All posts by SistuhMoon

I am a creatively-focused business executive with keen interests in cultural evolution, human dynamics, technology, wellness and quality of life. As an inquisitive baby-boomer, I am intrigued by sea-changes in the paradigm of aging. “Growing old is a beautiful thing”.

Dear Mom: Your Gifts Live Through Me

Untitled 3

With me always.  Happy Mother’s Day, with love. 

Mother, sing me a song
That will ease my pain,
Mend broken bones,
Bring wholeness again.
Catch my babies
When they are born,
Sing my death song,
Teach me how to mourn.

Show me the Medicine
Of the healing herbs,
The value of spirit,
The way I can serve.

Mother, heal my heart
So that I can see
The gifts of yours
That can live through me.

~Native American Healing Prayer, Anonymous

What gifts from your mother live through you?

Ageless Beauty: Old Is Brand New

AgingOrganic Video Essay:

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I’ve pondered the beauty and grace of people growing old.  It occurs to me that in the process of aging, older people often begin to radiate in mystical and magical ways. The character, attitudes and charm of older generations illuminate an artistry that is as seductive as it is entrancing.  Simply stated, old people rock.

How would you describe these ageless beauties?  I see the intrigue and magnetism glowing from their faces and from their body language as well.

I begin to think of all the celebrated adjectives that come to mind when I look at people growing old:  radiant, spirited, sexy, confident, sassy, stylish, wise, electric, colorful, chic, vibrant, coordinated, feisty, bold, seasoned and oh so cool.  The list goes on.  No need to wax poetic.  Ageless beauty is a standalone marvel.

Bo Gilbert Vogue's First 100 Year-Old Model

Case in point.  Meet Bo Gilbert, 100 year-old model from Vogue’s May 2016 Centenary Edition.  Vogue wants to challenge ageism in the fashion industry and prove that, ‘the older generation can be fearlessly stylish.’  We couldn’t agree more.

Vogue selected Gilbert because of her grace, poise and flair for fashion.  “I just suit myself.  I certainly don’t dress up for boys.”  Gilbert wears heels and make-up everyday whether she’s going out or not.  When asked about her style, she said: ‘I do things that I think a lot of people wouldn’t do at my age. I always like to keep myself looking quite decent, even if I wasn’t going out. I try to keep the standards up’.  Bravo!

With so many people growing old, where has society gone astray? When did we start to believe that beauty and allure become elusive as people age?  What explains our cultural obsession with youthfulness? Why are we so enamored with weapons of anti-aging? How can we learn to embrace ourselves and the glory of old age? 

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

 

 

The Holy Grail of Aging: How Long Are Your Telomeres?

Elizabeth Parrish CEO

This is 45-year old Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva.  In September 2015, she  received two experimental gene therapy treatments developed by her company.  One treatment was intended to protect against loss of muscle mass with age.  The other was developed to battle stem cell depletion responsible for a broad range of age-related diseases and infirmities.

Before taking the experimental treatments, DNA testing revealed that Parrish’s telomeres were unusually short which would make her more susceptible to age-related diseases.  In March 2016, about six months after the experimental treatments, an independent laboratory reported that Parrish’s telomeres had lengthened from about 6.71kb to 7.33kb, presumably adding 20 biological years to her life.

So, how long are your telomeres?

As described in this two-minute biological science lesson, we learn that telomeres are short segments of DNA which cap the ends of every chromosome that protect our cells against wear and tear. Telomeres shorten with every cell division, eventually getting too short to protect the chromosome, causing the cells to stop replicating (called “cell senescence”), the body to age and ultimately leading to death.

There is no question, environment and lifestyle are critical factors in the longevity equation.  In recent years, however, scientific research has conclusively established  that genetic composition, as measured by telomere length, is directly linked to the human biological clock.

In other words, telomere length correlates to genetic life span and  is considered a primary cause of aging.  Telomere attrition can trigger age-related disease such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, stroke and osteoporosis.  In addition to unlocking major breakthroughs in longevity, the study of  telomeres may potentially revolutionize global knowledge and practices related to healthy aging.

There is yet another reason telomeres are worthy of top-priority scientific research as well as our prime-time attention. Cancer is a condition where certain cells in your body are not able to die and continue to reproduce.

As cells stop dying and continue to reproduce, biological balance is disrupted because too many of one kind of cell are produced.  Groups of these out-of-control growing cells form tumors that are cancerous. Researchers have determined that cancer cells create the enzyme telomerase, which actually prevents telomere shortening.

So there it is, telomeres may be the holy grail to both longevity and prevention of a broad spectrum of age-related diseases.  In addition, telomerase could be at the core of discovering future cures for cancer.  Suffice to say, telomeres and telomerase are a very big deal.

But here’s the thing, outside of experimental therapies like those being developed by BioViva and others, I wonder if there are any practical ways for people to lengthen their telomeres while we await long-anticipated scientific breakthroughs?

Well the answer is both surprising and encouraging. Yes! There are tangible ways for people to lengthen their telomeres.  A study published in the September 2014 journal, The Lancelot Oncology, conclusively determined that comprehensive lifestyle changes significantly lengthened telomeres.

Over five years, researchers followed 35 men with localized early-stage prostate cancer to explore the relationship between comprehensive lifestyle changes and telomere length and telomerase activity.  All of the participants were closely monitored through screening and biopsies.

The study published in 2014 was a follow-up to a similar three-month pilot investigation conducted in 2008, where the same participants followed the same prescribed lifestyle programs.  After three months, men in the first study who embarked on comprehensive lifestyle changes exhibited much increased telomerase activity.

As you may recall, the enzyme telomerase is generated by cancer cells and prevents shortening of telomeres, which in turn causes uncontrollable growth of cells and proliferates cancer.  On the flip side, telomerase is an enzyme that actually repairs and lengthens telomeres.

Now I’m confused. Seems like this enzyme telomerase is a good actor in repairing and lengthening healthy telomeres, but a bad actor when generated by cancer cells that prevent shortening of telomeres. Might this be the common denominator between longevity and cancer?

Back to the research.  The study was conducted by scientists at UC San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit public research institute in Sausalito, California that investigates the effect of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease.   The study examined whether lifestyle changes would affect telomere length and telomerase activity in these men over a longer time period (i.e. five years vs. three months).

Ten of the participants pursued comprehensive lifestyle changes that included:  a plant-based diet (high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates); moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week); stress reduction (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation). They also participated in weekly group support.

These 10 participants that embarked on comprehensive lifestyle changes over five years were compared to the control group of 25 study participants who were not asked to make major lifestyle changes.  The group that made the lifestyle changes experienced a “significant” increase in telomere length of about 10 percent.

Of particular interest, scientists conclusively determined that the more people changed their behavior by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic their improvements in telomere length.  By contrast, the men in the control group who did not alter their lifestyles had measurably shorter telomeres – nearly 3 percent shorter – when the five-year study ended. Telomere length usually decreases over time.

Researchers believe that the findings from this 2014 study may not be limited to men with prostate cancer but are likely relevant to the general population because telomeres were measured in the participant’s blood, not their prostate tissue.

Scientists concluded that while this groundbreaking research requires confirmation by larger studies, they believe that increases in telomere length may help prevent chronic aging diseases and possibly lengthen lifespan.

So, here is the recap of lifestyle changes made by the UCSF study participants who successfully lengthened their telomeres and presumably added healthy years to their biological clock.

 Count me in on lifestyle changes. Bottom line, length matters.

UCSF Life Style Changes_graphic_

“Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.  Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate. These findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live.”                                                                 

~ Dean Ornish, M.D., Senior Study Researcher

 

The Pendulum Swings: Plan On Growing Old

 

Changing roles parent child

Do you recall as a child being taken care of by your parents? This poignant video is sure to bring back memories.  And if it doesn’t bring a tear, please check your pulse.

Hardly a day will pass when I don’t think of my late mother and father. I remember in great detail how meticulously my parents cared for me.  They nurtured me with unconditional love. Wherever I was, whatever challenges I faced, my parents were always there for me. My mom and dad were my rock. I could not imagine life any other way.

Yet over time loved ones grow old and relationships in the family inevitably change. Anyone who’s been there knows just how difficult it is to watch loved ones age.  It is a turbulent jolt to the senses that you would rather deny.  But the day will come when you must face the truth. You parents are growing old and life is very different.

Today, baby boomers face our own startling reality.  As the pendulum swings we will soon be on the other side.  It’s just a matter of time. The need to offer elder care to millions of people on the cusp of aging presents a daunting global challenge. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the concept of caregiving and our evolving family structures. Who will be there to care for you when you grow old?

The role of caregiving for a family member is traditionally viewed as dreadful, stressful and downright overwhelming.  It is true that caring for an aging parent surely has its share of challenges, frustrations and aggravations. On the other side, however, caregiving can provide a positive and deeply rewarding experience.

By finding meaning and rewards in the caregiving experience, caregivers and recipients alike can partner to proactively plan ways that may better balance the needs of both parties in the relationship.   A research study published in the February 2015 journal Gerontologist entitled, “Informal Caregiving and Its Impact on Health: A Reappraisal From Population-Based Studies, cites five studies that linked caregiving to greater longevity.

Caregiving relationships particularly within one’s own family can offer fulfilling and meaningful rewards to the caregiver ranging from emotional, social and psychological to physical.  Caregivers are often motivated by a purposefulness that comes from nurturing another human being which in turn may lead to more positive attitudes about oneself and one’s life.

Several of the studies found that over 90% of caregivers attributed a greater appreciation for life because of their caregiving experience. These caregivers said they felt needed, appreciated and important. They also reported that caregiving had helped them strengthen relationships with others, develop a more positive attitude towards life and learn a new skill.

Truth be told, caregiving is a stressful and demanding role even under the best of circumstances.  In the 2003 study entitled “Is Caregiving Hazardous to One’s Physical Health: A Meta-Analysis”researchers concluded that distress experienced by the caretaker is proportionate to the psychological and social resources available to them.  This finding suggests the need for innovation in designing future support systems available to caregivers that may help ease  onerous burdens.

Psychological resources are defined as any internal resource that an individual relies upon in stressful situations, such as problem-solving skills, spirituality, and ability to see positive outcomes.  Social resources include support from family and friends, caregiver support groups and community support groups.

Considering our own humbling experiences in caring for our aging parents, along with our basic understanding of what lies ahead, now is the time for baby boomers to take thoughtful and decisive steps to plan for growing old. Following are five ideas to begin family discussions about the inevitable life transitions ahead:

1.  Carve out time for quiet and private family discussions anticipating the future. Find ways to begin meaningful dialogue with your children on the subject. For example:

  • “I was thinking about how life changed when your grandfather could no longer get around on his own.  Should I ever reach a similar time in my life, here is what I hope for …”
  •  “Your dad and I are planning to downsize and shift gears. Here’s what we see for ourselves in the coming years…”
  • “You are designated as the executor of our estate.  Here’s what we would like for you to know… (i.e. about our living situation, legal matters, finances, end-of-life care, etc.)”

2.  Broach the subject of changing roles between you and your child  in a sensitive and caring way that will encourage open two-way dialogue, avoid expressions of judgment and mitigate their anticipated discomfort. For example:

  • “Even though I’m growing older, I will always be your mom and you will always be my child. It is my wish that no matter what lies ahead, we will always love each other deeply and have mutual respect. How do you feel?
  • How do you think aging might impact our relationship in the future?  What things can we do now to help make it a mutually positive experience?”
  • As your dad and I age, we don’t ever want you to burden you. Ideally, here’s how we see our future unfolding. How does this sound to you?” How does it make you feel?
  • I used to feel terribly awkward when my dad spoke to me about his anticipation of growing old and planning for his death. How do you feel when your dad and I want to discuss these matters with you?”

3. Be aware of how old baggage and unresolved conflict can negatively impact parent and child dynamics in your discussions about growing old. It is critical to avoid incendiary or authoritative comments that may shut constructive dialogue and flame hard feelings, such as:

  • “After all that we’ve done for you…”
  • Don’t patronize me just because I’m getting old…”
  • That is just none of your business…”
  • “Well I’ll be damned if…”

4. Engage your family in planning discussions about your aging experience and your plans to transition life over time. Encourage your children’s advice and ideas while you seek to understand their feelings:

  • We’re thinking about relocating and moving into a smaller place, what are your thoughts?
  • What are your biggest worries about having a very old mom and dad?
  • How can we help one another in the years ahead as your dad and I grow old?
  • How are some of your friends coping with their aging parents? What are some of their experiences? What’s working for them? What’s not?

5.  Establish “rules of engagement” for future discussions between you and your child about sensitive topics related to getting old, the aging process, death and dying:

  • “I was always so uneasy when grandpa would tell me about his wishes for handling end-of-life affairs. How do you feel when I want to discuss these things with you?”
  • “Listen, this growing old stuff is just a natural part of living. How can we look past the doom and gloom when we’re talking about it?”
  • “Here’s what I would like to cover with our discussions on growing old transitions in life…What would you find helpful to talk about?”
  • “How would you feel about having periodic discussions moving forward to share thoughts with each other about our future? How often does it make sense to revisit these matters?

Truth is, if we live long enough certain realities are inevitable. We will age.  Our family relationships will change. The pendulum will swing. Soon we’ll be the other side. Get over your denial. Plan on growing old!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pass the Baton: Just Like All The Others

 

Alice-barker

How might you feel watching a flashback of your life when you’re close the finish line? 

At age 102 Alice Parker an accomplished chorus line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s and 40s viewed film of herself that she had never seen before.

This poignant video with over 11 millions views offers a profound  reflection of her fleeting life. On April 6, 2016, Ms. Parker quietly passed away. She was in good spirits and at peace.

A recent research study entitled, “Death and the Oldest Old: Attitudes and Preferences for End-of-Life Care” published in the April 2016 journal Plaus One. Data on 54  participants aged 95-101 studied views on end-of-life care and attitudes of the ‘oldest old’ towards dying.

Of 54 study participants alive when the survey began, 6 died before they could be interviewed. Of the 48 remaining, 44 took part in the survey.  Considering trends in longevity and significant increases in global aging populations, the research is timely and relevant.

Results of the study are insightful albeit not surprising. Simply stated, participants view death as part of life.  Researchers determined that many of the old people wanted to discuss death and end-of-life care but seldom did.  Very old people mainly live day-to-day and most were ready to die. Many had concerns about quality of life, being a nuisance, having nothing to live for and having lived long enough.

Researchers noted with interest that study participants welcomed interviews as an opportunity to have dialogue and express their thoughts about death. They also found that questions about certain topics were helpful in initiating a dialogue about dying.

It was also noted that family members and caregiver professionals alike admitted to being hesitant to broach the subject of death, which at times left the older person with unaddressed concerns, or a need for more information.  Many of the verbatim quotes from study participants were as touching as telling:

  • “I’m ready to go. I just say I’m the lady in waiting…waiting to go.”
  • ‘Please don’t let me live ‘til I’m a hundred.
  • Interviewer: “But if you think of your life as a journey, how do you feel about being at the particular spot where you are now in the journey?”   Participant: Oh dear, that’s difficult. Well, I would say just over three-quarters of the way through.”     
  • Interviewer: “Would you say that you enjoy your life?”  Participant: “I’m past it.”
  • Interviewer: How are you today? Participant: [laughs] Lousy as usual…I wish I wasn’t here.

Most of the very old people in the study were not at all worried about death itself but rather more concerned with the dying process and the impact their deaths might have on those left. Their common wish was for a pain-free and peaceful death. There was little or no future planning by the participants.  Uncertainty often hampered end-of-life planning even when death was near.

There are several important takeaways for me from this study.  First, people who live to be very old are emboldened, perhaps even nonchalant, in accepting inescapable realities of death. These folks are grateful for their lives yet are quite willingly to acknowledge that the end is near.  Notwithstanding clear and progressive thinking of the oldest old, many stigmas about death and dying continue to exist. These traditional attitudes impede thoughtful and constructive dialogue necessary to achieve healthy outcomes for the living and dying.

Generally speaking, our society seems to shun discussions of dying.  The subject is awkwardly spoken about if at all. In some ways, the discomfort people have discussing death reminds me of how some parents handle the subject of sex when their kids reach puberty.  I wonder why two natural human events make for such stilted and stiff conversation? Why are there so many taboos?  Since the natural order of death comes as no surprise, particularly among the ‘oldest old’, why are so many people uncomfortable talking about death?

“Fidel Castro says he’s going to die!”

Fidel Castro sits as he clasps hands with his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro CREDIT: CUBADEBATE/AP
Fidel Castro sits as he clasps hands with his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro CREDIT: CUBADEBATE/AP

Did you see these shocking new headlines blasted around the world that revealed the stunning news of Castro’s death announcement?  During what was likely to be his last speech to Cuba’s Congress, the former president announced that he would soon die but the ideals of the Cuban revolution would live on.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” he said. “Soon I’ll be like all the others.”            Indeed, a simple statement of obvious fact. The 89 year-old  has been ill since the early 2000’s when his brother Raul took office. Castro’s matter-of-fact message was that the time was coming for a younger generation to take over.  No reason for shock and awe.  We simply watched an old man on death’s doorstep pass the baton.

Perhaps its time to reexamine outdated  paradigms, attitudes and cultural practices that shun discussions on death and dying. One truth is undeniable.  Death is part of life. We will each pass the baton one day.  Just like all the others.

DEATH is the end of all life in the individual or the thing; if physical, the crumbling of the body into dust from whence it came. He who lives not uprightly, dies completely in the crumbling of the physical body, but he who lives well, transforms himself from that which is mortal, to immortal ~Marcus Garvey

I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.             ~Sojourner Truth

 

 

 

The Fun Factor: 12 Ways To Grow Younger As You Age

oldmengrooving_groupshot

Old Men Grooving – Britain’s Got Talent 2015 Semi-Finalists      (From left) Fred Folkes, Bret Jones, David Welch, Patrick Alan &                      Phil Stanley                                                                                                        

This video from the 2015 audition of the group “Old Men Grooving” (OMG) on Britain’s Got Talent is a hilarious viral Internet sensation with over 26 million views. OMG  has clearly become a cultural phenomenon.  We see this seemingly ordinary group of buttoned-up, cardigan-wearing gentlemen totally shatter traditional paradigms of aging in a very funny and inspiring way.

Rather than deliver the stodgy, dull and embarrassing performance obviously expected from the judges and audience, OMG breaks out with super slick and syncopated dance routines that show impressive agility and in-the-pocket coordination.  These gentlemen are clearly on a focused mission to enjoy themselves and to have fun.  Several comments by OMG members provide thoughtful insights about the group’s subliminal motivation:

  • David Welch, OMG choreographer stated,  “When you get to a certain age, you shouldn’t just be put in a corner and left to rot. You should be enjoying life and if you want to get up and feel the groove, then you should do that.” 
  • 60-year-old Phil Stanley recognized OMG for renewing his lease on life, “It’s more than just remembering the old days and the kind of people we were, it’s about remembering that we’re still that kind of person, despite age.”
  • Bret Jones stated, “The young men now are one day going to be old men. We want them as young men to have the mentality that they never have to stop. They should keep moving and keep developing.”
  • Fred Folkes, owner of a street dancing school stated,  “In a way, it is like reliving our youth. It’s bringing back something we did when we were very young just for fun. It’s bringing back the best times of our lives.”

The March 2016 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published a study entitled, Longitudinal Relationships between Caloric Expenditure and Gray Matter in the Cardiovascular Health Study” which evaluated 876 participants aged 65 and older.  Researchers concluded that increasing energy output from a variety of physical activities correlated to larger gray matter volumes in the brain.

These findings suggest that regardless of type or duration of exercise, caloric expenditure through physical activity may alone moderate neurodegeneration and may increase gray matter in the brain related to cognitive functioning. As life expectancy increases and health improves, the study implies that older people can increasingly engage in physical activities previously associated only with younger people.

Another collaborative study among several research institutions in Berlin evaluated 708 people aged 60 and older concluded that on average, 75-year-olds of today are much fitter, happier and more satisfied with their lives than 75-year-olds of twenty years ago.  The study attributes the gains to sociocultural factors such as education, in addition to increased well-being due to physical fitness and higher levels of independence in old age.

Key takeaways from scientific research are that people growing old today do not at all resemble seniors of earlier generations. Old age is getting younger.  Evidence is compelling.  Physical activity, mental acuity and emotional well-being combined together can greatly impact quality of life as we age.  It seems to me that  there is a holistic approach to meet an ideal lifestyle balance. Have fun. 

So following are twelve proposed ideas to have fun and grow younger as you age:

  1. Get Exercise. Make a habit every day of engaging in physical activity that you wildly enjoy–dance, walk, run, yoga, Pilates, swim, hike, bike, jump rope. Whatever you love, just do it. Keep moving.
  2. Cultivate Relationships with Family & Friends. Nurture those relationships with people who generate positive energy. Maintain social connections and interactions with others. It is vital to our long-term emotional health and intellectual well-being.
  3. Learn Something New. When we conquer a new challenge it provides a profound sense of gratification, reinforces our ability to grow and enhances our mental acuity. Take an online course, learn to play a new instrument, study a language, try a new recipe. Regularly challenge yourself to eliminate those mental cobwebs and experience perpetual thrills.
  4. Drink Red Wine.  Many research studies point to the extensive benefits of drinking red wine, in moderation, of course. Red wine has melatonin which helps regulate our body clock, resveratrol and other antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. From lowering cholesterol to fighting cancer, red wine is not only good for you, it is fun to consume.
  5. Have More Sex. Scientific research is abundantly clear. An active sex life as we age is essential for preserving vitality. On a regular basis, sex can extend longevity and release endorphins that act like natural painkillers.  Besides providing beneficial exercise, it also makes us very happy.
  6. Listen to Music.  Research has proven beyond doubt that music is a profound source of perpetual joy. Don’t wait, compose your favorite playlist and grab your iPod whenever you can.
  7. Get Plenty of Sleep. Benefits of sleep are well documented and expansive as well, from reducing stress and inflammation to improving memory and helping weight loss. Indulge yourself often and get plenty of sleep.
  8. Play Brain Games. Fun with brain games is indisputable.  Their intellectual benefits are abundant and they are insanely additive. Once you start, I promise, you’ll never stop.
  9. Smoke a Joint (only where legal, of course). In a recent New York Times article, Tom Huth stated, “I’m 74 years old, and I have smoked marijuana almost every day since dinosaurs roamed the earth in the early ’70s. When my awareness is heightened, I’m on my game — the best I can be at thinking creatively, making decisions, focusing on my work, seeing the big picture … and caregiving.  It’s the stoned state itself: that lyrical disorientation, that rush of wonder and possibility.” Thanks for the enlightenment, Tom!
  10. Indulge in Nature. Walk in the park. Tend to your garden.  Go to the beach. Bird watch. Catch  a sunrise. Or a sunset. Ponder a full moon. Whatever you do, make a habit of routinely connecting with nature.  You’ll soon be on your way to Nirvana.
  11. Cuddle an Animal. Without question, animals have healing powers. From lowering blood pressure to increasing our social interaction. Find a pet to love or schedule regular visits to your nearest animal shelter.  Your ‘ROJ’ (returns on joy) is guaranteed to be exponential.
  12. Escape with the Arts. Read a book. Watch a movie. Draw. Mix colors. Take photographs. Write poetry. Watch YouTube. See a play.  Let the creative wonder of the arts engulf you and carry you up, up and away.

In your fleeting time on earth make a simple vow each day: Have fun!

 

 

Sparking the Human Spirit: Magical Elixir of Music

henry-listens-642x300_v3

How do you spark the human spirit? Just watch to see exactly how its done. You will also understand why this video has more than 15 million collective views.

This is the story of Henry age 92.  He spent over ten years as a lifeless, isolated and depressed nursing home resident until the day he received his first iPod loaded with his favorite music from back in the day.  Once Henry hears music from his past, his spirit is sparked and the transformational experience is beyond touching to witness.

The late world-famous neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks who appears in the video observed, “Music imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience.  Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring with it memory and  the feeling of life when nothing else can.”  

From the beginning of civilization music has been recognized as the world’s universal language.  Rhythms and sounds are primal in their capacity to evoke memories and a complex range of intense human emotions from sublime joy to profound sadness.

We process music in the right hemisphere of our brain like other creative functions.  It can stimulate our endorphins that generate emotions similar to those feelings we have when we’re in love or making love.  In recent years, many research studies have explored the impact of music on memory, health and well-being. Suffice to say, music affects human beings in some very astonishing ways.

It’s no wonder that my favorite pastime is listening to music. From my earliest recollections, music has been a major love of my life. Music moves me like nothing else. From Rodgers & Hammerstein to Motown; Joni Mitchell to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; R&B to Brazilian, my playlists go on and on.  It’s hard for me to describe the deep sense of joy, emotion and awakening that I experience when I listen to my favorite music.  Simply stated, music is in my soul.

It’s a funny thing. When I hear my favorite tunes that reach back across the decades, I  am often startled by my ability to effortlessly remember lyrics from hundreds of songs with uncanny precision. It is a paradoxical experience to recall exact words and intricate rhythms from favorite oldies just minutes following a senior moment.

A technologist and social worker named Dan Cohen had a similar epiphany while volunteering at a local nursing home in 2008. Acting on instinct, he decided to offer iPods with personalized playlists to residents who were socially isolated or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Cohen’s work became the focus of a poignant and award-winning documentary published in 2014 entitled “Alive Inside” which chronicles the experiences of people including Henry who were literally brought to life by hearing music from their past.  If you haven’t yet seen this riveting film, please make time to do so.

As one path leads to another in life, there was an overwhelming public response to Henry’s video which became a viral Internet phenomenon.   Henry’s story is also central to Alive Inside and helped raise global awareness and understanding of the expansive benefits of personalized music.

The documentary in turn helped raise charitable funding that led to the launch of Cohen’s Music & Memory℠ initiative that brings personalized playlists and iPods to residents in hundreds of nursing homes across the country and around the world.  Since its launch, the program has further expanded to serve people in hospice, adult day care, assisted living, hospital and home health care.

It is fascinating to see how human experiences, chance encounters and karma connected to create this captivating and mystical journey. Here are some of the insights I take away:

  1. Every human being is a beautiful tapestry of experiences, emotions and memories that live deep within our spirit.  We are all “Alive Inside”.
  2. There are many complex challenges associated with aging  in a culture that is insensitive and intolerant of the natural process of growing old.
  3. The aging experience is at times overbearing.  During these times, people are sometimes overwhelmed with natural feelings of sadness, loneliness and isolation.
  4. Music is a magical elixir that has transformational powers to spark the human spirit.  Music can restore our identity, return our dignity and bring us back to life, like nothing else can.
  5. By simply observing human nature, Dan Cohen with his abundant compassion and kindness began what has become a global initiative to rescue human spirits. What a legacy to leave the world.
  6. By sharing his human vulnerabilities, Henry jolted global awareness and understanding about the process of aging.  An Internet sensation at age 92,  Henry rocked our world over 15 million times. Now that’s what I call  “Amazing Grace”.
  7. Please, go hug a musician. These are the artists that dedicate their lifetimes to cultivate extraordinary crafts.  They create unforgettable rhythms, sounds and compositions that help define who we are, rekindle our memories and inspire us to live.
  8. Don’t wait for your own music rescue. Make time every day to enjoy your favorite music. Nurture your spirit and often revisit those indelible memories imprinted on your soul.
  9. Practice honoring and cherishing elders in the same way that you want love and respect as you grow old.
  10. Volunteer to spend time with lost and lonely people who yearn for a simple human touch of compassion and kindness.
  11. Join the movement  by  donating an old iPod, gift a new one or just simply contribute to Music & Memory℠ Project.
  12. Spark a spirit. Spread the word. To the magical elixir of music!

To me, this story serves as a simple reminder that every human being has the power to leave a positive imprint on this world as we pass through it.  What legacy will you leave?

 

 

 

The Science of Love: Happily Ever After

92 Year Old Man Sings to Wife

Whatever your age, this is a moment to witness. A deeply poignant video of Laura, age 93, with her husband Howard, age 92.  Recorded at a hospice facility by their granddaughter, Erin Solari, as her grandpa sings the couple’s favorite love song to his wife of 73 years as she prepares to make peace with her last days.

(Posted with permission from Jukin Media)

This compelling encounter went viral  on September 20, 2015 and has logged nearly 8 million views. It is a profound and moving illustration of how enduring  love and happiness are directly connected to the quality and duration of our lives as we grow old.

It is easy to understand why love and its link to couples growing old has long been a popular subject of scientific research.  Numerous studies have published fascinating findings on the measurable and proven connections between aging and the science of love.

The Journal of Gerontology recently published three studies that explore the relationship between marital quality and health in midlife and old age.  One such study entitled, “Marital Quality and Health in Middle and Later Life: Dydadic Associations”, concluded that supportive marriage is a critical resource to couples which provides positive marital quality and protection against poor health, disability and functional limitations in later life.

The study also concludes that a happy and satisfied spouse actually improves the physical health of their partner.  These findings suggest that a spouse who feels loved and supported may enhance the other spouse’s sense of competence as a husband or wife and thus bolster their physical well-being.

Clearly there are mounds of overwhelming scientific evidence that indisputably recognize the complex and powerful connection between love, happiness and longevity.  That being said, one need look no further than these captivating moments between Laura and Howard for an indelible lesson on the science of love.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it be rather a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Blog Postscript: 

Curious to know how the story of Laura and Howard unfolded, I returned to YouTube only to find the following update posted by Erin:

“After posting this video to Facebook, it began to go viral and all the outpouring of love lifted everyone’s spirits… including Grandma’s! They originally gave her just a week to live, but hospice eventually deemed her well enough to go back home to live out her remaining days. She is still considered “Terminal,” however, as of this posting my beautiful Grandma Laura Virginia is still with us resting peacefully at home. Our family along with the wonderful people from hospice are taking care of her and making sure she remains as pain-free and comfortable as possible while she prepares for her nearing departure. We all thank you so much for the love and kind words.”

Another triumph for the Science of Love.  Here’s to  happily ever after…

 

 

 

The Passion Phenomenon: Live Long, Be Happy

                           “…Keeps me living. Keeps me going.”

Beverly Guitar Watkins has lived her passion as a phenomenal, pioneer rhythm & blues guitarist for the last six decades.  Recognized as “Queen of the Blues”, Ms. Watkins continues to tour and play concerts at age 77. She provides an important inspirational lesson on longevity, quality of life and the pursuit of passion.

It is interesting to note that over the course of her lifetime, Ms. Watkins labored in some tough and physically demanding jobs cleaning houses and working car washes. Notwithstanding decades of bodily stress and toil, her hard classic blues style continued to evolve. Most importantly throughout her lifetime, Ms. Watkins never stopped the pursuit of her passion–music.

The pursuit of one’s passion has long been recognized as a driving force to lifelong happiness.  I recently learned of another life affecting derivative related to the pursuit of passion from a study published in the November 2015 Journal of Psychosomatic Research entitled, “Purpose in Life Predicts Allostatic Load Ten Years Later”.   The scientific term allostatic load” describes wear and tear on the body that occurs over time with exposure to chronic stress.

This study has significant implications to life span and quality of life. Greater life purpose predicted lower levels of allostatic load in 985 subjects evaluated at their ten-year follow-up.  Researchers concluded that living a purposeful life correlates to better mental and physical health including longevity.  Mounting evidence of these associations might be explained by the connection between life purpose and our body’s ability to regulate physiological systems related to stress response.

It makes infinite sense. As we pursue our passion, internal mechanisms mobilize our body’s ability to withstand exposure to chronic stress. In turn, our pursuit of passion drives sustainable happiness and reinforces our will to live.  Ms. Beverly Guitar Watkins is a brilliant example of the “Passion Phenomenon”.  Bottom line: Pursue your passion. Live Long. Be Happy.

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.”  ~Steve Jobs

 

Common Habits of World’s Longest Living People

World's Oldest Living Person Ever

Longevity (noun) lon·gev·i·ty \län-ˈje-və-tē, lȯn-\                                             Definition: 1. a long duration of individual life; 2. length of life; 3. long continuance: permanence, durability.

Do you want to live forever?  For me, living a long life is meaningless without quality of life.  In her book entitled, “50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People”author Sally Bears explores five places in the world with the greatest number of centenarians, people living over 100 years, to find the common denominators of longevity plus  quality of life.  Not only are these the world’s oldest living people, most also report being happy, healthy,  productive and valued–until the day they die.

The five destinations of the world’s longest living people include Okinawa, a coral island in the East China Sea; Symi, an island in Greece; Campodimele, a village in southern Italy; Hunza, a valley in northwest Pakistan and Bama, a county in Southern China.  Environmentally, these locations share unpolluted surroundings which include pure drinking water, unpolluted soil and fresh air.  While this comes as no surprise, it underscores our collective priority to invest in the care of Mother Earth.

Bottom line, the recurring patterns of the longest living humans are profoundly eye-opening.  These common lifestyle habits cover a  spectrum of practical ways we can all extend both our longevity and quality of life.  Here are just some of the common traits of these centenarians:

  • Drink lots of green tea – like 4 cups/day
  • Get daily exercise – sweat everyday
  • Drink lots of mineral water
  • Eat tons of whole foods plants and nuts – like 90% organic vegetables
  • Limit consumption of sweet fruits – opt for berries, apricot and apricot kernels
  • Limit consumption of fish and meat – wild, cold-water fish and grain or grass-fed meat
  • Only eat until you’re 80% full
  • Chew your food for a long time
  • Practice moderation in alcohol consumption – red wine and Saki are best
  • Play mind games
  • Practice meditation
  • Enjoy music and humming
  • Practice deep breathing, reduce stress
  • Volunteer time to help others
  • Consume fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut
  • Consume seaweed, sprouts and nuts
  • Limit intake of dairy
  • Go light with oils; do consume olive oil
  • Sleep  for 8-9 hours each night
  • Practice laughing each day

And the fascinating list goes on. So, if you’re like me and seek a longer and happier life,  I highly recommend that you read 50 Secrets.  If you’re short on time, do check out this twenty-minute audio summary of the book by Tai Lopez.   Good stuff.

Our generation is uniquely well positioned to challenge the dreaded myths of aging. There are many ways to positively change our lifestyle habit for a longer and happier life.  Let us maximize whatever time remains and live to experience our best days that lie ahead.

Growing old is a beautiful thing.