Keeping the golden glow on your golden years
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
An apple a day may keep the
doctor away according to the nursery
rhyme, but it takes a bit more
to keep seniors on the road to both
physical and mental well-being.
With more than 60,000
centenarians in the United States
and those numbers to rise to the
100,000 threshold in just a few
years, Rick Germann, manager,
After Care Services at Alexian
Center for Mental Health, Arlington
Heights, says keeping aging
minds healthy and stimulated is
the key to keeping you as young
as you feel.
|Rick Germann, manager,
After Care Services at Alexian
Center for Mental Health
"Retirement is a time of reflection,"
Germann says. "Looking
back, seniors may say they feel out
of sync, disappointed or sad when
life doesn't go according to plan.
Loss of independence, death and
family loss could lead to decline,
isolation, withdrawal, behavior and
personality changes, agitation and
frequent physical complaints."
Although depression in the
elderly is a common problem,
only a small percentage get the
help they need. No one, he notes,
whether they're 18 or 80, has to
live with depression.
"Many assume seniors have
good reason to be down or that
depression is just part of aging,"
Germann says. "Despite the cause,
depression isn't normal at any age."
Exercising the brain
Germann, who authored the
book "52 Brain Busting Activities
For Groups," says aging doesn't
automatically mean memory loss,
depression or loss of acuity.
"As we age, neurons do take
longer to fire, we disengage and
frequently become spectators
in life," he reports. "Our brains
literally become lazy and seem to
operate on auto-pilot, using less
and less energy."
To exercise the brain,
Germann recommends avoiding
"Studies show that social engagement
is what helps determine
longevity, not simply physical
fitness," he says. "Companionship
Education, he explains, also
should be a lifelong pursuit and
those challenges are what create
stronger nerve connections.
"Any new learning experience
challenges the brain," he says.
"Pick up a new book, learn how to
use the computer, study a foreign
language, attempt Sudoku puzzles
or get involved in a civic issue.
Crossword puzzles, word games,
puzzles, laughter and problemsolving
can be a real cognitive
workout for the brain."
He adds that drinking plenty
of water and staying well hydrated
each day helps speed the neurotransmission
activities involving peers and
group challenges increase cognitive
work out benefits.
An aging America
"The fact is that our population
is aging and as we age, chronic
medical problems, illness, loss
of independence, death and all
sorts of life changes and triggers
place seniors at increased risk for
mental health challenges," explains
Shah Nawaz, M.D., an Arlington
Heights-based psychiatrist and
director of Northwest Community
Hospital's adult inpatient psychiatric
"There's a stigma attached to
mental illness that leads to many
misconceptions," Dr. Nawaz says.
"People tend to shy away from
discussing these changes and in
turn don't seek the very treatment
which can help. Depression
comes in many disguises and while
patients report physical symptoms
such as changes in sleep patterns or
fatigue to their doctors, they actually
may be clinically depressed."
Nearly 15 percent of seniors
age 65 and older may suffer the
symptoms of depression at any
given time, notes Dr. Nawaz.
By the year 2020, he speculates
depression will be the second most
common cause of disability.
"As health declines, depression
increases," he states. ‘In fact,
many studies show those who have
suffered a heart attack and receive
treatment for depression actually
have a lower incidence of a secondary
heart attack and even death."
Dr. Christopher D'Agostino,
geriatric psychiatrist and director
of outpatient geriatric services
at Alexian Brothers Behavioral
Health Hospital, Hoffman
Estates, says the relationship
between depression, anxiety and
other mental health challenges is
especially strong for those facing
certain medical conditions including
diabetes, Parkinson's disease,
heart disease, cancer, thyroid
conditions and stroke.
|Dr. Christopher D'Agostino, geriatric psychiatrist
and director of outpatient geriatric services at Alexian
Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, Hoffman Estates
"Risks for depression are
particularly high for seniors after
a first heart attack and studies
show a 50 percent increase in
three to five year post-stroke
mortality rates for those not
treated for depression."
Older adults, he says, frequently
don't perceive depression and
other mental health issues. With
depression, dementia and anxiety
topping the list, D'Agostino says
substance abuse, bipolar disorder
and schizophrenia also score high
incidence among seniors.
"Seniors and the elderly may
report a lack of interest in former
hobbies or activities and we may
note social withdrawal or nutrition
problems, but it can be that
depression, an underlying dementia
or anxiety is the culprit," he
says. "Making the initial diagnosis
and receiving appropriate treatment
With many older men using
alcohol to self-medicate after
retirement, Dr. D'Agostino says
chemical dependency programs are
taking note of the senior trends.
Women, he says, frequently develop
prescription drug issues.
"Mom's Vicodin prescription
for her back pain and Xanax
prescription may interact to mask
symptoms of anxiety or depression,"
he explains. "These drugs
also raise the risk for falls. Sadly,
the most common referral for
mental health help may come
after a fall and potentially fatal
He says families usually are the
first to recognize changes and occasionally
do need to coerce seniors
"But," he says. "Seniors who
complete treatment do report the
highest satisfaction rates
Keeping seniors healthy
The best offense in keeping
seniors healthy in both mind and
body may be a great defense, according
to seniors and their loved
ones who say keeping vital, being
socially active and involved in
family, church or community and
stimulating mental acuity are the
secrets to success.
Mary Susan Warsey, an oncology
services pharmacist at the
Advocate Center for Advanced
Care, Park Ridge, who provides
care for her 89-year-old mother,
Olga, at home says her task is
both a labor of love and a source
of constant concern.
Her mom, a widow since
2000, had been extremely
independent until suffering a
stroke in November, 2005. Since
that time, trouble with balance
and failing eyesight have meant
a loss of that independence and
a move into Warsey's west suburban
"Mom loves to be busy, is very
social, loves to be involved in the
community, has always enjoyed
crosswords and puzzles of all sorts,
enjoys music, pets and more,"
Warsey says. "But a fear of
falls and the need to navigate
uneven surfaces with
a walker have curtailed many
of her favorite activities."
Warsey says she was fortunate to discover
Advocate Lutheran General's Adult
Day Care and its unique intergenerational
together children and seniors of all
ages for a variety of weekly events
A big plus, Warsey notes, is the
fact that the same adult care building
also houses both a preschool and
nursery program, access to a variety
of physician offices and outpatient
physical, occupational and speech
"In many ways, mom is very
independent and would rather
be on her own," Warsey explains.
"Spending four days a week at the
center certainly provides a variety
of stimulating opportunities and
she loves spending time with the
youngsters who refer to her as
The medical model adult day
care currently boasts an enrollment
of 80, with a daily census of 40,
says Edythe Hirasawa, manager
of the 27-year-old program which
was one of the first senior day care
offerings in the country.
"We welcome a variety of
seniors who are recovering from
a stroke like Olga or face other
medical challenges like Parkinson's
disease, or dementia," she
explains. A variety of stimulating
activities including field trips,
discussion groups, geography
study groups, table games and
an intergenerational program
bringing together the young and
the young-at-heart are designed
to keep both minds and bodies
stimulated, healthy and active."
Many of the seniors relish
time spent in arts and crafts
pursuits with the four and
five year-olds, Hirasawa says,
while others love cooing to the
six- to15-month-old babies in
their "baby mobile" strollers,
or visiting youngsters in their