Happy birthday to us! TMC for Seniors celebrates 30 years of serving older adults

BDP40936.jpgArt and movement classes. Social connections. Fitness activities and balance work. Lecture series. Caregiver support.

TMC for Seniors touches lives in the community every day – and has for the past 30 years.

As a nonprofit community hospital, Tucson Medical Center has always served the population, including maturing adults. By the 1980s, it became evident that a more focused response was needed.

Americans were living longer – and at the same time, using more medical services.

In response to that need, Tucson Medical Center in 1988 launched the TMC Seniors Program, the result of a year-long study by a task force and rooted in the need to provide health and wellness programs designed for older adults.

“The echoes of those earlier services have resonated through the years, and today TMC for Seniors is a place that offers a variety of free classes and workshop to keep us well as we age, such as brain health, exercise, art, advance care planning, nutrition and socialization,” said Maya Luria, director of TMC for Seniors. “We are pleased to play a role in helping seniors live more active, engaged lives.”

A celebration Friday thanked three previous directors for their work in shaping the program: Jan Sturges, Lorraine Glazar and L’Don Sawyer.

BDP40880.jpgEach was presented with a rock, hand-painted by senior volunteers with messages of gratitude and hope, as part of the TMC Kindness Initiative. Each month, seniors paint the rocks to lift and inspire others in need and then place them at TMC patios for patients and families.

TMC for Seniors continues to grow as it ages – watch next year for Dream Makers, which will fulfill an end of life dream for those with life-limiting illnesses.

For more information, check out TMC for Seniors’ current calendar of events and activities.

Volunteer opportunity came at the right time for stroke survivor

Gail.jpgHelping our community right here in Tucson get and stay healthy and keep on dancing is what Tucson Medical Center is all about. We’re showing off some of our fabulous community members in our latest commercials and you get to find out a little more about them here on our blog. Meet TMC dancer, Gail Black.

Gail Black was on the job when she collapsed at work. She’d had a devastating stroke and it would be a grueling recovery. She’d lost some words. Her balance was off. Her memory wasn’t as sharp.

She spent months and months rebuilding with physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

As she progressed in her recovery, she saw that TMC Senior Services was offering a lecture on stroke recovery and how to build new neural pathways in the brain.

While she was there, someone asked if she’d like to volunteer. “I said give me a year because I was still in that phase of my recovery. And a year to the date, someone called me back.”

“Tucson Medical Center has an amazing senior services program and it provides content that is very rewarding, informative and educational. It gave me information on how to live strong and that was very important to me,” she said.

Black said the highlight of volunteering was the relationships she built. “I’ve met so many wonderful people. Sometimes you go to volunteer, thinking you’re going to help someone and you wind up being the person who is helped and rewarded. That has been my experience.”

She also appreciates every opportunity to share her story.

“I get up every day to a new sunrise, a new lease on life,” she said. “I look forward to finding ways to help and benefit others – even if it’s telling my story recovering from stroke. If I can help one person, that’s important to me. Life is great.”

Anyone can have a stroke, even children although the causes in children tend to be different. The elderly are not the only ones at risk for stroke although age is one factor. Stroke risk also increases with factors like increased blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation. 

Know the symptoms of a stroke. 

Early recognition and treatment make all the difference.

Check out Gail and others here to dance another day in our latest dance video.

TMC, Pima Council on Aging salute those who have witnessed a century

IMG_0432If you were 100 years old, what would you do to celebrate life?

Tucson Medical Center and Pima Council on Aging had a chance to ask just that of 48 centenarians, who gathered at TMC for the 31st annual Salute to Centenarians – the largest known gathering in the country of those who have reached 99 years or older.

Geneva Borrowman, who reached 100 in January, starts every day with a prayer of gratitude for all she has in her life. In Geneva’s case, that’s a lot, with 55 great-grandchildren!

Don Davis, who was a star even as a kid as a child actor in silent films, celebrates by riding a bicycle – and enjoys the occasional martini (gin, straight up, one olive) on the patio in the evening.

IMG_0437For Aniceto Gonda, who was born in the Philippines 101 years ago in April and served in the Army, it’s about looking forward to each day with optimism. “And most of all, try not to worry and just live life as it comes.”

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he was inspired by the myriad ways the collective gathering had impacted the world, from serving in the military, volunteering, staffing elections, supporting churches and caring for their families and others. “Each one of you has enriched the world and taught us about the art of living – and for that, we are all thankful,” he said.

Maya Luria, director of TMC for Seniors, applauded the group for reaching such a significant milestone. “You have certainly lived a life that has laughter and love, but at times tested your strength, your courage, your values. The wisdom you have gained and shared along the way is priceless.”

A big thanks to the elected officials who helped honor the group and for A Touch of Grey barbershop quartet, which provided the entertainment, as well as to Brookdale Senior Living Solutions for the lunch and Sierra del Sol for the cupcakes.

Seasoned Service: Visiting peers and helping pets spread some ‘happy’

In the 10 years that Barbara Davis has volunteered at Tucson Medical Center, helping to facilitate pet therapy visits to recuperating patients, she has experienced grief and joy and felt loss and renewal.

She lost her husband of 51 years, a beautiful soul and a solid family man. She watched her two sons progress in their careers and her five granddaughters grow up. Her sister has health issues.

Her own pets will never have the unruffled temperaments needed for therapy work, but when her long-haired Chihuahua and a bearded Collie just celebrated 10 years of age, they did it with birthday cake.

Barbara Davis

Barbara Davis

If there’s one thing she’s learned from both life and the time she has spent at TMC, with the ailing and the recovering, it’s this: “I’m doing as much as possible because you never know what life will bring you next.”

Davis found TMC through a postcard inquiring if she would like to know more about volunteering for TMC Senior Services.

At the time, she had recently retired as an accountant for special education funding at Tucson Unified School District, where she worked for 22 years. Although she was busy with her family, it was time, she felt, to add another dimension. After weeks of training in active listening skills and learning nuances about working with older adults, she was ready to begin.

Davis, who is well-known in the hospital for her work with the pet therapy program, said she appreciates how friendly TMC is. “I’ve become good friends with staff, going to their baby showers and watching their children grow up. Several people came to pay respects at my husband’s celebration of life. When you come once a week for 10 years, you become close.”

Davis jokes that volunteering sometimes brings unexpected moments of levity. She had a special request to visit an older woman who was deeply unhappy about being hospitalized. Davis was determined to cheer her. “I sat next to her and after a minute of chit chat and my big smile, she then she said to me, ‘You know, I am blind but I can see that you are really overweight!’ Some you win and others you lose,” she joked.

In addition to serving as pet escort for the pet therapy program, she has had seven different peer relationships with seniors in their homes through TMC Senior Services. Her first assignment was with an 84-year-old who lived in an assisted living home. They bonded over shared connections from their previous homes in Tempe, and they would have high tea each birthday. She visited her throughout the rest of her lifetime, until losing her at hospice.

She has learned about the things that shaped their lives, big and small. One peer had a great fondness for fish sandwiches. Another needed help researching her 50th class reunion. Her most recent friend is 90 and from Germany and enjoys hearing about Davis’ granddaughters. Each added to her life.

“It’s so beneficial to do this kind of work,” Davis said. “I enjoy meeting people and I like the fact we’re making them happy, and the staff is thrilled to see us. When I visit dear friends in their homes, I try to be the best listener I can. They want to tell their stories, which gives me a sense of their history. I truly enjoy being with them.”

TMC Geropsychiatric Director: Reflections after 90 days in new unit

The new Tucson Medical Center Geropsychiatric Center opened in mid-January on the Handmaker campus, to provide short-term inpatient mental health treatment for older adults. The center specializes in mental health disorders related to aging.

Director Terri Waldman, now about 90 days into the new 16-bed unit, shares her perspective about lessons learned so far.

Terri Waldman

Terri Waldman

What have you found to be the most satisfying?

So many people just don’t believe people are going to get better in seven to 10 days. It has been great to see the awe in people’s eyes at the transformations they see. We won’t make patients’ dementia go away, but they won’t be agitated and scared when they leave. A lot of the times when people come here, they’re just broken – physically, emotionally and cognitively. And when they leave, their eyes are bright, they’re sitting up straight, they’re eating and they’re smiling.


How do you help them get to that better space?

It may sound simple, but it’s love. It’s unconditional love. We have a patient now who is crawling on the floor, hallucinating and diving into holes. When that patient leaves here, that won’t be happening.

We won’t make the patient get up off the floor or yell or try to force feed him to eat. We have learned that if we puree food and sit with him on the ground, he’ll eat. He will eventually get off the floor, but right now, that’s where he feels safe and that’s where he wants to be. The process we’re in is to find out what he needs and not judge that.

We have another woman in here who gets very agitated at meal times and throws food at the staff in the facility where she lives. We’ve found out she just doesn’t like to eat with other people. If you take her into another room, she’ll calmly eat.

Here, when things don’t work, we don’t keep doing them.


What’s the underlying philosophy of this type of treatment?

The standard thought in psychiatry is that when you have people with dementia, the behaviors they are exhibiting generally are related to their dementia. I look at it differently. I think patients have the dementia, but then they have the psychiatric problem: psychosis, depression, anxiety…if you treat those psychiatric disorders, it doesn’t make the dementia go away but it does improve their quality of life so they can live in the least restrictive environment in the community.


So when they leave, do they just cycle right back in again?

Clearly, we have advantages that the average family does not have. We have expertise and experience. We have 24 hour help. That’s hard for families to replicate. But what we’re able to do is try to find approaches that can be taken back into the community setting. So for example, we have a woman right now who has night terrors, and in her screaming and fear, she whacks her husband, and he gets frustrated and it just starts this cycle that isn’t conducive to calming the situation. We found there is a way to just rub her arm – it’s a certain kind of touch – and it can help comfort her. We can help figure out these techniques and share them so they are better able to manage their loved one or their patient.


Are you operating at capacity?

We have been really pleased with our ongoing census. It’s been seven years since I was doing this kind of work with this population, and in that seven years, I kept hearing from people about the need for a facility like this. So it has been really rewarding to learn the truth in the community response. Everyone was saying they needed us – and they really did.


What has been the biggest challenge?

One of the things that’s been challenging is the realization of the degree to which insurance dictates our care. It’s not impossible to work with the system, but I have learned these last three months that you need an advocate to get the care you need and unfortunately, there are very few advocates for older adults. I don’t want to blanket all health plans, but in a general sense, their goal is to limit costs and keep people out of inpatient settings. The problem is that if people are in crisis and are discharged back into the community without treatment, they’ll just keep ending up in the emergency departments and it will end up costing more in the long run. It takes advocacy to get people to the right place – especially people who have dementia compounded by psychiatric problems – and families for the most part aren’t equipped to navigate the system by themselves.


How can patients be admitted to the facility?

Patients have to be medically cleared to be here, because some underlying medical conditions can trigger some behavioral health issues. Since patients need to have labs done and other evaluations, it’s best to go to a clinical provider, whether that’s your primary care doctor, urgent care or an emergency room, if need be, to ask for an assessment.


Ask a Geriatrician: Tips to trip-proof your home

From Dr. Marlene Bluestein, TMC internal medicine / geriatric specialist:

You can’t believe how easily towel racks and shower bars can be pulled down.

When I used to do house calls, my patients often insisted the racks were a fine substitute for grab bars.

Unfortunately, most shower curtains hang on tension rods that aren’t secured into a wall – and many times, towel racks aren’t attached to wall studs, because they are only meant to hold the weight of a towel.  I can’t say I was apologetic about the result of giving those bars one good pull, because falls can be a matter of life and death for older adults.

Dr. Marlene Bluestein

Dr. Marlene Bluestein

Hip fractures, which are almost always caused by a fall, can adversely impact independence, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating one in three adults will remain in a nursing home for at least a year after a hip fracture.

Even more disturbing, the CDC reports one of every five hip fracture patients dies within a year of their injury. And it’s not just hips: A fall can also lead to traumatic brain injury, which can impact your cognitive status as well as your physical health.

There are steps you can take now.

Exercises can improve leg strength and balance. See your doctor if your medicines are making you dizzy or drowsy. Keep up with your annual vision checkups.


Here are some areas of special attention when giving your home a good once-over:

Rugs: If you must have a rug, a smooth wall-to-wall fit is the best option. Smaller rugs too often can slide out from under you, or catch your shoe. In the bathroom, however, a rug is preferable to stepping out of the bathtub or shower directly onto a slick, wet floor. Take it from me: I tore a hamstring doing just that and it took months to heal. Don’t just throw a towel down. Look for a high quality, rubber-matted rug with good traction.

Shower/tub: Consider eliminating the lip on the shower so you don’t have to step over, and can roll a wheelchair in, if need be. If you have limited mobility, another option is a sliding transfer bench that straddles your tub and allows you to sit while lifting your legs over the edge. A handheld shower wand is helpful, as is a shower chair or bench. Don’t forget grab bars and non-slip treads in the tub.

Toilet: Consider installing a bidet, which is a huge convenience for older people who become incontinent and find it a hassle to get into the shower with much frequency. A bidet can help accomplish a good deal of personal hygiene with little fuss. Also, a raised toilet is easier on knees and hips.

Lighting: Falls often happen on the way to the bathroom from the bedroom, so install nightlights or a lighting system that you can turn on from bed. At a minimum, keep a flashlight or cellphone nearby. Falls also happen when folks get a little dizzy when first standing up. Even if you are feeling some urgency to use the bathroom, try to sit for a minute before standing up.

Kitchen: A stove with controls along the side or front – instead of along the back – reduces burn risk. Retrofitting cabinets with pullout shelving means you won’t have to reach so far back or so high. Having a low step stool in a convenient place will leave you less tempted to stand on a chair – never a good idea, regardless of mobility issues.

Transition areas: As people age, they may not lift their feet as high when walking. Make sure stairs are in good condition with adequate handrails – or replace them with ramps.  Sunken living rooms can really be hazardous, so reflective tape or strips can serve as a signal to guests and a reminder to yourself. On the patio, flagstone can be slippery and bricks can be a problem if they constantly shift and lift. A better option: stained concrete. Don’t forget lighting!

Finally, be very cautious if you have a furry companion, particularly one that likes to be by your feet all the time. And when the grandchildren visit, make a pass through the house after they’re tucked in bed to pick up any toys lingering about.

You don’t have to make changes all at once and there is help available if you need assistance. The DIRECT Center for Independence, for example, assists with adaptations, such as ramps and bathroom modifications and can provide in-home assessments. Reach them at 624-6452 or www.directilc.org. The Pima Council on Aging also has assistance programs. Reach them at 790-7262 or www.pcoa.org


Successful Aging Conference: Volunteering reinforces connectedness in older adults

Just as you make sure to keep a nutritious diet and maintain sufficient levels of physical activity as you age, you should put the same amount of effort into nurturing social connections.

That was a key message from the Annual Conference on Successful Aging, held Feb. 20 at the DoubleTree Tucson.

Social connectedness plays a role in both physical and mental health among older adults, as a way to maintain a sense of purpose and engagement during life transitions, such as retirement.

It can also take many forms, from taking classes to joining social clubs.

LdonVolunteering is another key way to avoid isolation and live a more stimulating life. But today, volunteering is no longer about putting people in a corner and asking them to merely address envelopes or fold brochures, said L’Don Sawyer, director of TMC Senior Services. The trend of ‘volunteer professionalism’ recognizes the unique contributions, skills and talents each volunteer brings.

But how to find the right fit?

Start with a skills and interest inventory, Sawyer suggested. “Spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of this.”

Do you want to use the skills you used in your work or do you want to learn something new?

Do you want to volunteer on a regular basis or on a case-by-case basis? Is socialization a goal, or do you already have a rich social life?

“Choose something you’re passionate about. It really does make a difference,” she advised, adding that volunteers should dig a little into the nitty-gritty of what the expectations are, particularly for skilled assignments. Is there a job description? A defined time commitment? Fingerprints? Immunizations?

Newcomers may consider bringing a buddy for support, and should also watch out for volunteer creep, she advised. So many assignments might sound interesting, she said, “that before you know it, you’ve walked out and agreed to 40 hours a week. Start incrementally and go from there.”

Good places to start your search include the Volunteer Center at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona (http://volunteer.unitedwaytucson.org ) or VolunteerMatch (http://www.volunteermatch.org/)

Enjoy the search, Sawyer said. “It’s not one size fits all, but the good news is that there are enough agencies and groups looking for people, that you can certainly find the right fit.”

For more information about TMC’s Senior Services, including volunteer opportunities, please visit www.tmcaz.com/Community/Seniors, or call 520-324-1960.


Seasoned Service: Volunteer ‘fitness trainer’ joins memory enhancement team

Most of us would probably make a grocery list if we had a dozen items to pick up on the way home.

Tucson Medical Center volunteer Roger Eagle can get every one of those dozen items without the standard checklist. It isn’t necessarily that his memory is extraordinary; he just knows how to leverage its capacity through the use of mnemonic devices.Roger Eagle

A memory fitness trainer certified through the UCLA Longevity Center, Eagle will be sharing those techniques in memory classes starting in the late spring. The classes are designed not only to find solutions to standard memory complaints, such as forgetting names and errands, but to stimulate the brain in ways that can help protect against memory decline over time.

Eagle, 70, has had a complicated relationship with memory issues.

Eagle retired in 2003 to care for his wife, who was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia. He had noticed things were wrong years earlier, and knew his wife’s friends were covering for her memory lapses at work.

After her condition worsened to a point he could no longer care for her, he placed her in a care home in 2008 until her death in December 2009. In response to the emotional pain of that experience, Eagle started volunteering at TMC, even as he himself struggled through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy regimen. The volunteering, he said, “has added immensely to my life. It keeps me focused. It helps me remember that I’m not the only one out there who has had problems.”

Eagle helps advertise the classes and lectures offered through TMC for Seniors and can often be found manning the booths at health fairs. “The work being done here does help the community,” he said. “Thousands of people attend the events and I always get feedback that they really appreciate the quality and quantity of the classes.”

Eagle not only attends the lectures, but joined the Canyon Ranch Institute’s Life Enhancement Program, offered in conjunction with TMC and designed to inspire positive lifestyle changes. His meat-heavy diet of five years ago has since become more fish and plant-based and he values the social connections he makes through his volunteering.

Through his volunteering, he has never been able to bring himself to work with the groups and classes that support those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. It’s too close for him. But when he heard about the potential to teach brain fitness and memory classes, he was intrigued.

“As human beings, there’s always going to be something that’s just on the tip of your tongue, or something that you just can’t remember for the life of you,” Eagle said. “If there are ways to help the brain adapt to some of the changes that happen as we age, we should take advantage of it.”

For more information about TMC’s Senior Services programs, from volunteering opportunities to ongoing health and wellness resources and information, please visit www.tmcaz.com/TucsonMedicalCenter/Seniors or call (520) 324-1960.


TMC volunteer touches community, earns Ben’s Bell

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Volunteer Bob Kridler has a long list of charities and nonprofits he supports, so it wasn’t surprising that there was a long line of admirers there to cheer him on when he was “belled” on Friday, Feb. 6.

“I’m speechless,” a smiling Kridler said, as Ben’s Bells founder Jeannette Maré gave him a handmade bell, a symbol of connection and the myriad ways recipients spread kindness throughout the community. In Kridler’s case, he donates his time serving mobile meals and sitting on the foster care review board, as well as assisting his church and Casa Maria Free Kitchen. He also volunteers at Tucson Medical Center, where he is involved with Seniors Helping Seniors, a program in which volunteers offer companionship and one-on-one support to older adults in the community.

“The care you put into this community ripples out in ways you can’t possibly know,” Maré said.

TMC Senior Services coordinator Anne Morrison, one of about 40 in attendance, said Kridler has made a difference already for a Vietnam vet who had few social connections. “He’s just one of the kindest men I’ve ever met,” Morrison said. “He has such a big heart and just wants to make the lives of others better, regardless of who or when or where.”

His pastor, Gayle Bintliff of Tanque Verde Lutheran Church, agreed. “He just does everything with the heart of a servant,” said Bintliff, who has served as lead pastor for the past 3 years. “He has so much compassion and kindness, that he is always ready to do anything he can to help someone else.”

Kridler will be featured on the MIXfm and KGUN on Feb. 13, as well as the Arizona Daily Star on Feb. 17.

New classes to protect memory, boost brain health coming to TMC

At some point, everyone has had the unfortunate experience of drawing a complete blank when trying to remember someone’s name, or trying to capture a word that’s just on the tip of your tongue.

That process of retrieving information actually does decline to some degree as we get older.

But just as lifting weights can help your biceps stay strong so you can complete everyday tasks like carrying grocery bags, and just as walking at a good clip keeps your heart healthy, exercising your brain can help protect against cognitive decline.

ucla brain mapBeginning in late spring, Tucson Medical Center will offer two new scientifically-proven memory education programs, designed to make new information “stickier” and shore up your memory bank.

The programs, designed and certified through the UCLA Longevity Center, are based on 40 years of brain research demonstrating that focused training can help improve memory, attention and recall. The well-known ACTIVE study demonstrated that just 10 hours of memory training still had protective effects a decade later.

Dr. Karen Miller, an associate professor at UCLA specializing in geriatric psychology, said only about a third of dementia risk is genetic, which means we can influence a number of other variables. Diet, physical activity, stress reduction and brain stimulation all work together to improve memory and language skills, she said.

Dr. Karen Miller UCLA Geriatric Psychology

Dr. Karen Miller
UCLA Geriatric Psychology

Miller pointed to a 2003 study of 469 participants that found those who were the most active had a 63 percent lower risk of dementia. It also found those who completed crossword puzzles four days a week had a 47 percent lower risk than those who worked through puzzles only once a week. In fact, each day they exercised their minds translated into a 10 percent reduction in risk. “We know this kind of focused, structured program of concentrated effort really works,” Miller said.

The demand for such coursework was evident given the overwhelming popularity of annual brain awareness events at Tucson Medical Center, including Brain Aerobics sessions, said L’Don Sawyer, director of TMC for Seniors.

“For years, there was a lot of focus on the fact that the brain did most of its growth in those formative years before kindergarten,” Sawyer said. “What science has increasingly shown through the whole concept of brain plasticity is that the brain is not fixed and rigid and does have the ability to change throughout the lifespan. The fact it can change and rewire itself as we take in new information has really revolutionized how we think about our ability over time to retain and recall information.”

It also means it’s never too late to learn new skills, Sawyer said. “No matter your age, studies have shown there are practices you can incorporate into your daily life that will provide cognitive benefits that can last for years.”

Held in small, interactive groups that support participants as they begin to shift how they think and absorb in information, the classes are made possible with funding from the TMC Foundation and include:

  • Memory Training for those with normal, age-related memory challenges. Participants learn strategies over a four-week program to address the most common memory complaints, from forgetting names to misplacing objects or forgetting important appointments.
  • Memory Fitness for those with mild memory concerns. Participants will focus over a six-week series on the four areas of life that will help maintain memory fitness – diet, exercise, stress reduction and memory training.
TMC for Seniors Memory Education Instructors

TMC for Seniors
Memory Education Instructors

“Older adults are so often told that forgetfulness is just part of aging, that they may feel powerless to prevent it,” said Dr. Marlene Bluestein, a geriatrician who counsels patients on physical and cognitive health concerns through the TMC Health Assessment Clinic. “While it is true that memory begins to progressively decline, beginning in middle age, there are protective practices that will help guard against loss and compensate for it. Apathy is not a way to build resilience, so we should all take the time to exercise the mind and body to stave off brain decline.”

All classes, which will be led by certified trainers, will take place at TMC Senior Services, 1400 N. Wilmot Road.

The Memory Training series is $40 and the Memory Fitness program is $60, although scholarships are available for those with income limitations. Donations also are accepted for individuals who would like to sponsor those with limited incomes.

For more information about the programs, or to make a donation, please contact 324-1960.



Exercise key to developing balance – but maybe not for reasons you think

You might think walking is a fairly straightforward, automatic task.

In actuality, walking makes the brain work pretty hard. It has to decipher sensory information, while maintaining balance and forward momentum.

Aerobic activity takes those processes up another notch.

So while longstanding wisdom holds that exercise is good for balance because it increases muscle strength in the lower limbs, anthropologist and exercise physiologist David Raichlen said research is showing that perhaps of equal or more importance in preventing falls is what exercise does to the brain.

David Raichlen UA School of Anthropology

David Raichlen
UA School of Anthropology

Raichlen, who will present at the Third Annual Conference on Successful Aging on Feb. 20, said studies indicate that exercise improves a set of higher-level cognitive functions, known as executive processes, which essentially give structure to our mental lives. Areas such as planning, strategizing or switching attention from one stimulus to another, all fall into this category.

The Conference is co-sponsored by Tucson Medical Center, which has supported the event since its inception. “Our mission is to educate the community to help them maintain optimal balance and fitness in all of its forms,” said L’Don Sawyer, director of TMC for Seniors. “Issues related to balance and gait are common concerns among the older adults we see in our health assessment clinic. The more resources and information we can get to older adults and their families, the better.”

Making lifestyle changes that include doing multiple tasks simultaneously will essentially exercise your executive functioning, which will in turn mitigate or reduce your fall risk, said Raichlen, an associate professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona.

“What we’re starting to find is that the diminishment of these functions is a strong predictor of falls,” Raichlen said. “It’s not uncommon if you try to do two things, like talking to someone while you’re walking, to experience subtle changes in gait, whether in pace or stride length. But if you have to greatly slow down or stop altogether to do both of those things at once, it’s a very good predictor of fall risk.”

Why do falls matter?

Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, as many as 30 percent of falls result in moderate to severe injuries that can increase the risk of early death or reduce the ability to live independently.

“One of the key areas of focus in the health care system now is how to prevent catastrophic problems in the first place, by preventing falls and preventing the changes in the brain that are associated with aging in a negative way,” he said. “Exercise is just about the best thing people can do to prevent these kinds of big problems as they get older.”

Raichlen is also an exercise physiologist, as an outcropping of his fascination with anthropology, and particularly at the ways in which movement seemed to lay the foundation for large evolutionary leaps.

“It turns out that the big changes that seem to explain why we are the way we are have to do with movement, from walking upright to our transition to endurance athletes,” Raichlen said. “By understanding our evolutionary history, it gives a nice context as to why aerobic exercise is so beneficial to the heart, the brain, the muscles and just about everything else.”

He recommends following the guidelines of the American Heart Association for aerobic activity, which aim for 30 minutes a day, five times a week, of moderate intensity.

Raichlen also recommends people visit Go4Life, a program from the National Institute of Aging, which provides comprehensive information on safety, exercise and nutrition. For more information, visit http://go4life.nia.nih.gov/ACOSA

The Annual Conference on Successful Aging takes place Friday, Feb. 20 from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tucson- Reid Park. The registration fee is $50. More information is available at www.psychology.arizona.edu/ACoSA.



More funding, more focus needed to address growth rate of Alzheimer’s disease

Rep. Barber at Alzheimer's eventDid you know that one in three U.S. seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Or that women are at the epicenter of the disease, representing two-thirds of those diagnosed?

There are 120,000 seniors living in Arizona right now with the disease, with those numbers set to grow in the coming years as we live longer and as more retirees move here for the desert environment. In fact, Arizona is third in the nation in terms of the projected growth rate of those living with Alzheimer’s by the year 2025.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber told an audience of about 60 Wednesday morning that addressing those staggering numbers will require raising political awareness of the significant need for additional funding and focus.

“We have to put more money into research,” said Barber, who serves on a congressional task force studying Alzheimer’s and who spoke at the Coffee with Congress event hosted by Tucson Medical Center and sponsored by the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

While the federal government spends about $150 billion providing care for those affected by Alzheimer’s, only about $560 million is spent annually on research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

CoffeeWithCongress2Congress in 2010 passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which calls for a national plan to address Alzheimer’s and related disorders, as well as an annual evaluation of federally funded research efforts.

Barber said more is needed, especially since every 67 seconds, one more American is diagnosed with the disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Despite its pervasiveness, Barber said half of Americans living with Alzheimer’s have never been properly diagnosed. “For all kinds of reasons, we must fight to make sure we have every weapon at our disposal to deal with Alzheimer’s, to get out in front of it and to support people who are living with it,” said Barber, who is signed on as a cosponsor of the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, which would provide Medicare coverage for expanded clinical diagnosis and care planning.

Arizona’s first statewide plan to address Alzheimer’s is expected to be released before the end of the calendar year, a result of years of work between the Alzheimer’s Association, state agencies, the private sector and those affected by the disease.

Deborah Schaus, executive director for the Association’s Desert Southwest Chapter, said the goal ultimately is to help not just those diagnosed with the disease, but their caregivers as well, many of whom are seniors living with their own chronic conditions and are deeply affected by the stress, isolation and depression that can result.

Educational opportunities exist as well, she said, noting a recent statewide survey found that even though one in six people over the age of 45 report experiencing memory loss, 77 percent have not spoken with a health professional about it.

“We have to take steps forward in communities throughout our state to remove some of the stigma and remove some of that hesitancy about reaching out for help,” she said.

Judy Rich, President and CEO of Tucson Medical Center, she was grateful for community partnerships in addressing issues of aging, whether through direct services or support.

With one-quarter of the state’s population projected to be over the age of 60 by the year 2020, Rich noted TMC is expanding its senior services to care for older adults in new ways. The new Geropsychiatric Center at Handmaker will open in January to provide critical behavioral health services for seniors, and TMC recently opened a Health Assessment Clinic for seniors with complex needs.

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