Stop Getting Old By Having Fun!

Often we feel anxious about what will be our own fate in late adult life as we watch a loved one’s gradually lose a sense of dignity and independence or suffer the loss of mobility, vision, hearing, cognitive skills, and self-care. There are mixed lessons we have learned from our elders on growing old – but unless or until our own disabilities are too great, it is important to learn the hopeful message that happiness is a choice.

Dr. Ann Kaiser Stearns’ Redefining Aging: A Caregiver’s Guide to Living Your Best Life is about giving compassionate care – with the help of the myth busting insights and many practical skills the book offers – while aging well oneself, rejecting ageist stereotypes, and endeavoring to reduce the risks of disability or dementia in one’s own later life years.

In the book, she offers a wealth of advice, insight, and food for thought:

• What is normal aging and what are the early signs of dementia? Contrary to what most people think, IQ stays pretty much the same from ages 20 to 75 – and most mental deterioration before age 80 reflects disease not normal aging!

• There is “young old age” (usually 65-79) and “old old age” (which usually begins in the 80s). By age 85 to 90, 50% have some form of dementia from Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, Parkinson’s or another illness affecting cognitive function. At 85, 40% are still fully functional but from 85 – 100+, 80% have impairments in 3 or more areas: vision, hearing, mobility, strength, cognition, or self-care.

• One in four U.S. adult children provide unpaid care to an aging adult. The burden of caring for aging parents, a spouse, sibling or other family member can be great – but so can the blessings and rewards, if caregivers learn how to prevent stress overload.

The author of the national best seller Living Through Personal Crisis, published in seven languages, Ann Kaiser Stearns, PhD, is a professor of behavioral science at the Community College of Baltimore County. She has received excellence in teaching awards from the Maryland Psychological Association, Johns Hopkins University, and Loyola University Maryland.

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