We are indeed blessed when we have an opportunity to gather with family and friends, at home, in church, at work, at school – especially in this holiday season. If you had the good fortune to also gather with others at Thanksgiving and Christmas, be aware that you are promoting your own good health! Being in community is a key element of strong health according to social science research. Many families have traditions of ‘getting together’ for all special occasions; and often when family members move too far away from home to participate in time-honored traditions, those people frequently gather others, also away from their homes – so they form a pseudo-family with whom to celebrate special days.
Perhaps you noted in the news media prior to Thanksgiving that there were tips on positive conversational topics that intentionally avoided discussion about politics. But let’s not back away from another potentially-sensitive conversation topic – namely, how are the elders in your family getting along with their health, housing, personal needs? When groups gather after a long time of separation, someone’s deterioration in health can come as a shock to those who are seeing changes that cause concern.
While aging, in and of itself, is not a disease, there are some diseases that are common in those who were formerly very healthy. It is true that even those individuals who have been very intentional to keep body and mind in tip-top shape, they often must admit that the body shows definite symptoms of aging, whether one likes it or not.
Adult children have the responsibility to ask pertinent health-status questions, at least when their parents attain the beginning of a new decade of life, for example. Be advised not to lead off with sensitive issues such as height/weight or decisions about driving. But it is reasonable to ask about recent doctor appointments, results of eye exams, hearing acuity, blood pressure readings, medications, especially changes in medications. It is wise to begin conversations about the need for assistance in maintaining house and yard, or other property. If this is done in a kind and caring manner, it can be the beginning of open-ended conversation topics for future use.
And then there is the topic of memory acuity. Mental sharpness is measured on a continuum, and that also includes both extent and severity. The risk factors of Alzheimer’s dementia include age, genetics, environment, lifestyle, and co-existing health conditions. The more common conditions that impact, or are associated with dementia include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and lack of exercise. The form of dementia that is genetically determined is commonly symptomatic in the ages of forty and fifty; this is a rare form of dementia, and if it’s in your family tree, you are aware of it. The presence of the cardiovascular conditions, obesity, and diabetes can be controlled with medication, diet, and exercise – many people find that very reassuring as they proudly display their FitBit tracking their vital signs as well as number of steps walked in a day.
Social connections and intellectual activity will benefit healthy aging for all persons. The connection between the nerves and the brain respond in one’s favor with improved cardio-vascular health, decreased stress, heightened sense of personal well-being. Make an effort to remain connected with your friends and family in activities, including those that serve as “muscles” of brain function such as word games, cards, and activities that challenge thinking and decision-making functions. One research finding in recent years has made a connection between head trauma and dementia. If the trauma has correlated to sports injuries in the past, it is difficult to treat wholly. However preventing new head trauma includes consistently wearing seat belts in the car, using a helmet when playing sports currently, and doing everything possible to “fall-proof” your home – discontinuing use of throw rugs, improving lighting, especially at night, and having railings and grab-bars in bathroom and all stairways.
Research findings over the past decade and those continuing into the future are most encouraging that it may be possible to both prevent and slow the progress of dementia. So don’t avoid conversations about health matters. Maintain a positive attitude and a cheerful disposition. Maintain a spirit of gratitude as we gather together to ask our Lord’s blessing on ourselves and our loved ones.