Longevity & Health

AARP_sharp_quoteIn the context of generally positive trends towards longer life spans and healthier older years for most Americans, health and wellness issues are especially important concerns for older adults.

Many hope to mitigate the negative physical and cognitive changes that can result from aging through life styles, nutrition, and other interventions.

Recent research on aging offers new data on the importance of certain activities and habits for maintaining optimum health, including regular exercise, mental stimulation and social engagement.

There is a whole body of research concerning the negative impacts of social isolation, and other research providing evidence for the physical and emotional health benefits of participatory, well structured arts education in social groups.

These are important findings for librarians charged with developing programs to enhance the quality of life for older adults.

Common Aging Myths Dispelled

Here’s Robert Butler of the International Longevity Center at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University on the fact that ‘there is no way to assume that older people can’t learn,’ among other myths.

Brain Health

Brain health is a special concern for many older adults and the professionals who work with them, not only because of concerns about Alzheimer’s disease but also due to interest in how to optimize brain function in later life.

Recent advances in neuroscience have revealed the significance of brain plasticity, or the capacity of the brain to develop new cells even as it sheds old ones, and to use different parts of the brain in different phases of life.

Older adult creativity is now understood to be a function of these brain changes, helping to compensate for other losses.  And, it appears that the aging brain benefits from stimulation, whether through new experiences, learning languages, playing music or reading. For librarians, the new knowledge about brain health is essential for planning collections, service and programs.

‘It’s important to find something that works for you and train, not strain, the aging brain.’

Bonus Years

Beyond the extension of the human life span, and the likelihood of relatively good health during the later decades of life, there is another important demographic phenomenon, the so-called “bonus years.’

Not only are we gaining years at the end of our lives but we are also gaining healthy, productive years in our 6th, 7th or 8th decades.  Unfortunately, we do not yet have blueprints or expectations for how these years might be spent.

The new  “bonus years” challenge us all — as policy-makers, professionals and individuals — to reconsider learning, work, self-expression and service and to try out new paths for growth in the later years.

Further Reading:

Arts, Education, the Brain, and Language. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://saveourstrings.net/LearningArtsandthe%20Brain.pdf#page=91

Brain 101: Topics in Neuroscience | UCSF Memory and Aging Center. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2013, from http://memory.ucsf.edu/brain

Cohen, G. (2000, Summer). Think Young! Get Creative! Ten Ways to Keep Your Brain Young. Alliance for Aging Research. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from https://www.agingresearch.org/newsletters/view/203

Goldberg, E. (2005). The wisdom paradox: how your mind can grow stronger as your brain grows older. New York: Gotham Books.

Petitto, L.-A. (n.d.). Arts Education, the Brain, and Language (Toronto group) – Dana Foundation. Retrieved May 11, 2013, from http://www.dana.org/news/publications/detail.aspx?id=10750

Senelick, R. (2013, January 4). Creative Aging: The Emergence of Artistic Talents. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/creative-aging-the-emergence-of-artistic-talents/266799/

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