15 posts categorized "Successful Aging"

May 17, 2016

National Honor Our LGBT Elders Day: commemorating a lifetime of contributions made by LGBT older adults

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At SAGE & Friends LA in April, social media legend and LGBT icon George Takei echoed SAGE's sentiments toward LGBT elders when he said, "We have a great profound gratitude to you but also I feel that we have a debt… I'm grateful to all of you for what you’ve done."

It is the fearless lives of everyday LGBT Americans that inspired The LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care to help bring this special day to life, and the extraordinary courage and everyday authenticity of LGBT people everywhere are what drive SAGE to be the strongest advocate for LGBT older adults.

Help SAGE put the "LGBT" in Older Americans Month by posting a selfie on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #OAM16. Here are a few sent in by readers:

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As George Takei suggested, we do indeed owe our elders a great deal, and it's wonderful to see our government taking steps to bring more voice and visibility to America's older generations. President Obama recently declared May as Older Americans Month, and SAGE will continue to celebrate our elders by sharing unique stories from this diverse community of LGBT trailblazers.

Today, and for the rest of May and beyond, join SAGE as we celebrate and thank the individuals, known and unknown, who shouldered enormous risk to improve the world for all of us.

Chase Brexton will host a free event on May 17 in Baltimore to mark the occasion. Connect with SAGE on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog this and every month for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders.

May 12, 2016

Older and Bolder: Starting a second or third chapter? Think big!

The 2016 theme of Older Americans Month is "Blaze a Trail" and we can't imagine a better way to celebrate then honoring the achievements of our LGBT elders. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts on SAGE's trailblazers throughout the month and follow the conversation at #OAM.

We’re taught that most people spend their retirement years baking cookies, tinkering in the garage, and playing dominoes. But a new generation of LGBT older people is thinking bigger and bolder. Fueled by increasing life expectancy many are now calling a “longevity bonus,” they are creating new narratives about what it means to be “SAGE age.” 


BrendaCullaneBRENDA CULHANE
is passionate about her pursuits. She’s a 75-year-old lesbian activist and SAGE constituent living in Portland, Oregon. Brenda plays a powerful role on a local housing committee in Portland and advocates for LGBT needs in assisted and independent living communities. She notes that “We’ve all had friends who have had to go into [these facilities] and do not feel safe coming out in that environment. It’s so sad.”

Brenda’s work doesn’t stop there, though—she also speaks about LGBT issues at civic events and local colleges. Students often want to know how and when Brenda came out, and what her parents thought. She responds with patience and honesty, and values the chance to turn her own life experience into a teachable moment.

 

 

Bruce_067sAdvocacy has also defined 68-year-old BRUCE WILLIAMS’ second chapter. His life changed dramatically in 2006 when he was fired from his longtime role as the executive director of a retirement community in Texas. Looking back, Bruce believes he was terminated because of his sexuality. It was a terrible blow, but he still remembers the work fondly. “I had the luxury of watching people go through the last third of their lives,” he recalls. “I saw commonalities and individualities, and the choices they made. Some were good, some were bad, some were frighteningly ugly.”

When Bruce relocated with his partner to South Florida in 2013, he began volunteering at the Pride Center at Equality Park. Given his background, he gravitated toward the issue of long-term care and reached out to local providers to find out which ones were LGBT friendly. After a rocky start and a lot of rejection, he hosted a small LGBT community health fair. Fast forward to 2015, and Bruce is now preparing for his sixth event as the Pride Center’s Senior Services Coordinator. He remarks that the Pride Center “wanted me to come to work as a gay man—that was the first time in 65 years that had happened!” He’s thrilled to be making an impact with his work, and has plans to do more. “No one’s written a guidebook for getting old—I think I’ll do that!”

DorrellClarkRetirement has put the spotlight on DORRELL CLARK’S creative side—literally! This 63-year old lesbian retired from a job as a subway train operator in 2011 and began volunteering at the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance. “I am not an artist,” Dorrell says, “I’m a technical person. So to be in the same space as these creative souls was awesome!” She dove into new artistic pursuits, first taking the stage in a gender- bending role as a young gay man struggling to make peace with a homophobic brother. Later, some of her life stories were transformed into a dance performance by local artist Jessica Danser. What’s it like for Dorrell to fulfill a lifelong dream of creativity? “There are no words,” she says. “Seeing my work onstage, I had tears in my eyes.”

Connect with SAGE on social media with #OAM16 and follow the SAGE blog this and every month for inspiring stories of our LGBT elders. 

March 25, 2016

Kim Watson: A Fearless Advocate for the Trans Community

By Vera Lukacs

Award-winning trans advocate Kim Watson’s inspirational work paves way for the LGBTQ community.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, SAGE would like to bring attention to a particularly inspiring woman. Kim Watson is the co-founder of Community Kinship Life (CKLife), an organization that provides services, resources and support to transgender people. Kim is a mentor and mother figure to young trans people, bringing  them together to live and learn in a safe and stimulating space. Kim also works with Black Transmen Inc., and is currently writing Healing Our Women for POC Trans Women.

Kim watsonKim, herself a woman of transgender experience, advocates for many other transgender people. When asked about the importance of allies in the transgender community, she says, “Allies are folks who are committed to support their SOFFA (significant other family friends and allies) without any deception. The LGBTQ community still has hiccups while trying to support the trans* community, but with dedication they will get better, I believe, in time.”

In a recent GLAAD blog post for #LGBTQFamilies Day, Kim Watson shares on being a mother, wife and mentor of trans experience: “I am also the mother figure/mentor of chosen kids. I have nine boys and one girl who are my chosen children. Now, being a mother figure to these kids has stabilized my patience, my commitment, my passion and energy to keep loving all of them unconditionally. I cannot always see them, but every day I speak to most of them, or they text me.”

Kim is the recipient of many awards, including the Christine Jorgenson Award, the Black Trans Ally Award, and the Certificate of Merit from Senator Jose Serrano (NY).

Kim says, as an aging advocate, it’s important to “stay stress free and practice self care”. Kim, we thank you for your hard work and advocacy for the trans community!

March 17, 2016

Faith, Hope and Justice: A Conversation With Bishop Tonyia Rawls

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post blog on March 16, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Susan Herr

Held in partnership with the Freedom Center for Social Justice, a day-long SAGE storytelling training in North Carolina recently convened LGBTQ activists, aging service providers, movement builders and faith leaders. SAGE’s Susan Herr sat down with Bishop Tonyia Rawls to talk about the social justice mission of the Freedom Center, founding a church, and becoming an elder in a community of faith.

2016-03-15-1458082691-5718444-TanyiaRawlsSH: The Freedom Center has partnered with SAGE for three years as part of the SAGE Story project. Let’s start by talking about the work of the Freedom Center.

BR: The Freedom Center for Social Justice works at the intersection of race, faith, gender identity/expression and social justice. We are committed to the growth, safety and empowerment of the LGBTQ community. Our mission is accomplished through education, programs, partnerships and advocacy. We have three major programs.

The first is the Do No Harm campaign which asks clergy, public officials and small business owners to sign the Do No Harm Pledge promising that they won’t use religion or religious text to create un- safe spaces or violate the law.

Second is the Transgender Faith and Action Network, which is a social network for trans people of faith and allies. It is currently in the testing stage and will have its national launch in spring 2016. The network will provide resources, research, opportunities for connection and tools to build stronger trans-affirming spaces on the ground. We also host an annual transgender retreat that offers an opportunity for refreshing, learning and strategizing.

Finally, we work with key partners like SAGE, NAACP, Southerners on New Ground, Campus Pride and others who share our vision of a world where equal protections and opportunities exist for all.

SH: I was lucky enough to meet you and to learn more about the Freedom Center at this year’s Storytelling Summit in Charlotte. Tell me about the SAGEStory partnership between Freedom Center and SAGE.

BR: We have captured the stories of more than 30 LGBTQ seniors through these summits, many of which we included in a mini documentary produced by the Freedom Center organizer AJ Williams called “Quiet As It’s Kept.” The majority of participants are people of color. However, the group is diverse. The 2014 and 2015 cohorts went through a 6-week training period and learned the skills needed to not just tell their stories, but to turn those stories into positive change and power.

SH: The keynote speaker for this year’s event was the Reverend Nelson Johnson, Pastor of the Faith Community Church. He described his decades-long journey from homophobia to the leadership role he now uses to counter oppression of LGBT people in some Christian denominations. As a recovering fundamentalist myself, I was moved to tears by his story. Why did you invite him to be the keynote speaker?

BR: One of the things we are committed to is not working in silos. While we are unapologetic about our work with and for LGBTQ people, our general concerns are bigger than that. He may be a Black preacher who once held fundamentalist anti-gay views, but he is also an elder who lives in the South. We have far more in common than not. The only way we can cross those bridges to one another is to be willing to let ours down. Reverend Johnson is committed to justice, period. He is a long-time civil rights activist and has been willing to do the often hard work of self-reflection. I honor that part of him, which is why we invited him to share his journey.

SH: You and your wife Gwen moved to Charlotte from D.C. in 2014 to establish Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s first flock there. The denomination, founded in 1982, was born from a need to minister primarily to LGBT Black people during the height of the AIDS crisis. How is the genesis of Unity Fellowship alive in your church today?

BR: Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte was the first church in the denomination to be established in the Bible Belt. The Founder, Archbishop Carl Bean, established a phrase that “God is Love and Love is For Everyone.” In 2014, I founded Sacred Souls Community Church, which is now entering the United Church of Christ. We have been able to expand our reach to all of the members of our community in a way that looks beyond race, class, land of native birth and any other measure that keeps people marginalized and oppressed.

SH: Do elders play as powerful a role in your church as they do in other faith communities?

BR: Elders are those 45 and older who play a vital role in every aspect of our ministry. In addition to their experience and spiritual depth, they have skills that can come only with time. I have grown to depend on them as a pastor and they are some of our strongest advocates for spiritual and social justice for all.

SH: Do you consider yourself an elder?

BR: My mom died at 58 years old and my grandmother at 56. They were both amazing women who impacted not only my life but the life of so many others who looked to them for wisdom, guidance and support. At 57, I find myself functioning in a similar role. I celebrate my life and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to share my experiences, resources and support to those coming along. I view this role as an elder as one of the highest honors one can hold. I believe the world needs us.

SH: SAGE works to ensure that LGBT older people are represented in a wide array of anti-discrimination efforts across the country. North Carolina, where SAGE has two affiliates in addition to our partnership with the Freedom Center, is one of the states where we have focused our efforts. Do you feel hopeful about North Carolina’s ability to advance policies that protect LGBT people of all ages?

BR: North Carolina is going to surprise many people because we have been working together across lines of difference to stand strong against those forces that seek to distract citizens from the real issues that harm them. We also are holding together to reject the notion that the differences between us far outweigh the needs we have as a state. The Freedom Center is working together with groups as diverse as the Latin American Coalition, Time Out Youth, historically Black colleges and other “unusual suspects” to look at politics, justice, faith and hope through a lens of new possibility. LGBTQ issues are being taken out of the box and now applied to life in general.

Follow Susan Herr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/herrview. Follow #SAGEStoryLGBT on Instagram.

November 9, 2015

Connecting Across Generations

In honor of LGBT Elders Day, SAGE is highlighting Jay Kallio's powerful story of working with young activists and battling cancer. Jay gained nationwide visibility in 2012 when he spoke out about navigating the healthcare system as a transgender man living with breast cancer. Now in the midst of a new battle, Jay talks about how a younger community of activists has connected him to newfound strength and courage. This Q&A was originally featured in SAGEMatters, SAGE's magazine. Read the full issue here.

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Jay Kallio (Photo Credit: Rosa Goldensohn/DNAinfo.com)

Earlier this year, you were diagnosed with a new condition: terminal lung cancer. Many of us would have given up. Where were you at this point?

Most terminal cancer patients go through a process called “purging” where they start giving away their possessions. I found myself doing the same thing through the “Queer Exchange” Facebook group. When folks came to pick up my castaways, I brought them downstairs because I was ashamed of my apartment’s terrible condition. I live in public housing, which entails a lot of delayed repairs and maintenance. I didn’t have money to do repairs myself like I used to. One of the people, Ella Grasch, was concerned and questioned me in detail about the apartment. I described how the bathroom ceiling was going to fall, that lights were out, fixtures had short-circuited, and that the plumbing was backed up—numerous problems.

How did Ella and other young activists you met through Queer Exchange help you get what you needed?

Despite being trained in activism, I was too sick to advocate for my own needs. They got to work and generated networks, resources, and money. Ella knew a wonderful woman named Brianne Huntsman who set up a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. She works in social media marketing, so she had the skills to do it right. They raised money to repair my apartment and also to pay for some healthcare costs not covered by Medicare. People started to send in money, $10,
$50, $100, $500…it was an enormous help.

I couldn’t manage navigating the bureaucracy of my housing authority, either. I was overwhelmed by the bare minimum I needed to do to survive. Several young people became involved: social workers, someone who works in the mayor’s office, and others. They started making phone calls for me, knowing whom to call and how to get things done. My plumbing problems were soon taken care of. Slowly, many things improved.

You said that meeting younger activists from around the country through Queer Exchange and GoFundMe fueled you to generate yet another bout of activist energy. Tell us about the campaign they helped you fight against your insurance company.

My insurance company refused to cover an experimental cancer treatment—immunotherapy—because it cost too much. It was my only hope for remission. A number of younger activists got involved with my own organizing efforts. First, they joined me at this summer’s Pride March. It was amazing to see the older generation of “ACT-UPers” pushing me in a wheelchair, alongside younger LGBT and health care advocates. Taking the money raised, we planned a rally in front of the insurance company. We videotaped it so we could do an online campaign. We used so many different campaign tactics including street theater, online petitions, and a Twitter war against the insurance HMO. We contacted politicians’ offices, which also added pressure.

As we started the rally, one of the executives of the insurance company came to us and said, “Have you talked to your doctor yet this morning?” My doctor had already been e-mailed with an approval for my immunotherapy treatment. They had done a 180 on a life-saving treatment that had previously been denied. It’s because younger activists got involved and gave me a big shot in the arm that I can fight for myself again.

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Simone Kolysh and Jay Kallio march with the National LGBT Cancer Network.

In spite of this battle and other health concerns, your rebel heart still beats strong. How have you helped SAGE and other communities fight for better care and equity?

I have worked with SAGE a lot on LGBT cultural competency and healthcare. I am writing chapters for a guidebook to help healthcare professionals better understand the needs of LGBT cancer patients. I have also presented at a few conferences to advance palliative care funding. I’m getting an awful lot done that will not only help LGBT cancer patients, but also Medicaid recipients and cancer patients across the board.

How can young people join in this fight?

After meeting so many young LGBT activists this year, I’ve said, “If you liked doing this with me, why don’t you consider volunteering with SAGE? We need your help. Beyond pushing us in the wheelchair at the next march, we need you to work with us on advocacy!” The fight goes beyond about being gay. It’s about supporting anyone who may be gay and vulnerable, which includes those who are also young, old, of color, or poor. We need cross-generational community and support for years to come. With our mutual vulnerability, we also share strengths to remedy that vulnerability. Activism works. Get involved.

Article written by Tim Wroten.

November 6, 2015

How Can We Help our LGBT Community Age Successfully?

A difficult question, but one that SAGE is determined to answer with our many resources and programs--including our innovative "Successful Aging" program. A quick check-in with Jerry Chasen, Director of Legacy Planning at SAGE and head of the program, shares the necessity of planning and being aware of our aging future. We asked Jerry a few questions before the TV premiere of “Gen Silent,” a powerful documentary that follows six LGBT elders as they navigate the hardships facing LGBT older adults. The film premieres Monday, November 9, at 9pm ET on Logo. Watch the trailer here and learn more below.

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Jerry Chasen shares Successful Aging lessons with participants in Chicago, IL
Jerry, can you tell us what Successful Aging is about?

 

Many LGBT older people will never participate in SAGE programs, or avail themselves of SAGE services, even as they get to what we affectionately call “SAGE age.” But that’s okay. SAGE has lots to offer every LGBT person as they get older.

There are some fundamental ways that aging will change for everyone in the coming decades. The LGBT community of course will experience the same issues that all older Americans face. But there are also ways that this generation of LGBT older people will face challenges beyond those experienced by older people generally. We’re more likely

to be isolated, less likely to have an intergenerational network of support, and we don’t have confidence that programs and institutions that address aging generally will welcome or serve us.

Successful Aging provides a context for us to discuss these issues proactively and positively. A good deal of the aging experience is determined by choices we make. Through the program’s five themes—Reflection, Momentum, Wellness, Preparation, and Legacy— we focus on those choices. Successful Aging raises both awareness of the issues and the options, and provides support going forward.

What has SAGE hoped to accomplish with Successful Aging?

There are various components of the Successful Aging program—live presentations, emails, website “lessons,” social media sharing. We spent time  last year tweaking the various aspects, including doing a “test run” for key SAGE supporters and other audiences. We’ve now got a good tool box of materials to engage our audience.

We recognize that talking about aging in some respects makes people think about their own mortality, so starting that discussion is itself often a challenge.

Nonetheless, quoting Ben Franklin “failing to plan is planning to fail,” and it’s as true of aging as anything else.

What’s on the horizon for Successful Aging?

We’ll continue to build on what we’ve been doing. People are very receptive and interested in our program— interested enough to have asked for more. We’ve organized various presentations, and have also presented our program at the invitation of corporate ERGs, other non-profits, and private advisors.  For example a financial planner who attended a presentation arranged for us to present before a group of her clients.  This is a great way to support SAGE and the Successful Aging initiative.

What our participants have to say is critical. At the end of the day, aging is an individual experience. We invite feedback and input from attendees, and so we’re able to learn from one another. If people let us know what they’re interested in, we support them by sending information to them on that subject.

In January, we’re going to launch a series of Activities, one per month, which will encourage and facilitate deeper exploration of various things that will support aging. That will be combined with some online discussion and sharing, beginning to develop some of the connections and community that will really help make this program effective.

Your position at SAGE is “Director of Legacy Planning.” How does Successful Aging connect with that?

I’m a 64 year old man. I look at where we as a community have journeyed and I’m immensely proud. To have come from Stonewall, through the horror of the AIDS epidemic, to marriage equality has been quite a trip—and leaves quite a legacy.

But none of us are done. I look ahead at what I call the “next chapter” for me personally, for my community, and for SAGE’s work. The way we navigate these years will be the capstone on that legacy, and I’m doing what I can to help SAGE make that happen.

Learn more about Successful Aging and be sure to check out "GenSilent" on Monday night for an in-depth look at the lives of a few of our LGBT elders.

September 1, 2015

Retirement Readiness: Unique Considerations for the LGBT Community

Tom Anderson Headshot
Tom Anderson, Author & Wealth Management Advisor

“I don’t know, I’ll probably live to be about 70 or so.”

This is the kind of answer I hear more often than not when I talk to members of the LGBT community about how long they expect to live. I have been in wealth management for nearly two decades and life expectancy is just one of the issues that presents unique and complex retirement considerations for the LGBT community. It’s why I specifically addressed the topic in my new book, The Value of Debt in Retirement.

At the centerpiece of the book is my belief in the importance of factoring people’s debts just as much as their assets when assessing their financial situation. And in many cases, the proper management of the right amount and right kind of debt can potentially increase your wealth, lower your taxes, and reduce your risk in retirement. These are strategies that can often be more complicated for the LGBT community.

With that in mind, I had the pleasure of speaking to members of the LGBT community in an event sponsored by SAGE and the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Coral Gables in May. I heard a number of stories from the audience about the complicated financial situations they face largely because they are part of the gay and lesbian community.

It’s why one of the first things I stressed in my remarks is to expect to live longer than you think. More and more people are living into their 90s and even 100s and with advances in medicine, those numbers will only continue to climb in the coming years. As you plan for retirement, this is a critical consideration to ensure you don’t run out of money!

Long-term care can also be complicated. Strained family relationships and discrimination can greatly impact the support you need when you are receiving medical care. Those family relationships can contribute to family structures that are often very different from heterosexual individuals and couples. Identifying these structures and determining beneficiaries of things like your IRA, 401 (k), and life insurance are essential.

These are complexities that in some ways are or will be made easier in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last month, guaranteeing a right to same-sex marriage. But this also raises a host of new questions. What does this mean for Social Security? What are the potential tax implications? I spoke to a lesbian couple at the event in Coral Gables who had the opportunity to get married in Florida prior to the Supreme Court ruling, but have elected not to because of the tax consequences. The moral of the story is you should talk to a financial advisor to get a better understanding of all these complex issues.

I look forward to discussing these topics and other retirement considerations for the LGBT community in more detail – and the new developments in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling – at another SAGE Successful Aging event on October 1st in New York City. I know there are a lot of questions out there, not all of which I can answer, but the first step toward a successful retirement is gaining an understanding of what questions you should be asking in the first place.

--Posted by Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author and nationally acclaimed wealth management advisor. A dynamic public speaker, Tom has trained more than 10,000 financial advisors nationwide, providing a holistic perspective that focuses on both sides of the balance sheet. His latest book "The Value of Debt" is available now.

June 8, 2015

How Do We Take Care of Our Own?

As SAGE’s Director of Legacy Planning, I shape our efforts around planned giving. Generally speaking, these are contributions made as part of a larger individual strategy like drawing up a will, selling a business, or reducing taxes (ergo, a “planned gift”). While SAGE has been part of people’s legacies for more than 30 years, we’ve only just begun to fully educate our supporters about this type of planning.

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As a longtime estate planning attorney with a focus on the LGBT community , I’ve had lots of exposure to planned giving . But acting as a professional advisor on the outskirts of the development effort is not the same thing as being in the trenches. To help get me up to speed when I took this job, I sought out some information and resources.

One approach comes from a professor from Texas Tech University. Dr. Russell James has a unique background, having both a doctorate in neuro-anatomy and experience as a planned giving professional. He put the two together in studies of planned giving decisions and the areas of the brain activated by different conversations, looking to identify those which were the most promising. Simply put, James considers how our brains work in relation to philanthropic giving.

His book Inside the Mind of the Bequest Donor, suggests that planned gifts are inspired by a desire to make a meaningful impact—something that will “live beyond an individual’s death.” This in turn “requires a community. And it is the values of this community that provide the underlying framework that defines meaningfulness.”

This was music to my still untrained ears. If there’s anything we’ve got, it’s community. And we know that our community values its members, that we take care of our own. That was proven over and over again in our journey from Stonewall through AIDS to marriage equality.

And it was proven again just last week. We were notified of a gift made in memory of a SAGE program participant, with thanks “for all you did to make my brother’s life more enjoyable.” Another wrote of partner, “I know that Frank would have been grateful for the tremendous support I’ve gotten from SAGE since he passed away. So it makes sense that when we’re both gone, we can say thanks to SAGE with this gift.”

Legacy, as we regularly point out in our Successful Aging initiative, is no more than “how we live and what we give.” By their lives they’ve lived, our SAGE age clients and many of our supporters helped create the legacy of a strong community. With their gifts to SAGE, they’re also making a difference in the lives of their fellow travelers.

--Posted by Jerry Chasen, Director of Legacy Planning, SAGE

May 19, 2015

Keys to Successful Aging

Keyboard-621830_640Like many New Yorkers in my generation, I’ve “grown up” reading Jane Brody’s Personal Health column in The New York Times.  So it’s no surprise to me that some of the most useful information I may come across about navigating the sometimes confusing paths of aging successfully comes from her suggestions.

For example, her recent column “As We Age, Keys to Remembering Where the Keys Are” provides some important guidelines on distinguishing common age-related cognitive decline and pathological symptoms of cognitive impairment.  Quoting AARP, she notes that “forgetting where you parked your car can happen to everyone occasionally, but forgetting what your car looks like may be cause for concern.”

She cites recommendations from the Institute of Medicine that increase chances of staying cognitively sound:

First, be physically responsible.  Any question about the consequences of physical deterioration on mental function has long been resolved—it does!  Physical responsibility includes, of course, being physically active.  No surprise there—we’ve been advocating regular exercise as a key part of any prescription for aging successfully.  It also makes getting the regular seven hours of sleep easier, which is also important.  And so is monitoring and moderating intake—moderate alcohol, low amounts of fat, sugar and cholesterol, etc.  All of this will help prevent and control cardiovascular risk factors—i.e., those risks that can precipitate dramatic cognitive decline through strokes and such.

But it’s equally important to treat the mind well.  If, due to depression, the mind isn’t treating you well, address it, get treated.  Continue to learn—reading, taking courses, learning new tasks that are rewarding and meaningful.  There’s lots of truth to “use it or lose it “ on the mental front as well as on the physical.  In another column, “For an Aging Brain, Looking for Ways to Keep Memory Sharp,” Ms. Brody touts the beneficial effect of certain training programs and computer games on improving cognitive skills in older people.  To be clear, she also cautions that many other pills, potions, and programs haven’t demonstrated any real benefit—all are not created equal—and provides suggestions for how to discern between the two:

“The Institute of Medicine has cautioned consumers to beware of phony or poorly tested products that claim to ‘prevent, slow or reverse the effects of cognitive aging.’ Consumers should ask: Was the product shown to improve ‘performance on real-world tasks?’ Are the claims supported by ‘high-quality research’ that has been ‘independently verified’?’ And, most important, how do the supposed benefits compare with those from actions like physical activity and social and intellectual engagement?”

As that quote’s last sentence suggests, staying engaged in social interactions—the “rewarding relationships and activities” we cite in our definition of Successful Aging—in and of themselves are valuable means to keep cognitive decline at bay. 

May 5, 2015

Retirement Shouldn’t Be a Disappearing Act

SAC-FB-memes-LegacyOne of this month’s Successful Aging lessons is “Stay Involved.” It makes sense that it’s offered as part of our theme of “Legacy”—as the lesson says, “Reaching a certain age or retiring from work is no reason to stop advocating for causes that are important to us. In fact, the extra time plus the benefit of years of experience can make us that much more powerful in effecting change.”  Remembering that everyone leaves a legacy, which is no more (or less) than “how we live plus what we give,” the involvement provides one opportunity to be intentional about the content of that legacy consists.

So what does it mean to “stay involved” anyway? The answers to that question are myriad—it could mean a game of scrabble or basketball, volunteering for a favorite cause, part-time work, writing a memoir, providing childcare or visiting friends in need…the list goes on and on.

The great news is, staying involved in our communities doesn’t just contribute to the legacies we leave after we’re gone. It also provides very real and immediate benefits.  A critical LGBT aging challenge is isolation; another is contending with a shrinking network of support—as we age, we often see attrition making our support networks smaller and more fragile just when we need them most.  Staying involved reduces the likelihood of painful isolation and increases the chances of maintaining or even growing a viable support network.

In fact, continued connections to our friends, families and neighbors providereal benefits of their own, in terms of health and well being.  A growing body of research suggests that older adults who are engaged in social and community activities maintain mental and physical health longer than other older adults.  According to researchers, older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel healthier and happier.  Researchers think that over the long term the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency, and dementia.

In fact, staying involved is so key to Successful Aging, that it’s actually part of how we define the term! Indirectly, staying involved helps to “maintain or improve physical and mental function“—a key part of aging successfully. And aging successfully also includes regularly “engaging in rewarding relationships and activities.” And that, after all, is what staying connected to one’s community is about!