoor pool. For I knew if she did, my long-ago YMCA Beginning Swim teacher wouldn’t be able to resist striding over to tell me what I was doing wrong.

As I lowered myself into the pool, I was relieved the instructor had settled into a lounge chair far from my lane. “Surely, she can’t see me here,” I told myself as I took a calming breath and ducked under the water.

My reluctance to be viewed, to perform for others, moves out of water to my bench at the piano keyboard.

Without her eyes on me, I slid slowly through my lane, reminding myself to face the pool’s bottom as if it were a mirror, and pretend I was laying my head on my left arm as my face lifted out to the right. Then, I sent myself a REMEMBER to close your mouth after an intake of air, and once under water, blow out through mouth AND nose.

The Lecture I Hoped to Avoid

This was my inelegant stroke, taught to me by a coach I discovered two years ago who helped me learn to swim at age 78, after my many attempts with other coaches, including the taskmaster lounging nearby. After several lengths, I emerged and quickly wrapped myself in towels, grateful my iWatch had credited me for the 30-minute routine.

As I removed my cap, goggles and fins, I heard: “You’ve got to move your left arm more, Elaine.” It came from a sharp voice on a lounge chair. How had she seen me from that distance?

“Um, I have arthritis in that shoulder,” I said, as apologetic as a student who had once again forgotten homework.

By now, she had risen from her chair and delivered the lecture I had hoped to avoid: How that pained arm would only get worse if I didn’t activate it, how uneven my stroke would be without a powerful left arm, how awkward….

“Oh, okay, sure,” I mumbled as I gathered my gear and waved goodbye.

Expertise Was Never My Zenith

Back home, after playing the film of our morning’s encounter in my head, I realized I loathe anyone watching me when I perform any of my lifetime goals, which are: to swim and breathe on one side, play Rodgers and Hart on the piano and speak Spanish in the first tense.

As long as I can remember, I envied those who could perform that trio of tasks and wondered why they didn’t crow about their achievements — that’s how glorious I thought these talents are.

Of course, those individuals had skills that were much more proficient than the basement level targets I set. But I never aspired to reach their levels. Expertise was never my zenith. Mediocrity would satisfy me, just as much as a slim slice of my favorite pecan pie.

My reluctance to be viewed, to perform for others, moves out of water to the bench at my piano keyboard. I AM playing Rodgers and Hart, but likely quite differently than they envisioned when the lyrics and notes danced through their talented heads. Often, although the sheet music calls for F Major 7, I may decide to have only the A and C link hands. And sometimes, just to see if I can hear a difference, I’ll allow the F to stand alone.

Not as Shy as You Might Think

As for Spanish language, I’ve come up with the ideal way to practice and improve — sans teacher or classmates swiveling their heads to signal errors. Every evening, seated with a glass of wine, a spiral notebook and a pen, and my Apple device open to Google Translate, I record my daily activities in Spanish. Because I tend to do the same things most days, I learn how to write and read vocabulary that applies to me.  Desperté a las 4 am después de un buen sueño.  (“I woke up at 4 a.m. after a good sleep.”) You get the idea.

Based on my seeming embarrassment to be viewed as I splash, tap and roll my R’s, you might tag me as shy. But you’d be wrong. Read my close-to-the- bone writing, or listen to me at an event where I’m a saucy, but comfortable, speaker.

The difference between those scenarios and my undercover endeavors is that my late-in-life trio was hard-won and too precious to risk abandonment if critiqued. I won’t take that chance.

By Elaine Soloway

Elaine Soloway is a PR consultant, writing coach and tech tutor, and the author of Bad Grandma and Other Chapters in a Life Lived Out Loud and Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss. The Emmy Award-winning television series 'Transparent' was created by Elaine Soloway's daughter Jill and inspired by their family. Follow Elaine on Facebook, Twitter @elainesoloway and Instagram.

Do you exercise your toes?

July 10, 2019

Tai Chi offers a multitude of health benefits – and toe exercise.

Calm the mind. Reduce your blood pressure. Better your balance. Thanks to the Tai Chi class available at Longwood at Oakmont, residents are able to experience multiple health benefits that stem from the practice.

Tai Chi, originally developed for self-defense, has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that's used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Residents are encouraged to partake in Tai Chi not only due to the health benefits involved, but because of its emphasis on stretching and balance, which can help to prevent falls.

Doreen Boyce, longtime resident of Longwood at Oakmont, began taking the Tai Chi classes as soon as they were available in October 2017, and fell in love with the art. “I had read about Tai Chi and it sounded so intriguing. Dick Van Dyke even promoted it on television, crediting Tai Chi as the reason he can still tap dance in his 90s, and I thought, ‘Oh I want to be like that!’”

The class, offered three times a week at the Wellness Center, is taught by Phil Jannetta, who was trained in Tai Chi in Japan. According to Doreen, Phil devotes a segment of the class to what he calls “loosening” exercises, where participants gently stretch and exercise every joint in the body, including fingers and toes.

Doreen enjoys these exercises, saying, “You stretch your whole spine and you feel better for it. We older people may sit too much, so we need these loosening exercises to keep in shape!” After the loosening exercises, the class dives into the traditional portion of the Tai Chi session.

“It engages your mind and your body, and for Tai Chi, one’s mind and body must be in tune. That’s how one can reduce the risk of falling and stimulate the brain,” Doreen shared. She continues, “While doing the loosening exercises, you find that your feet and hands tingle because the blood gets into the joints, which is very important at my age. One of the reasons I think Tai Chi is good for not falling is because it exercises your toes, which, when strengthened, can really aid in preventing falls. Most people don’t think about that, because who exercises their toes?”

Doreen has never experienced a fall. “Can I attribute this to Tai Chi? I have no idea, but the fact that the exercises claims to prevent falls further reinforces my desire to continue.”

Last June, Doreen underwent surgery for a knee replacement, putting her Tai Chi on hold as she recovers. She still occasionally participates in the loosening exercises, but she can’t wait to get back to full-time Tai Chi. “Although I am a Tai Chi enthusiast, I must curb my enthusiasm and discipline myself so I don’t interrupt the healing process.”

FUN FACT: According to Masterpiece Living, poor balance and gait have shown to be significant contributors to falls. Their research suggests that participating in balance activities such as Tai Chi improve gait and physical balance. In fact, Tai Chi exercise helped to reduce multiple falls by 47.5%!

Is 75 the New 65? How the Definition of Aging Is Changing

May 24, 2019

Chronological age doesn't mean what it used to, and why that matters
By Andrew Scott

Aging and mortality are intrinsic to the human condition. Accepting our mortality as humans underpins our search for meaning in life and our quest for wisdom and maturity. But when the average age of The Rolling Stones exceeds that of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is clear that an adjustment to our concept of aging is warranted.

At least measured chronologically, everyone is aging and at the same rate — one year every year. But aging is so closely connected with our sense of impending mortality that it usually refers to end of life. This is evident in the widespread concern about an “aging society” defined in terms of a rising proportion of older people.

What Defines Being Old?

If aging is about being old what defines being old?

Two aspects tend to feature predominantly in our social discussions of age.

The first is biological and connected to declines in the physical and mental capabilities that circumscribe our daily lives.

The second is psychological and revealed in Cicero’s remark that “old age is the final scene…in life’s drama.” Stanford Center on Longevity’s Laura Carstensen’s Socioemotional Selectivity Theory posits, for example, that as we approach the end of life, our time horizons narrow. We focus on our most emotionally meaningful relations and activities.

These biological and psychological aspects of ageing are deeply embedded. In practice, however, governments rely on more simplistic chronological measures such as the “Old Age Dependency Ratio.” This is a ratio of the number of old people relative to those of working age, where “old” begins at 65. That’s often mentioned in discussions of the solvency of Social Security.

When We Started Relying on Chronological Age

This reliance on chronological age is actually quite recent, though. Starting around 200 years ago, governments began to accurately record birth dates and then started to use chronological age to segregate society. Schooling became defined by age cohorts.

The apotheosis of this approach was the creation of a “retirement age,” broadly defined as 70 in 1908 and then as 65 in 1925. In response, individuals began to base their sense of age on their birth dates. Today, we think about age in terms of the number of candles needed for a birthday cake. (Did you know the Happy Birthday song didn’t start becoming popular until 1935?)

A focus on chronological age would be fine if its relationship with biological age were constant. But sustained improvements in life expectancy mean this isn’t the case.

What’s Wrong With Focusing on Chronological Age?

Over the course of the 20th century, life expectancy increased around 10 years for each generation. What this means in practice is that a 75-year-old today has the same mortality rate as a 65-year-old in 1950. So perhaps 75 really is the new 65.

Over the same period, the average age of the U.S. population has increased from around 32 to 38, while the average mortality rate has fallen by 13 percent. As a result, the average U.S. citizen has never been older, but also has never had so long left to live.

This decline in mortality rates has implications for the understanding of old age. If we are, on average, healthier at each chronological age, then biological aging is occurring more slowly. We are, in effect, younger for longer.

This increase in life expectancy has already changed the way we experience the earlier phases of the lifecycle. Adolescence now extends well into one’s 20s. Young adulthood these days is characterized by a period of exploration and discovery, free from traditional grown-up responsibilities such as marriage and parenthood.

New Thinking on Lifestages

Following on this logic, should our 40s and 50s also become a time of reinvention and rediscovery in anticipation of a longer second half of life?

If we are healthy in our 70s and 80s, should this be a time of more work, deepening engagement in civil society and/or greater leisure and play?

In this era of a “new old age,” we will have a longer time to recreate our own identities, avail ourselves of a wider set of opportunities and come to terms with past mistakes and misfortunes.

There is a further reason why we need to move away from the dominant chronological concept of age.

The real truth about aging is diversity. You may be like the Frenchman Robert Marchand, still breaking cycling speed records at 105. Or you may end up in a wheelchair by 50. This diversity of experience in what it means to be old will become all the more apparent as more people live into old age.

How Shifting to Biological Age Helps

A shift from chronological to a biological sense of age undermines lazy, age-based stereotypes and helps us to understand better how our own efforts may influence the aging process. This shift also forces governments and corporations to rethink education, retirement and pension policies, as well as employment practices.

Our relationship with time changes when we have more of it. Lacking role models for how to live such long lives, we are —  all of us — currently engaged in a huge, new and long-lasting social experiment. This moment provides an opportunity to free ourselves from the numerical determinism of chronological age and revisit a more humane concept based on an individual’s physical and mental characteristics.

To return to Cicero, only then we will approach that final stage with a sharper sense of who we are.

By Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott is professor of economics, London Business School and co-author of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The Transformative Joy of Dance at Any Age

May 21, 2019

The Quicksilver dance company takes an intergenerational spin
By Rebecca Theim

Lifelong dancer and choreographer Nancy Havlik wants the world to know that regardless of age, physical condition or experience, “people transform through the joy that dance offers them. You can see them light up and become more alive.”

Havlik, 78, has 25 years of experience teaching interactive creative movement and dance workshops for older adults through Arts for the Aging (AFTA), aa nationally recognized, Rockville, Md.-based organization that brings free artistic programs to older adults in the Washington, D.C. area.

Credit: Denaise Seals

Invited artist Shanna Lim (center) leads participants in an interpretative dance performance during the Washington, D.C., production of Quicksilver’s “Imaginary Gardens”

Earlier this month, Havlik’s AFTA-sponsored Quicksilver, an improvisational dance company for older adults, staged “Imaginary Gardens,” in partnership with the Dance Performance Group, a small company of professional dancers and musicians of which Havlik is artistic director and choreographer. The interactive, interpretative dance production featured dancer Shanna Lim, who got most of the audience involved in the performance.

“We had all ranges of people,” said Lim, 41. “I didn’t know who the audience would be. I opened before it started, and basically warmed up the audience. I coaxed as many as I could down to the stage, and then more came as we started the show.”

Lim, whose work spans hip-hop, and installation and body art, is one of the more unconventional dancers Quicksilver participants have encountered.

“I came out in full body paint, that real-interesting-piece-of-art-weirdo, and everyone was completely cool,” she recalled. “I got huge satisfaction —not a huge surprise, but more like ‘cool!’ — seeing that generation, and having them all behind me, and seeing them learning. I turned around and I felt accepted.”

Quicksilver and other AFTA programs (which include drawing, painting, poetry and music) engage 1,000 older residents in more than 800 programs annually held at 33 community and residential care centers in the Washington, D.C.-area, in partnership with area museums and cultural institutions. The goal is to engage older adults and their caregivers through regular participation in arts activities that improve physical fitness and cognition, and combat isolation.

“Quicksilver is unique among the programs we offer because dance is accessible to everyone,” said AFTA program director Brandi Rose. “It’s something everyone can tap into, no matter what their cognitive level or physical ability. It’s such a great combination that we’ve thought about how we can bring it into other art disciplines.”

Science Backs the Benefits of Dancing

In addition to the joy Havlik and Lim say dancing brings to participants young and old, there’s science supporting the benefits it offers older adults. Numerous U.S. and Europeans studies have shown that regular dance improves balance and enhances cardiovascular health, stems or slows the advancement of dementia and boosts emotional health.

Nancy Havlik, co-director of Quicksilver, a dance program for participants 65 and older sponsored by Bethesda, Md.-based Arts for the Aging

Patients with Parkinson’s Disease who took part in regular tango lessons experienced improved motor skills and balance, reduced non-motor symptom severity and were able to better perform daily activities, researchers found.

A two decade study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that dancing was the only physical activity that resulted in lower reported rates of dementia among older people who danced frequently. A more recent study of older women in Japan found that those who danced often had a 73 percent lower chance of becoming disabled during the study period, contrasted with women who didn’t dance. Again, no other physical activity — including walking or yoga — produced such significant results, researchers found.

Why is dancing so powerful? Researchers theorize it’s because it demands both mental and physical effort. “Dancing requires not only balance, strength, and endurance ability, but also cognitive ability: adaptability and concentration to move according to the music and partner, artistry for graceful and fluid motion, and memory for choreography,” a study by Chinese researchers concluded.

Quicksilver Participants Dance Around

Quicksilver dancers, who range in age from 65 to 88, are involved in weekly programs within the group, Rose said. Twice a month, they take their performances to the community and senior centers and residential facilities AFTA serves.

“We go out in the community and work with people, some who have never danced before,” Havlik said. “People always say they can’t dance. People get that in their heads, that ‘I’m no good at that.’ I’m really good at getting people dancing; that’s one of my strengths.”

Because of Washington, D.C.’s global draw, participants are often multicultural. Havlik and her Quicksilver co-director Anthony Hyatt, who provides music for the programs, have a trick to engage international participants.

“They may not have the same language, but you don’t need a common spoken language to dance,” Havlik said. “They respond to different music. Anthony knows almost all national anthems of the world, so when we have someone new, he’ll play their national anthem.”

Professional dancers in Havlik’s Dance Performance Group relish working with Quicksilver participants. “These younger dancers are in very competitive fields,” Havlik said. “It’s very tough to be a dancer these days; there’s no money in it. But there’s a warmth and generosity that comes with age, and my young dancers love dancing with the older dancers.”

Lim said her “Imaginary Gardens” experience, her first time working with Havlik, confirmed that observation. “I just liked being part of the energy and the presence of elders who have been there, done that, and getting the chance to work with people who have a full level of knowledge in areas I don’t,” she said.

Quicksilver members also benefit as they begin to grapple with the possibility of their own physical and cognitive limitations. Working with other older adults “allows them to confront some of the fears they may have about aging, and recognize that when those physical or cognitive declines come, there’s still life and there’s still joy,” Rose said.

By Rebecca Theim

Rebecca Theim is a former daily news reporter and periodic freelance writer.@rebeccatheim

Making a Safe Transition From Hospital to Rehab

April 25, 2019

How to ensure your loved one will receive good care after the move
By Cari Shane

If you have a parent or other loved one who will soon be released from the hospital after an injury or surgery, he or she might not yet be well enough to return home, even with the assistance of in-home care. That likely will mean a transition to a short-term rehabilitation facility or nursing home.

If you’ve never had this experience, you may not know what to expect. The following are some important tips, and a few cautionary tales, from caregivers and a patient who have been through the hospital-to-rehab transition.

Before You Leave the Hospital

Don’t let your loved one leave the hospital without being “admitted.” Without the word “admitted” stamped on hospital papers, the stay at the rehab facility is not covered by Medicare. It’s this semantics loophole that left Cat Stone’s mother in severe debt after a 2012 hip fracture.

“Medicare didn’t just abandon my mother — she went to her grave ashamed and afraid knowing they’d stolen her life savings, her security and her dignity with an undisclosed loophole,” says Stone, of New Jersey, whose mother was living in a Florida nursing home. Stone wrote about what happened to her mother and family for The CoveyClub.

Medicare covers nursing home care if a person over 65 has been admitted and remained in a hospital for three days, counting admission day but not the day of discharge. Since Medicare only picks up the rehab tab for the first 20 days, a secondary insurance may cover the $170.50/day co-pay for days 21 through 100.

Know you can request a private room. The hospital’s social worker will place your loved one in the facility of your choosing as long as there’s a bed available. Since a private room doesn’t cost extra, you might want to request one to ensure a restful stay. While many temporary roommates can get along just fine, sometimes it doesn’t work out.

“My grandmother[’s] roommate was not a good match,” says Amie Clark, whose grandmother was in a nursing home near Portland, Ore. “Had we not spoken up, she would have had to continue to tolerate a situation that was not healthy for an 88-year-old.” If your loved one ends up in a double room and it’s not a good situation, you can add his or her name to the private-room waiting list.

Plan for a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday discharge time. Since patients do not receive physical therapy from either the hospital or the nursing home on discharge or arrival days, the prime day to transition is a Sunday. At most facilities, Sunday is a typical off day for therapy, so your loved one won’t miss what he or she won’t get anyway.

By that same calculation, being discharged on a Saturday can ratchet up three missed therapy days: no therapy on Saturday (transition day), no therapy on Sunday (off day) and no therapy on Monday because this is the day department heads assess your loved one’s therapy needs. If the rehab facility doesn’t do assessments on Saturdays, a Friday departure would mean four days of therapy missed.

When You Arrive at the Care Facility

Disinfect the room. Studies show that the rails on the bed, over-bed table, bed control wand, nurse’s button and the room’s door handles can be ripe with germs. Get wipes and disinfect.

Get direct phone numbers. It may prove difficult to get a human to answer any of the phone numbers provided in the welcome pamphlet. Since most department heads carry company cell phones, ask for these numbers. Key ones to get: the nursing supervisor, social worker and the doctor assigned to your loved one’s care.

Schedule advocates. Schedule at least one person — a family member, friend or perhaps a paid aide — per day to advocate for your loved one, at least until you feel like everything is going well. An advocate helps draw attention to the person’s needs, especially in an environment where nurses and other care staff often are over worked and in charge of a large number of patients. If you hire someone to be an aide for this, just know the service is not covered by Medicare.

Make sure the staff understands your loved one’s mental condition. When transitioning from a hospital to a care facility, many older adults suffer from some level of hospital delirium. The rehab staff may assume that this is who your loved one is and create a misinformed treatment plan. Some of this is inherent ageism, says Catherine Callahan, 68, who says she tackled head-on the assumptions about her abilities when she arrived at a nursing home in Santa Barbara, Calif., after major surgery. They “may think you are hard of hearing, confused and limited in your determination … I stated up front that I have a keen sense of hearing … and was very committed to doing my program,” she says.

Check with your loved one’s doctor. The facility may require an immediate influenza and/or tuberculosis shot. Since your loved one may already be up to date on these, insist that the facility wait for you to get medical records. And, while you’re on the phone with the doctor, discuss medication changes and contraindications.

Look and ask before your loved one takes medicine. Each time your loved one is given medication, make sure you, your advocate or the patient asks the nurse to state the names of the pills. Lana Wolfe’s 81-year old mother was prescribed oxycodone despite an allergy, which was noted on her chart. “She was given this for two days before I found out,” says Wolfe, of Fort Colins, Colo., whose mother was in a rehab facility near Denver. Also, a few times “the medication was just left with my mom [even though] the nurse is supposed to wait until the patient actually takes the medication,” she says.

Don’t ever accept “we can’t do that” or “you have to do that” as gospel. Patients have the right to turn down treatment. “Many people assume that they have to follow the doctor’s orders and don’t have a choice, but they do,” says Clark, who is also a former long-term care social worker. Also, a family member or other individual who is legally designated can refuse treatment and make other decisions for a person in the hospital or rehab.

While Medicare’s Bill of Resident’s Rights states that patients have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, sometimes it can be a battle. “Nurses aides insisted that my mother wear a diaper even though she could go to the bathroom on her own,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, whose 101-year old mother spent time in two Los Angeles-area rehab facilities. “Diapers are easier for the staff … but they infantilize the patients.”

Patients also have the right to ask for treatment. “My speech was unclear … [but] my program did not include speech therapy,” says Callahan. “I never gave up asking for it.” She gave doctors specific reasons for why she needed it, “such as therapists not being able to understand me.” By the second week, Callahan was assigned a speech therapist.

You have the right to read all paperwork before signing. Remind your loved ones that they do not need to sign something they don’t understand, haven’t read or for which they do not agree.

If you don’t like how your loved one is being treated, go straight to the top. It may be difficult to get the facility administrator on the phone, but keep trying. If the person remains elusive, demand an internal investigation about your loved one’s treatment from the director of nursing or social work.

By Cari Shane

Cari Shane is a freelance journalist and corporate writer specializing in public relations and social media strategy. She is based in Washington, D.C.@cariinthecity

 
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