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Discovering What Matters

Wandering through the farmer's market at the University of Minnesota campus on a recent Wednesday, I picked up the Spring 2009 copy of the U's Center for Spirituality and Healing's (CSH) publication, Mandala. Fresh produce from local farmers can replenish the body, while CSH leads to nourishing our soul or purpose in life.

The issue highlighted the MetLife Mature Market Institute's study, Discovering What Matters: Balancing Money, Medicine and Meaning, which "confirms that as we get older, we focus on nonfinancial essentials in our lives, even during tough economic times." The "Good Life" is a holistic view of oneself - more than just money, it focuses on relationships, well being, purpose, and more. The study also features a useful workbook to offer reflection on your past and focus on your priorities.

For me, the most useful portion was the "Good Life Inventory," where I found that one of the areas I would like to work on is my sense of place. Being a librarian, I appreciate that the workbook does not leave you hanging if you feel you have not achieved the Good Life in every area. There are numerous further readings to consider, along with suggestions on how to find a sounding board person or group, and more to assist you in the pursuit of 'the good life.'

Locate the Discovering What Matters online workbook or order a free print copy, at: http://www.metlife.com/mmi/?WT.mc_id=vu1243

How Old is Old?

Does that additional birthday candle on your cake this year make you sigh? Baby boomers often state that they feel younger than their age. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked various people what age they thought was the beginning of old age. The responses:

  • More than half of those under 30 say the average person becomes old before age 60.
  • Middle-aged respondents say it's closer to 70.
  • Those aged 65 and older say "old" is not until 75.
Not surprisingly the same survey found that 60% of respondents 65 years old or older feel younger than their age, reinforcing "you're never too old to feel young."

When asked what age they would live to live to be, the average response was 89. That was down from a 2002 AARP survey in which, on average, respondents said they wanted to live to be 92.

The report is full of interesting facts. To read it, visit the Pew Research Center.

Nearly half of all individuals over 85 have Alzheimer’s. Many articles have been written about the baby boomer generation being the sandwich generation – caring for their parents, children, and sometimes even grandchildren.

Over the past year, the University of Minnesota has offered several conferences on the theme, “Caring for a Parent with Memory Loss.” The conference materials are extremely valuable and have just been made available to the public. They contain tips for everyday care, Medicare and Medicaid basics, information on reducing aggression, and more.

To review these resources, access the files at Caring for a Parent with Memory Loss.

Leaving a Legacy

“Memorial Day was created to honor U.S. men and women who died in military service to their country, but it is also a time to remember other family members and their legacy. This year, when you pause to think about the loved ones you’ve lost, think, too, about how you want to be remembered. What will your legacy be?” (MetroWest Daily News, Boston, May 25, 2009)

Legacy goes beyond just inheritance to incorporate capturing your stories and memories for future generations. Capturing memories can be as simple as writing down a timeline of events during your life and annotating stories, to finally sorting through shoeboxes of photos and briefly annotating the story behind each one with who, what, when, where, why.

If you are more ambitious, consider collecting your family's memories in an oral history. For more information on how to conduct an oral history and to see examples, visit the Minnesota Historical Society.

Then there is the financial legacy your family can leave through wills, estate planning, and gifting. For more information, consider reading "How do you want to be remembered?” the article from which my opening quote was taken.

If you or a family member are dealing with end-of-life issues, consider visiting the End of Life section on the AARP Web site. It offers legal, financial, and legacy information and resources.

The looming shortages in the workforce as baby boomers retire have brought up concerns about the loss of institutional knowledge. In the 2008 Randstad USA World of Work survey, 51% of baby boomers and 66% of the generation that preceded the baby boom reported having little to no interaction with colleagues from Generation Y. (These "millennial" workers were born between 1980 and 1988.)

Fostering communication between generations requires the tear-down of misconceptions and generalities about our differences and focusing on each other’s strengths and on teaching one another. As the survey points out:

“There is a natural tendency for people to gather and work with people their own age. This is often not the best workplace. Multigenerational environments can break down barriers of age, perception and experience. They subtly force the generations to discover the value in each other and understand what each has to offer.”

The report has some tips for breaking down barriers, as well as several fascinating charts, including data like the importance of happiness in their jobs to workers, and the importance of various coworker traits.

Read more of the Randstad 2008 World of Work survey at: http://www.us.randstad.com/2008WorldofWork.pdf

At 63.8, February 2009 was the third lowest month on record for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The WBI is a composite score looking at life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access. The economic downturn is blamed for the low national monthly numbers. Minnesotans are fifth in the country on the Well-Being Index, living a balanced physical, mental, and social life.

The WBI Web site is fascinating. You can explore and compare indexes at a national and state level, read reports, and more. Visit http://www.well-beingindex.com/default.asp to learn more about our nation’s happiness factors as well as our stressors.

Interested in letting go of your stress for an hour? Consider attending a Laughter Yoga Club. There is one that meets in Plymouth, MN. For more information and locations, visit: http://www.laughteryoga.org/

During every stage in life, we all have different health needs, which means that we should consider diets that promote overall wellness. For this reason, experts often cite "superfoods," such as salmon, which contains healthy Omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease. Examples of other superfoods include almonds or walnuts, oats, and berries.

In browsing my "read later" e-mail folder, I ran across an article from NovaNewsNow (from Nova Scotia) called “Back to basics: Five power foods for boomers,” and thought many readers would be interested in this list.

Interested in more on this topic? I suggest reading the two pinnacle books on superfoods, by Dr. Steven Pratt, et. al., Superfoods RX: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life and SuperFoods Health Style: Proven Strategies for Lifelong Health. Also, you might want to check out Dr. Perricone’s Ten Superfoods on Oprah’s Web site.

Late Bloomers

During a visit to my local public library branch, I noticed a book on display that caught my eye, Late Bloomers, by the late Brendan Gill, who wrote for the New Yorker for more than 60 years. This little book, which is still available, features 75 individuals who have made their mark in poetry, architecture, politics, and medicine, all later in life. Each two-page entry contains brief biographical information, notes on that person's contribution to society, and a full-page color photograph.

There are also interesting trivia tidbits, such as Louis Kahn’s widow, children, mistresses, and illegitimate children gathered for a photo after the architect’s death. What an interesting 1,000 words could be said to describe that image!

In addition to Late Bloomers, if you're looking for some inspiration from people who made their mark during their middle and later years, check out:

Secrets of Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary Ordinary People On the Art of Staying Creative, Alive, and Aware in Midlife and Beyond by Richard Mahler and Connie Goldman

Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women by Prill Boyle

Late Achievers: Famous People Who Succeeded Late in Life by Mary Ellen Snodgrass

"Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?" by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker (October 20, 2008)

To see if your local public library owns these and other books and periodicals, visit MnLink Gateway.

We have all probably seen advertisements on television encouraging the public to do a physical activity for 15 minutes a day or read articles about the importance of staying active as we get older, but what about staying mentally active?

"Brain Games: Can They Improve Memory and Cognition" (The Journal on Active Aging, November/December 2007) discusses the importance of maintaining and improving brain health. Author Marilynn Larkin says that “with good care, a normal brain can stay healthy and active just as long as the rest of the body.�

So, how do we keep our brains fit? Researchers have found that cross-training is needed to maintain cognition. Doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles every day is good for you, but experts emphasize that it is differing frequency, intensity, and variety of activity that is important for brain health. This is because “the cortex is constructed to change, and the machinery that supports that change is plastic. If it’s not exercised, it slowly dies off.�

To encourage growth and challenge yourself, consider games or activities that focus on short-term memory (accuracy), speed of processing, audio skills, and visual skills. Below you will find some of the brain-training programs and activities suggested in the article.

• Nintendo: Brain Age
This game requires the Nintendo hand-held gaming system, and features problem-solving, counting, drawing and other activities. (A personal favorite of mine!)

• Learning a new language.

• Posit Science: Brain Fitness Program 2.0
This software program, developed with neuroscientists, features 15-minute exercises.

• Participating in a book club.

• Happy Neuron
This site is for any age, and has brain workouts.

• Volunteering

You can find many other "brainy" articles online or in the Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM). To use ELM, all you need is an active library card from any public library in the state. Try using search strings like (gaming OR video games OR software OR activities) AND (brain health OR memory OR cognition OR brain fitness).

Baby boomers are finding themselves sandwiched between looking after their children and their parents. Millions of boomers are juggling work schedules with transportation and medical appointments for their elders. My family is no different. Even with busy work schedules, my parents frequently have meals with my grandparents and accompany them to medical appointments.

Alzheimer’s has touched our family deeply, and I am sure it or another memory loss disease has touched many of yours, too. There are millions of websites and articles on memory loss, but I thought today I would draw your attention to a few from Newsweek, and let you know about a local conference this spring that will discuss memory loss, in order to help you remember that you are not alone.

Also, remember that baby boomers as a group are not alone in this struggle. I am a millennial, and the memory loss of my grandparents has touched my life, from learning how to introduce myself during every visit, to the ability to go with the flow of a scattered conversation, to being an advocate for Alzheimer’s research.

Millions of boomers are caring for parents with memory loss. Read more.

Newsweek’s “A Guide for Caregivers� provides useful information on financing, medical, and housing issues.

In March, “A Meeting of the Minds: The Dementia Conference� will take place in St. Paul. The conference has both a practitioner track and one for family members serving as caregivers.

To gain on overview of Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases, along with current news, visit Medline.

View the U of M’s Driven to Discover video and related research regarding Alzheimer’s.