Steer Clear of Cognitive Disease

Steer Clear of Cognitive Disease

You walk into a room to visit someone you’ve known and loved all your life. They look up, right at you, but don’t recognize you. Their memories have vanished, and you are heartbroken. What if there were simple ways to prevent this tragedy? Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are not only sad but also lingering. The victims can exist in an empty fog for years before reaching the end of their lives. This is a difficult experience for them and a terrible burden for caregivers. 

Remarkable discoveries are showing that it is possible to delay the onset of dementia for years and, in many cases, avoid cognitive disease entirely. No, this isn’t the story of a new medication. Nor am I out to sell a dubious miracle cure. The good news is that simple lifestyle adjustments enable a large percentage of people to steer away from mental decline.

The promising way to counteract cognitive loss is to keep your brain stimulated. Doctors with the Memory and Aging Project at Rush Hospital in Chicago studied 900 older adults over a seven-year period. They found that people in that group who had a strong sense of purpose in their lives had double the likelihood of remaining free of Alzheimer’s than those who had a low sense of purpose.

Exercising your mind vigorously also pays great dividends. A good workout for your brain can be learning a new skill, developing a foreign language or practicing a musical instrument. The activity needs to be something stretching, more than playing crossword puzzles. Pursuing intellectual activities can push back Alzheimer’s Disease by years even among people who have a genetic risk for the disease. After studying nearly 2,000 older people for a decade, Mayo Clinic forecast a 43% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s by 2050 among those who keep their minds active. 

This topic is covered in more detail in chapter 6 of the new book THRIVE in RETIREMENT coming in February 2019.

Think Tank Questions Retirement

Think Tank Questions Retirement

The Christian worldview challenges ordinary thinking about retirement. A life of endless leisure rarely satisfies. Forty percent of older adults suffer clinical depression. Loneliness and lack of purpose in life are painfully common among older adults. Too often, people reach retirement age – a time that is supposed to be rewarding – only to find it empty and disappointing. A think tank of Christian leaders of retirement-season ministries gathered for a roundtable in November 2018 to pool their knowledge and insights.

Their papers and other resources will become available through a new clearinghouse of information called Retirement Reformation. #RetirementReformation. Near the conclusion of the roundtable, Eric Thurman presented his condensed summary of the message from their deliberations. You can listen to or read his three-minute account.

     Click LISTEN to hear to the presentation

     or read a transcript below

Three-Minute Summary

The message that I take away from our time together begins with the recognition that a lot of people are experiencing a new season of life, which is not only a new season of life for us, it is also whole new status in the history of humanity. Society is being affected by this, because this has never happened before, that people have decades of high functioning after they stopped working, their regular gainful careers. This is presenting all kinds of new challenges and opportunities that haven’t been thought about much before but are really upon us.

With that recognition, we have been examining and have been critical of the usual pattern of retirement, the usual concepts of retirement…not to be condemning but to recognize that there’s an inherent flaw. The flaw is that retirement is representing that it has great happiness and opportunity for people, but, in fact, is proving to be disappointing instead, because it’s too hollow. It has too little substance to it. It’s not satisfying for a person to live out actively for several decades, twenty or thirty years.

What do we want instead? My mind went to the comment from around year 200 by Saint Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. We’re asking ourselves the question of what would it mean to glorify God by being fully alive during this new bonus season of our lives?

The idea then becomes one of comparing the usual [patterns of retirement] to what might be. The usual [way retirement is lived out] is really variations on emptiness. We talk about how we’re able to relax now. You can relax for a while, but when you get refreshed, and you still have capacity, then what happens? That’s where the emptiness comes in. We’ve used words like void.

You could live to 100

You could live to 100

Hard to imagine living that long, isn’t it? You should consider the possibility because it is increasingly likely that you may be around for your triple digit birthday. People who pass the century mark are called centenarians and their numbers are soaring. A few years back, in 2000, the United States had only about 50,000 centenarians. Over the next fourteen years, their numbers jumped 44% to 72,000. We’re living longer, much longer than you might expect. Looking ahead to the year 2050, the forecast is for as many as 800,000 people age 100 or older!

The over-100 group is the fastest growing segment of the population by percentage. The increase in the number of centenarians is twenty times greater than the general population. Imagine your retirement lasting four decades!

The potential for my reaching 100 is one of the powerful thoughts that propelled me to research what it takes to make all this extra time enjoyable. I wanted to find how to be happy for that long. A slogan I’ve coined for myself is, “I want to be ready to die tomorrow, yet able to live past 100.” By “ready,” I mean that my personal affairs are in order so I don’t leave a mess behind for my loved ones to sort out after I die. “Able to live past 100” is another way of saying that I want to know how to enjoy being an older adult. In a word: THRIVE.

What do you expect as you age?

What do you expect as you age?

There are three dominant theories about what kind of person you are likely to become as you age. Will you shut down and fade away, stay active, or something in between?

The average American today will live 30 years longer than if they were around a century ago. That’s a big difference. Looking back to the earlier generations of your family, most people had only a few years after they stopped working before they passed away.

Your kinfolk years ago didn’t have to think about what to do with themselves in retirement, because few people had many retirement years to fill. Even less than a century ago, look at 1935, the year the Social Security program began. The average life expectancy then was only 61 years. Today, life expectancy is around 80, slightly less for men and slightly more for women. That number can be misunderstood, however. It doesn’t mean that when you turn 65, you probably have only 15 years, taking you to 80. In fact, you probably have more because the overall life expectancy includes everyone who dies at a relatively young age. So, if you make it to 65, you are actually likely to keep going longer than the overall average. A 65 year old can anticipate more than another 20 years.

What will your life be like during this later season? This merits serious thought since what you expect can have a strong influence on what you become. There are three primary theories about what happens with people as the age.

The study of aging is a relatively recent area of research. The first widely-recognized theory came from Elaine Cumming and William Earl Henry in their book Growing Old published in 1961. They espoused Disengagement Theory. The idea is that it is normal and acceptable for people to withdraw from society when they are old. As the authors put it, “aging is an inevitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the aging person and others in the social system he belongs to.” Is that your inevitable future? That theory has many detractors. It is not a popular view among sociologists these days. Are there alternative theories? Yes. There are two other leading concepts about aging.

Activity Theory asserts that staying active and engaged with life is the key to satisfaction in old age. This theory is just about the polar opposite from Disengagement Theory. Activity Theory proposes that the way to enjoy life is to keep developing new interests and relationships to replace those that diminish or go away over the years.

Continuity Theory holds that most of what you are lasts throughout your lifetime. If you had an outgoing personality at age 25, you’ll probably still be the life of the party when you are 75. You maintain your personality traits, tastes, and preferences throughout life.
As you might guess, there are many other factors that can shape your life as the years progress. In a general sense, however, the three theories help you see the options you have for the general thrust of your life. What do you expect? What path will you take? Your three basic options are:

  • disengage, withdraw from the rest of society as you age
  • be pretty much the person you’ve always been; have continuity
  • or stay active to the extent you are able, both intellectually and physically