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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

States With Highest Proportion of Isolated Seniors Could Be Best Place to Age Alone

States With Highest Proportion of Isolated Seniors Could Be Best Place to Age Alone

Aging alone is a very popular topic and I find many articles that address issues like isolation, loneliness, and how staying connected and building friendships are the answer to living well. Recently at the Boston Globe, it published an inspiring piece about women without men and making their way alone. It’s true, women of all ages have grown up and more self-reliant than ever before in history. We support ourselves, have full time jobs, make major purchases, and even qualify for home mortgages, but for me, that’s not news, I’ve been doing all that since the early eighties.

Remember the Virginia Slims (cigarettes) tagline, “You’ve come along way, baby?” That was during the era when thousands of women found their wings. Today, those same women approach sixty-five or older, and most of us remain independent and determined. But our fierceness has more to do with aging well and not so much about proving ourselves. Who has energy for that? We have far more significant things to do like remain healthy and find suitable ways to age well.

Some things that older women want when aging alone are making close friendships, finding others to rely on, living under budget, hailing safe rides, eating well, attending fun activities, and being around like-minded. I suppose the older single men want the same things but in most cases more women than men live alone. For the record, the U.S. Census says close to 30 percent of the population 65 and over fall into the solo category, and of those over 60 percent are female.

States to Live if Alone

Recently, I was involved in the Census data that makes up the city guides. We found interesting statistics that involve older adults age 65 and over. The most significant point was the high number of residents across America living solo. So, we collated the data and found the top five states with the highest and lowest proportion of aging solos. See how the 50 states rank.

The Highest

State Percentage of Seniors Who Live Alone Percentage of Women Who Live Alone Percentage of Men Who Live Alone
#1. North Dakota 31.73%
of all seniors.
#2. Rhode Island 30.88%
of all seniors.
#3. Nebraska 30.54%
of all seniors.
#4. South Dakota 30.15%
of all seniors.
#5. Massachusetts 30.02%
of all seniors.

The Lowest

State Percentage of Seniors Who Live Alone Percentage of Women Who Live Alone Percentage of Men Who Live Alone
#1. Hawaii 18.95%
of all seniors.
#2. Utah 22.50%
of all seniors.
#3. California 24.09%
of all seniors.
#4. Arizona 24.49%
of all seniors.
#5. Texas 24.55%
of all seniors.

It’s my thinking, when growing older, you’ll want to make sure you hang around people closer to your age and circumstances to find support and people who will have your back. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid younger individuals. Being around families and various ages will add fresh perspectives and flavor to one’s life. Otherwise, it may become ho-hum.

Case in point, my sister lives in Austin where 7 percent of the population are seniors. Early on, she noticed the upbeat Millennials, and, after a while, she recognized the noise that accompanied their entertainment venues, then the volumes of friends who joined in the fun, which ultimately grew tiresome and she became ready for peace and quiet. I for one choose to live among multi-generations, but I plan to pick and choose the dosage of exposure. And if that’s true for you, choose a state and city where there’s a balance of all ages.

A Good Plan Starts Here

Start with the basics. If you do not have nearby family, put the following long-term care planning strategies in place. The steps help improvise for no family members.

  • Draw up legal documents: a will, a living will, a healthcare proxy and a power of attorney. Find a loyal and trustworthy ally to stand for you as a surrogate or proxy. Just make certain you have unquestionable faith the person follows your wishes.

  • Find a “roof-mate” and share a home. Surround yourself with like-minded roommates and design a care plan that serves each resident equally if one needs help with daily living activities. HIre an attorney to draw up papers to outline responsibilities. It will make each party accountable.

  • Live close to public transportation.

  • Find a neighborhood that promotes shopping by foot.

  • Adopt a family to oversee your care. But make sure they’re trustworthy and reliable. Seek legal advice before signing anything.

  • If you have a chronic health condition, hire a patient advocate.

  • Eat fresh, healthy foods.

  • Exercise and stay fit.

  • Keep your brain active.

  • Volunteer.

  • Take up hobbies that fulfill your curiosity.

Other Considerations

When it comes to the home, health, and finances, stay in the driver’s seat. That’s why it’s important to plan early for retirement — and any future care. Planning for long-term assistance is one of the smartest decisions we make. When you do, benefits abound, and you will have:

  • More choices down the road.

  • Control of the health care decisions.

  • Less stress about the future.

  • Ability to help family and friends.

Learn About Medicare

It may surprise you but thousands of seniors 65 and younger have misleading thoughts about the program.

  • Only 11 percent understand what Medicare is and what it isn’t.

  • 60 percent know only a little.

  • 30 percent when within reach of qualifying for the health program have not researched it.

  • Nearly 43 percent don’t know where to go to learn about it.

  • 50 percent rely on other people to tell them what’s best.

  • 56 percent are not aware of the coverage options.

  • 61 percent never heard the term Medicare Part D.

One thing that’s certain, Medicare does not pay for every type of care a senior needs, especially long-term care. Nor does it pay for home health care or assisted living services. And if admitted to the hospital for less than three days, the health program will not pay the acute care bill.

Find Resources

I suggest you start with the city guides. Look for your state, then city, and click on the Helpful Contacts in the far left menu. Additional resources to check out, especially when living alone:

Elder Orphan Facebook Group - The group launched over a year ago and it’s name derived from medical research. Members speak freely of their concerns and challenges. If you’re aging alone, the group offers support and guidance for over 4,000 people.

#AgingVoices - A twitter hashtag campaign developed to share stories, news, and resources for the senior population. Follow us @Seniorcarequest & @Carebuzz. Senior Guides - over 8000 local senior guides that give healthcare quality ratings, senior housing options and other useful data for aging Americans.

Connect2Affect - The AARP Foundation spearheaded the website for seniors living alone and dealing with isolation. The goal is to create a network of resources that meets the needs of anyone isolated or lonely, and helps them build social connections.

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging- The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The local AAAs provide aging and disability resources to the communities they serve. - Energy Assistance | Benefits - The National Council on Aging several benefits programs can help with energy assistance needs.

Aging involves many people. If we live solo and age alone, it's important to assemble our support team. But often we think of our support team as people. I encourage and challenge yourself to think about the community as a whole. How will the people and community serve you?

Give consideration to where you live and the nearby amenities, then ask, “Will my needs be met?” Do you have access to public transportation, affordable housing, social connection, medical facilities, entertainment, and activities that keep you active and able to age in place?

As one ages, the individual views successful aging as a balance between self-acceptance and self-contentedness on one hand and engagement with life and self-growth in later life on the other. Maintaining this wise perspective is a major contributor to aging well, even if alone.

Author -  Carol Marak

- By Carol Marak

Carol Marak, aging advocate, syndicated columnist, and editor at She earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology. Carol ages alone and shares her experiences with followers via Next Avenue, Huffington Post, and over 40 newspapers nationwide.


Sixty-five Plus in the United States,” Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Senior Isolation - Ranking the 50 States,”

Smaller Share of Women Ages 65 and Older Are Living Alone” February 18, 2016, Pew Research Center.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Tax Season for Seniors

Tax Season for Seniors

If you are over 50 years old, don’t even think about dipping into the coin jar vacation fund to pay for tax help. Step away from the rainy day savings fund. Don’t cash in those stocks just yet. You have more than earned free tax assistance, a few extra benefits, and some peace of mind about your overall financial situation. Before you file your taxes this year, make sure you know what specific opportunities you have. Here are just a few tips to get you started:

Tax Assistance Is Free for Those Over 50

If you are over 50, the AARP organization provides free, qualified assistance through a program that reimburses their volunteers for their expenses, so that they can give you the best service possible. You don’t have to be an AARP member either; just contact a provider near you. If you are 60 years of age or older, you could choose to use the IRS TCE program instead, which also supplies certified voluntary help across the country.

Use Your Medical Bills To Your Advantage

The older we get, the more medical attention we may need. Why shouldn’t you use those bills to your advantage? If you turned 65 or older during the year 2016, you can deduct medical bills that meet or exceed 10 percent of your gross adjusted income. This could lower the amount you have to pay or increase the amount of your refund.

Tax Tips for Small Business Owners

If you own a small business to help bring in some extra income, make sure you keep solid records of each sale you make. If you hold back a percentage of each sale, you will be able to plan ahead to comfortably pay taxes for your business when the time comes. This way, you won’t be scrambling and pulling from your personal bank account in order to pay the lump sum all at once. Make sure to make things easier on yourself by using W-2 and/or 1099 software for your form filing as well.

Budgeting Can Make All The Difference

A monthly plan of action is really the biggest key to a smooth tax filing process. Not only will you feel better about how your money is being spent year-round, but you will be able to think ahead toward paying your taxes. A few categories to consider include: charity gifts, emergency funds and savings, bills, and everyday spending. You might be impressed at how much you were able to save by the end of the year, and how peaceful it is knowing that will be waiting in your account for whenever you need it.

Filing Taxes Can Be Stress-Free

There is a lot of unnecessary worry that goes into the tax filing process. By now, you are practically an expert in the area of what to do and what not to do when filing taxes. Using everything you’ve learned over the years, take a minute and plan ahead. Set up your tax filing appointment several weeks in advance. During those weeks, pick one item per day to focus on. Set aside time to pull together all of the necessary paperwork, and keep it together in a safe place. Double check your bank funds, and if you have a money-market or similar bank account with a significant return, make sure you know how much you gained by the year’s end. This way, you won’t dreading the process and rushing to complete it all at once. Fulfilling one task a day keeps the stress away.

Now, you can say you are better prepared to file your taxes this year. As tax guidelines fluctuate over the years, make sure to keep up with any details that are applicable to your age and tax bracket. From free tax help to a stress-free filing experience, enjoy all of the benefits available to you. You’ve earned it!

Author -  Julie Morris

- By Julie Morris

Ms. Morris is a life and career coach who strives to help others live the best lives that they can. She believes she can relate to clients who feel run over by life because of her own experiences. Ms. Morris spent years in an unfulfilling career in finance before deciding to help people in other ways.


Questions and Answers: Changes to the Itemized Deduction for 2016 Medical Expenses,”

6 Tax Perks for Seniors,” The Motley Fool.

How To Create A Budget: A 6-Step Guide”

Small Business Taxes for Beginners: How Much to Set Aside,” Roberg Tax Solutions.

Free Tax Preparation From AARP Foundation Tax-Aide,” AARP Foundation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Should Older Americans Live in Places Segregated From the Young?

Should Older Americans Live in Places Segregated From the Young?

Some are concerned that it may be harmful or discriminatory for older adults to live with their age peers, separate from younger generations. But studies show that for some older adults there can be be more benefits than costs.

Demographers frequently remind us that the United States is a rapidly aging country. From 2010 to 2040, we expect that the age-65-and overpopulation will more than double in size, from about 40 to 82 million. More than one in five residents will be in their later years. Reflecting our higher life expectancy, over 55% of this older group will be at least in their mid-70s.

While these numbers result in lively debates on issues such as social security or health care spending, they less often provoke discussion on where our aging population should live and why their residential choices matter.

But this growing share of older Americans will contribute to the proliferation of buildings, neighborhoods and even entire communities occupied predominantly by seniors. It may be difficult to find older and younger populations living side by side together in the same places. Is this residential segregation by age a good or a bad thing?

As an environmental gerontologist and social geographer, I have long argued that it is easier, less costly, and more beneficial and enjoyable to grow old in some places than others. The happiness of our elders is at stake. In my recent book, Aging in the Right Place, I conclude that when older people live predominantly with others their own age, there are far more benefits than costs.

Why do seniors tend to live apart from other age groups?

My focus is on the 93% of Americans age 65 and older who live in ordinary homes and apartments, and not in highly age-segregated long-term care options,such as assisted living properties, board and care, continuing care retirement communities or nursing homes. They are predominantly homeowners (about 79%), and mostly occupy older single-family dwellings.

Older Americans don’t move as often as people in other age groups. Typically, only about 2% of older homeowners and 12% of older renters move annually. Strong residential inertia forces are in play. They are understandably reluctant to move from their familiar settings where they have strong emotional attachments and social ties. So they stay put. In the vernacular of academics, they opt to age in place

Over time, these residential decisions result in what are referred to as “naturally occurring” age-homogeneous neighborhoods and communities. These residential enclaves of old are now found throughout our cities, suburbs and rural counties. In some locales with economies that have changed for the worse, these older concentrations are further explained by the wholesale exit of younger working populations looking for better job prospects elsewhere — leaving the senior population behind.

Even when older people decide to move, they often avoid locating near the young. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 allows certain housing providers to discriminate against families with children. Consequently, significant numbers of older people can move to these “age-qualified” places that purposely exclude younger residents. The best-known examples are those active adult communities offering golf, tennis and recreational activities catering to the hedonistic lifestyles of older Americans.

Others may opt to move to “age-targeted” subdivisions (many gated) and high-rise condominiums that developers predominantly market to aging consumers who prefer adult neighbors. Close to 25% of age-55-and-older households in the US occupy these types of planned residential settings.

Finally, another smaller group of relocating elders transition to low-rent senior apartment buildings made possible by various federally and state-funded housing programs. They move to seek relief from the intolerably high housing costs of their previous residences.

Is this a bad thing?

Those advocates who bemoan the inadequate social connections between our older and younger generations view these residential concentrations as landscapes of despair.

In their perhaps idyllic worlds, old and young generations should harmoniously live together in the same buildings and neighborhoods. Older people would care for the children and counsel the youth. The younger groups would feel safer, wiser and respectful of the old. The older group would feel fulfilled and useful in their roles of caregivers, confidants and volunteers. In question is whether these enriched social outcomes merely represent idealized visions of our pasts.

A less generous interpretation for why critics oppose these congregations of old is that they make the problems faced by an aging population more visible and thus harder to ignore.

A better social life

But why should we expect older people to live among younger generations? Over the course of our lives, we typically gravitate to others who are at similar stages in life as ourselves. Consider summer camps, university dormitories, rental buildings geared to millennials or neighborhoods with lots of young families. Yet we seldom hear cries to break up and integrate these age homogeneous residential enclaves.

In fact, studies show that when older people reside with others their age, they have more fulfilled and enjoyable lives. They do not feel stigmatized when they practice retirement-oriented lifestyles. Even the most introverted or socially inactive older adults feel less alone and isolated when surrounded with friendly, sympathetic, and helpful neighbors with shared lifestyles, experiences, and values — and yes, who offer them opportunities for intimacy and an active sex life.

Moreover, tomorrow’s technology is especially on the side of these elders. Because of online social media communications, older people can engage with younger people — as family members, friends, or as mentors — but without having to live next to what they sometimes feel are noisy babies, obnoxious adolescents, indifferent younger adults or insensitive career professionals.

Age-specific enclaves prolong independent living

Could living in these age-homogeneous places help older people avoid a nursing home stay?

Studies say yes — because here they have more opportunities to cope with their chronic health problems and impairments. Now their greater visibility as vulnerable consumers becomes a plus because both private businesses and government administrators can more easily identify and respond to their unmet needs.

These elder concentrations spawn a different mindset. The emphasis shifts from serving troubled individual consumers to serving vulnerable communities or “critical masses” of consumers

Consider how many more clients home-care workers can assist when they are spared the traveling time and costs of reaching addresses spread over multiple suburbs or rural counties. Or recognize how much easier it is for a building management or homeowners’ association to justify the purchasing of a van to serve the transportation needs of their older residents or to establish an on-site clinic to address their health needs.

Consider also the challenges confronted by older people seeking good information about where to get help and assistance. Even in our internet age, they still mostly rely on word of mouth communications from trusted individuals. It becomes more likely that these knowledgeable individuals will be living next to them. These enclaves of old have also been the catalyst for highly regarded resident-organized neighborhoods known as elder villages.

Their concerned and motivated older leaders hire staff and coordinate a pool of their older residents to serve as volunteers. For an annual membership fee, the predominantly middle-income occupants in these neighborhoods receive help with their grocery shopping, meal delivery, transportation and preventive health needs. Residents also benefit from knowing which providers and vendors (like workers performing home repair) are the most reliable, and they often receive discounted prices for their goods and services. They also enjoy organized educational and recreational events enabling them to enjoy the company of other residents. Today, about such 170 villages are open and 160 are in planning stages.

A question of preference

Ageist values and practices are indeed deplorable. However, we should not view the residential separation of the old from the young as necessarily harmful and discriminatory but rather as celebrating the preferences of older Americans and nurturing their ability to live happy, dignified, healthy and autonomous lives. Living with their age-peers helps these older occupants compensate for other downsides in their places of residence and in particular presents opportunities for both private and public sector solutions.

Author -  Stephen M. Golant, PhD

- By Stephen M. Golant, PhD

Stephen M. Golant, PhD, is a leading national expert on the housing, mobility, transportation, and long-term care needs of older adult populations. He is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, a Fulbright Senior Scholar award recipient and a professor at the University of Florida. Dr. Golant’s latest book is Aging in the Right Place.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. (2016). Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Golant, S. M. (2015). Aging in the Right Place. Baltimore: Health Professions Press

Golant, S. M., Parsons, P., & Boling, P. A. (2010). Assessing the quality of care found in affordable clustered housing-care arrangements: Key to informing public policy. Cityscape, 12(2), 5-28.

McHugh, K. E., & Larson-Keagy, E. M. (2005). These white walls: The dialetic of retirement communities. Journal of Aging Studies, 19, 241-256.

MetLife Mature Market Institute. (2011). Housing Trends Update for the 55+ Market. Washington, DC: National Association of Home Builders & MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Scharlach, A., Graham, C., & Lehning, A. (2012). The “Village” model: A consumer-driven approach for aging in place. The Gerontologist, 52(3), 418-427. See also: Village to Village Network.

Simpson, Deane. 2010. Third Age Urbanism: Retirement Utopias of the Young-Old. PhD diss., Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Geographical Mobility: 2014 to 2015: Table 6.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). 2014 National Population Projections, Table 3, accessed at:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dirty Air Clogs the Mind

Air pollution linked to increased Alzheimer's risk

Air pollution linked to increased risk for dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

For years now scientists have warned the population about human beings’ impact on the Earth and its future. Air pollution such as pollutants from power plants, cars, and tobacco create harmful effects on the environment and are also extremely detrimental to our health. These pollutants have long been found to increase the risks of developing chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, and heart disease. However, new emerging research has found evidence that air pollution may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the United States’ growing older adult population. This is extremely important as these diseases affect a large portion of the older adult population in the U.S. and is the sixth leading cause of death according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

Current Research

A study, conducted by the University of South California and published on 31 January 2017, is one of only a few studies investigating a link between pollution and brain health. It was conducted as a decade-long longitudinal study of 3,647 women between the ages of 65 and 79 in the United States, none of which had dementia at the start of the study. Researchers tracked the women’s cognitive ability and mental health from 1995 to 2010 and positioned this against the Environmental Protection Agency’s reported pollution levels for each woman’s city of residence. These researchers also used newly designed technology to investigate the effects of pollutants on mice. This technology allowed the scientists to collect samples of air particles from heavily polluted cities and to control its exposure to female mice. They then assessed the mice over a fifteen-week period for any adverse neurodevelopmental or degenerative neuro health effects.

Research Findings

The findings ultimately showed a connection between pollution and neurodegenerative health issues.

  • After being exposed to air pollution for fifteen weeks, the female mice had 60 percent more amyloid plaque, which are clusters of protein associated with the Alzheimer’s disease, than mice that were not exposed to the particle air pollution.

  • In the longitudinal study, researchers found – after the consideration of extraneous variables – that older women living in areas where air pollution particles exceed federal safety standards may be at an 81 percent higher risk for cognitive decline and are 92 percent more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Increases in the risk for Alzheimer’s were more notable for women with the APOE4 variant gene, which has been found to lead to an inclination towards Alzheimer’s. Women who had the variant gene were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia when exposed to high levels of pollution compared to their non-carrier counterparts. Among carriers of the gene, older women exposed to air pollution were four times more likely than those in cleaner air environments, to develop a measurable loss of memory and reasoning skills.

  • The researchers also calculated that if their findings were extended to the general population, air pollution might be the culprit for about 21 percent of all dementia cases.

Other Relevant Research

Another longitudinal study published in 2012 produced similar findings, connecting air pollution to memory loss and dementia. This study included a large sample size of 19,000 nurses in their 70s living across the United States over a four-year period. Women who lived in areas with worse air quality tended to score lower on memory and cognitive tests than those in cleaner areas. It showed that exposure to high levels of pollution was equivalent to about a two-year decline in brain function, and carried the potential for an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These researchers estimate that this exposure to pollutants accounts for about two million cases of Alzheimer’s over a forty-year period.

Discussion of Research and Impact to the United States

It is extremely difficult to establish a definite and direct link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s due to the number of extraneous factors involved such as race, ethnicity, lifestyle, and other health factors. It is important to note that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. However, this new research is one of the first to show that the intake of air pollutants serves as a vulnerability to brain aging.

Characterized by memory loss and a decline in reasoning and thinking skills, Alzheimer’s disease affects 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 65 and a third of Americans over the age of 85. The typical life expectancy after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is 4 to 8 years and the disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. With about 20 percent of these cases attributing to over-exposure to air pollution – according to the University of South California study – it is highly important to investigate further, in order to help protect our current and future older adults.

Less than a third of United States counties have ozone or pollution particle monitors, per the American Lung Association. The current regulations and health standards for particle pollution may not be tough enough to protect people with a higher risk for neurodegenerative diseases. This is a major problem because even though pollution is more concentrated in cities, it has no borders and can become a major global crisis.

Prevention of Exposure to Air Pollution and Its Risks

If you are concerned about your intake of air pollution and your risk for neurodegenerative diseases, consider these prevention measures:

Watch your local air quality: The Environmental Protection Agency has a real-time national air quality map that provides you with your current local air quality and predictions for the next day. When the pollution levels are high, you may want to consider staying indoors and avoiding outdoor exercises.

Clean your air indoors: Although you can’t control the outside air, you can take measures to clean your air indoors. Run your HVAC fan to filter out pollen and other irritants; change HVAC filters often; test your home for radon, lead, and asbestos; use a small air purifier; and avoid the use of wood-burning stoves and/or fireplaces.

Do your part to reduce air pollution: One person can do a lot to cut-down on air pollution. You can save energy around your house, carpool or use public transportation, improve your fuel economy, and cut back on the amount of household waste your produce.

Author -  Jess Walter

- By Jess Walter, Freelance Writer.


2016 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures” Alzheimer's Association.

State of the Air 2016 Report” American Lung Association.

Study suggests air pollution increases risk for Alzheimer's disease,” Feb. 1, 2017, United Press International.

Is There A Connection Between Dementia and Dirty Air?,”

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease” February 15, 2017, Los Angeles Times.

Air Pollution May Raise Dementia Risk” The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Can’t Find a Caregiver? Try a Robot

Robot Caregivers

Around the world, researchers are finding that robots can do many tasks once done only by humans.

What’s the solution to the problem of an aging population in a society with a decreasing amount of (human) caregivers? Looking at the direction that research is going, the answer is robots.

Researchers in Japan are leading the way, where 20 percent of the population is over 65. By 2025, experts predict a shortage of 1 million caregivers for the country. It’s not surprising that Japan, which has often led the world in technological development, is creating “carebots” that could take the place of caregivers in several ways. In fact, one-third of the Japanese government's budget is allocated to developing carebots.

One example of ongoing research is Honda's Asimo, a humanoid robot that can bring food to someone or turn off the lights. Another is the Resyone robotic device, which converts from a bed to an electric wheelchair, eliminating the need for a strong caregiver who can lift someone in and out of bed. A similar device helps transfer seniors from the bed to a wheelchair.

Meanwhile in Europe

In Europe, which is also seeing a graying population and a drop in birthrates, the European Commission is investing tens of millions of euros annually in technology to help older adults and strengthen the region’s robotics industry. The research project Robot-Era recently concluded the world’s largest real-life trial of robot aides for older adults. During the four-year project, about 160 seniors in Italy and Sweden tested the robots.

A promotional video shows an older man enjoying breakfast at home while his humanoid robot stands nearby in the kitchen. When the man turns to the robot, it comes over to him, and the man removes a computer tablet from its front, on which he punches his grocery list. The robot then makes its way to the nearby grocery store, taking the elevator down to the street, walking down the sidewalk and several blocks to the grocery store, where a friendly clerk has the order ready to be delivered back to the man.

Other test robots can do a whole host of daily tasks: accompanying people to a nursing home’s dining room and reminding them when to take their medications; retaining important information such as phone number or names, while tracking the senior’s progress or memory loss over time; reminding people of meetings; keeping track of shopping lists and playing music. These robots are able to speak but can also communicate through a touch screen that features simple icons for things like medication.

Research in the U.S.

In the United States, 13 percent of the population was 65 or older in 2015, but that percentage is expected to nearly double by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center.

IBM is working on a robot with sensors that detect changes in the homes of seniors who live alone. For example, the sensors can identify when the stove's burners are on or when someone has fallen. A camera on the robot can read facial expressions to see if the person is having a stroke or heart attack, for example.

Experts see much promise in getting seniors to use virtual reality. An older adult can take a virtual tour of their hometowns, workplaces they remember fondly or beaches they loved. This not only stimulates memories but also brings a sense of connection to the world, especially for those who are homebound.

Cuddling with a Robot Cat

In a nursing home in New York, residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, cuddle and lovingly talk to furry robotic cats. The interaction appears to ease residents’ agitation and anxiety. While nursing homes have long used pet therapy, a robot cat is more reliable than a real one, which can scratch or wander off. A staff member said the robotic cats give residents a chance to actively take care of something, which makes them feel good, instead of passively receiving care.

Researchers are also testing a talking parrot to interact with Alzheimer’s patients. “Polly” repeats in a high-pitched parrot voice whatever she hears—twice—mimicking the actions of a real parrot. Initial reports from families of Alzheimer patients are encouraging.

Using robotic animals to interact with people who have dementia has proved successful in Japan for more than a decade, where baby seal robots are popular. Research has shown reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the older adults who pet the baby seal, which responds with body and eye movements.

What About the Human Touch?

Although proponents tout that robots can have limited conversations with seniors, which can help keep aging minds sharp and ward off loneliness, experts in the field of aging don’t see robots as a replacement for human companionship.

Susan Madlung, a gerontologist at Vancouver Coastal Health (quoted in Aging Care) believes robot care would only compound seniors’ social isolation: “Although robots might seem like a good response to the growing need for caregivers, I could see this as being quite detrimental to the emotional and psychosocial well-being of anyone, not just seniors. Humans need humans."

Daniel C. Potts, a neurologist and the Medical Director for Dementia Dynamics, a training program for dementia caregivers, is also uncertain about robots. He believes that robots can help with the rote physical tasks of caregiving, such as lifting and turning. However, he says, "Story and personal sharing is so important for all of us, an essential for human life. Relationship is critical to maturity, and I think it becomes even more important as we age... Nothing can take the place of human touch, eye contact, warmth, reminiscence, presence, compassion and empathy—bearing one another's burdens through real relationships. So I think we have to be careful that we use technology wisely.”


Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included,” Dec. 15, 2016, New York Times.

Europe Bets on Robots to Help Care for Seniors” March 17, 2016, Bloomberg News.

IBM is working on a robot that takes care of elderly people who live alone,” Dec. 28, 2016, Business Insider.

Seniors Welcome New, Battery-Powered Friends,” Jan. 20, 2017 , New York Times.

A role for robots in caring for the elderly,” May 16, 2016, Cisco Newsroom.

I, Caregiver: Do Robots Have a Place in Elder Care?,” Aging Care.

Japan is running out of people to take care of the elderly, so it's making robots instead,” Nov. 20, 2015

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Don’t Be Shy About Belting It Out

Benefits of singing

Benefits of singing include less stress, increased memory, better sleep and no more snoring.

In Minnesota, a group of singers ranging in age from their 60s to 90s entertain audiences with renditions of “Stayin’ Alive,” “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Alive & Kickin is billed as “the Twin Cities’ premiere rockin’ senior ensemble group,” although, as one musical critic pointed out, there may not be too much competition for that title.

In Colorado, the 100-member Singing for Seniors meets weekly for rehearsals that lead to performances at churches and senior living facilities. Members, all over age 50, say that the rehearsals are the highlight of their week.

In Delaware, the Choral Society's Singing for Seniors program has promoted senior choral groups in the area, encouraging more than 3,000 older adults to make music together since the program started in 2005. As one conductor, who retired at age 94, put it: “You don't stop singing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop singing."

Indeed, science is discovering that people who lift their voices together in song experience amazing health benefits, including exercising the lungs and combatting stress. An increasing number of people are discovering the joys of singing. Chorus America reports that an estimated 42.6 million Americans regularly sing in choruses today. More than 1 in 5 households have at least one singing family member, making choral singing the most popular form of participation in the performing arts for both adults and children.

Benefits of Singing

It’s easy to make a case for joining a choral group. Not only can you get some of the same health benefits as those you achieve from going to the gym, you get to enjoy others’ company and have fun at the same time. Here are some of the touted benefits:

Find a Group

Singing groups vary from those where no audition is necessary and the emphasis is on having fun to choruses that take their singing and performances more seriously.

Two websites, ChoirPlace and ChoralNet, list groups across the country and general information about choral groups, but the best way to find a group is to Google “choir” or “choral society” in your area. Keep your eyes open for local advertisements about choral concerts near you, so you can check out different groups and see if you’re interested in the type of music they sing.

Many senior living facilities have musical groups—small bands or choruses—composed of residents. Such groups often perform at the facility or at others nearby. If you can’t find a chorus where you live, start your own. Find residents or friends who like to sing. You might start out just enjoying the experience and then find you’re good enough to perform for others.

Provides exercise. Singing can be considered a fun workout. It pumps your lungs, strengthens your diaphragm and stimulates circulation.

Eases asthma. Some research, still in the early stages, has found that singing slightly improves lung function and can ease mild asthma, as well as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Promotes heart health. Like yoga, singing produces larger and slower breathing and improves heart rate variability, a measure of the amount of time between heartbeats. The same research found that chorus members register the same heart rates while singing, as if they were not only bringing their voices together as one but breathing as one.

Improves sleep. Singing helps strengthen our airways’ muscles. When these muscles are soft or weak, they vibrate, causing snoring and sleep apnea. A study comparing choir singers and non-singers found that singers had significantly less severe snoring. (There’s even a series of CDs, Singing for Snorers, that offers vocal exercises designed to stop snoring.)

Boosts immune system. Choir singers had their blood tested before and after an hour-long rehearsal. In most cases, the amount of proteins in the immune system that function as antibodies were significantly higher after the rehearsal.

Similarly, a group of cancer patients showed higher levels of immune system molecules called cytokines after an hour of choir singing, plus lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Lowers stress levels. In addition to reducing cortisol levels, singing clears tension stored in muscles. It also releases the hormone oxytocin, which relieves anxiety and stress, as well as boosts feelings of trust and bonding. In one Japanese study, choir singers reported improved mood and less tension.

Enhances memory. Because of improved blood and oxygen circulation, the brain works better, increasing concentration and memory. The U.K. Alzheimer’s Society offers a “Singing for the Brain” service to help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s jostle their memories. Some experts think that activities such as singing may help delay the onset of some age-related cognitive problems.

Eases depression. Singing releases endorphins, the brain chemical that makes you feel happy. And a small organ in the ear, called the sacculus, responds to singing’s frequencies and creates a pleasurable sensation.

Offers social connection. Making music together forms bonds, even when you may not know all the members of your choir. To blend with others’ voices, you need to be aware of and listen to everyone around you. Surveys have found that people who take part in singing groups feel more connected to other people and more self-confident, perhaps partly from being able to perform in front of others.

How to Start

Although anyone can sing, certain techniques can help you become a stronger singer (from Wikihow):

Begin with breathing. When you inhale, let the breath fall below your belly button into your diaphragm. Repeat several times. Next, use your breath to practice keeping a light pillow-feather in the air and send it higher.

Warm up. Your vocal chords are a muscle, just like your biceps, and need to get stretched before you do any heavy lifting. Practice your major scales, starting with the middle C, moving down in half-steps before moving up. As you continue to warm up, you'll get better at articulating all the notes.

Find your range. Your range is the measure of pitches you can sing between your lowest and highest notes. Try any number of classical musical scales (you can easily find them with a simple online search) and see which low notes and which top notes are impossible to clearly sing.

Use a voice recorder. To see if you’re on key, record yourself singing. Also check to see if you are articulating words, especially vowels, clearly. In the beginning, over-articulate the words. Make sure you’re breathing correctly.

Drink plenty of water. Lukewarm water will loosen your vocal chords.

Avoid sounding nasal. Open your throat wide and keep your tongue out of the way (slightly forward, touching the backs of bottom teeth when singing vowels).

Practice your vowels. Pay attention to vowels, not consonants. Using your diaphragm and keeping your neck upright but relaxed, keep the back of your mouth open when you vocalize vowels. Practice voicing the "ng" sound in training; notice the back of your mouth is closed. Now practice voicing the "ah" sound, like you're opening your mouth at the dentist.

In addition, especially for older adults, having good posture is important because bending over limits the lungs’ air capacity. Preparing to sing means improving your posture first, so you can open your chest and be able to hold the notes longer. One choir director got her senior group to sit on the edge of their chairs, so they were forced to be erect.


The Many Benefits of Choir Singing When You’re Older,” Nov. 23, 2016, Next Avenue.

Singing Changes Your Brain,” Aug. 16, 2013, Time.

6 Ways Singing Is Surprisingly Beneficial To Your Health,” May 18, 2016, Prevention.

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Singing,” April 24, 2014, TakeLessons.

Singing Is Good Medicine,” Dec. 18, 2015, Berkeley Wellness.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Sunday, March 5, 2017

CSA Journal Special Edition Survey

CSA Journal Special Edition 2017

CSA Journal Special Edition 2017

Dear CSAs,

Every year, the CSA Journal dedicates one entire issue to a special theme related to older adults. We invite your input on which of the themes below you would be most interested in learning about this year.

  • Aging in the Community
    • Long-term services and support
    • Housing options/affordability
    • Age-friendly cities
    • Dementia villages

  • Caregiving/Caregivers and Care Receivers
    • Stress management/self or respite care
    • Sibling relationships
    • Ethical issues in caregiving from the perspective of care receivers (including civil rights)
    • Caregivers who are full-time employees (including employers’ perspectives and support)
    • Paying for caregiving

  • Transportation/Mobility
    • Driverless cars and driver-friendly technology
    • Advocacy and availability of public transportation
    • Older adults as drivers for volunteer and commercial services
    • Physical mobility issues in the home and community

The following survey contains three themes chosen by the CSA Journal Board with examples of potential article topics. Our goal is to serve the CSA population and the aging industry with meaningful and valuable information. Please complete the survey to help us accomplish this goal.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Famous & 65

Look Who’s Turning 65

March 2—Laraine Newman

Laraine Newman at the San Diego Comic-Con 2011 photo by Steven

The comedian, actress, voice artist and writer was part of the original cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL). After high school, Newman went to Paris to study mime with Marcel Marceau for a year. On SNL from 1975 through 1980, she originated the characters of Sheri the Valley Girl and Connie Conehead, among others, and became a close friend of co-star Gilda Radner. However, by her own account, she was unhappy for much of her time with the show because she disliked living in New York.

Newman's post-SNL film career has included both leading and supporting roles, as well as a voice artist on television and features. Among these were Perfect, American Hot Wax, Wholly Moses and Problem Child 2. In 1986, she starred in the syndicated B-movie comedy series The Canned Film Festival, playing the lead role as Laraine the usherette.

Additionally, Newman made appearances on programs including Laverne & Shirley, St. Elsewhere, E.T. and Friends (1983), Steve Martin's Best Show Ever (1981), Friends, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Most recently, she appeared in episodes of Entourage and Brothers & Sisters, and provided voice work for WALL-E, Cars, Up!, Finding Nemo, Barnyard, Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss' The Lorax and others.

Newman also works as a writer and editor. She is a contributing editor for the online magazine One for the Table and an occasional contributor to the Huffington Post. She has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, The Believer and McSweeney's. Newman and her husband, actor-writer-director Chad Einbinder, have two daughters.

March 22—Bob Costas

Bob Costas photo by Jeffrey Beall

The sportscaster has been on the air for NBC Sports television since the early 1980s. He was the prime-time host of twelve Olympic Games, from 1992 until 2016. Costas currently does play-by-play for MLB Network, hosts an interview show called Studio 42 with Bob Costas and serves as an alternate play-by-play announcer for Notre Dame Football on NBC. Costas' sportscasting career began while attending Syracuse University, and he was 28 when hired by NBC. Over the years, Costas hosted NBC's National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) coverage. He also did play-by-play for NBA and Major League Baseball (MLB) coverage.

During the 1980s, Costas anchored NBC's pre- and post-game shows for NFL broadcasts and the pre- and post-game shows for numerous World Series and MLB All-Star Games. It was not until 1997, when Costas finally got to do play-by-play for a World Series from start to finish, that he won a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality, Play-by-Play. In 1997, Costas began a 3-year stint as the lead play-by-play man for The NBA on NBC. In 2006, Costas returned to NFL studio hosting duties for NBC's new Sunday Night Football, hosting its pre-game show Football Night in America. Costas hosted NBC's coverage of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 National Hockey League Winter Classic. From 1988 to 2016, Costas frontlined many Olympics broadcasts for NBC, including Barcelona in 1992, Athens in 2004 and Rio in 2016.

From 1988 until 1994, Costas hosted Later with Bob Costas on NBC, which featured Costas and a single guest conversing for the entire half hour. The program was critically acclaimed and won the Emmy Award for Best Informational Series in 1993. From 2002 to 2007, Costas co-hosted HBO’s long-running series Inside the NFL. In 2005, On the Record with Bob Costas was revamped to become Costas Now, a monthly issue-oriented sports program that occasionally employed a town hall style format. Costas left HBO to sign with MLB Network in February 2009. On February 9, 2017, Costas announced that he had begun the process of stepping down from his main on-air roles at NBC Sports and that he would host Super Bowl LII as his final Super Bowl. He said he still expected to be an occasional special correspondent to the division.

A devoted baseball fan, he wrote Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball in 2000. Costas serves as a member of the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League and Negro League players through financial and medical difficulties. Costas has two children from his first marriage; he and his present wife reside primarily in New York.

March 23—Rex Tillerson

March 23—Rex Tillerson

The energy executive, civil engineer and diplomat is the current U.S. Secretary of State, serving since Feb. 1, 2017. Tillerson began his career as an engineer, joining Exxon in 1975, and by 1989, had become general manager of the Exxon USA central production division. In 1995, he became president of Exxon Yemen Inc. and Esso Exploration and Production Khorat Inc. In 2006, Tillerson was elected chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Exxon, the world's sixth largest company by revenue, and served as CEO of the company from 2006 to 2016. In 2012, his compensation package was $40.5 million.

Tillerson is a longtime contributor to Republican campaigns, although he did not donate to President Trump's presidential campaign. Tillerson's close business ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have generated controversy. In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin for his contribution to developing cooperation in the energy sector. In 2011, on behalf of ExxonMobil, Tillerson signed an agreement with Russia for drilling in the Arctic, which could be valued up to $300 billion. In 2014, Tillerson opposed the sanctions against Russia, although, as of Jan. 3, 2017, he had severed all ties with ExxonMobil “to comply with conflict-of-interest requirements associated with his nomination as secretary of state."

Tillerson is a longtime volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), and from 2010 to 2012, was their national president. After the end of his term as BSA president, he remained on the organization's National Executive Board where he played a significant role in the board's 2013 decision to rescind the long-standing ban on openly gay youth as members. He and wife have four children and reside in Irving, Texas.

Source: Wikipedia

FAMOUS & 65 is a featured article in the Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sorry, It’s on the Tip of My Tongue

Tips for remembering names

Several techniques can help you remember the name of the person you just met.

Forty seconds after you’re introduced to your new neighbor, you’re fumbling around in your brain for their name: Scott? Steve? Something that started with an S, you’re sure. Forgetting someone's name leaves us and them feeling awkward. You’re not alone, it’s a common social faux pas at any age. As we get older, it may happen more often due to age related memory decline. However, there are techniques to help you remember names. Here are a few:

Pay attention. Often in social situations, we are looking around at other people, checking to see where the food and drinks are, or worrying about making a good first impression. The trick is to give the other person your full attention and truly be interested in them.

Comment on the name. You might say something about the name: “That’s my brother’s name” or “That’s an unusual name. Where does it come from?” This creates an association you’re more likely to remember. If it’s a unique name or a common name with different spellings, ask: “Is that Kathy with a K or C?”

Repeat the name. If you didn’t quite hear the name, you can ask the person to say it again. Similarly, during the conversation, repeat aloud the name: “So you’re saying, Steve, that . . .” You can also replay it in your head. When the conversation is done, be sure to note their name again: “Nice meeting you, Steve.”

Make up associations. Perhaps the person resembles a celebrity, so you can connect that person you just met with Matt Damon or Susan Sarandon. Or they may have a distinguishing feature, such as a birthmark or tattoo, which will help you remember their name. Along the same line, their first or last name may be similar to an object that you can link it to: Connect “Barry” to a strawberry or blueberry, as long as the next time you don’t accidentally call him “Strawberry.”

Write it down. As soon as possible, write down the person’s name. After meeting your new neighbor, run home and grab a piece of paper.

Ask for help. At a social gathering, likely you have friends or acquaintances who know the person you just met. Discreetly ask them the person’s name, if you forgot.

Ask again. If, during the conversation, you forget the person’s name, don’t be embarrassed to admit it. (They might be having the same problem.)

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Executor of Will Can Be a Big Job

Executor of Will Responsibilities

Make sure you know all the duties so you feel confident taking on the responsibility.

When a person writes their will, they likely will choose an executor—someone they trust to carry out their wishes. Ideally, this is someone who can handle the responsibility of dealing with financial matters and legal issues. An executor must be scrupulous and diligent in carrying out their duties.

Executing a will can be a big job, depending on the size of the estate, and can take a year to make sure that you have performed all the duties. If you’ve been asked to be an executor, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into and know whether you have the time and commitment to do it.

Who Can Be an Executor?

Most people choose a spouse or child, although this can be a difficult situation if the spouse or child(ren) is too distraught to perform a duty that requires discipline and concentration.

Some people choose trusted friends or relatives, or a third party like a bank, trust company or professional who has experience dealing with estates. Two resources for finding a professional are the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils ( and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( One downside of choosing a professional is the fees, which can be large. On the other hand, an institution provides expertise and will likely outlive any human executor. If you don’t name an executor, the court will appoint one.

You may appoint more than one executor. Many people choose both a professional and someone in the family who knows where to locate bank account numbers and necessary documents. The problem with appointing more than one person is possible conflicts between the executors when it comes to agreeing on decisions. For example, appointing all of one’s children as co-executors could be troublesome if they disagree about hiring a lawyer to help or what needs to be sold. If there are several beneficiaries who don’t get along, such as quarreling siblings, experts advise hiring a professional.

Executor Responsibilities

If you’ve been asked to be an executor, become acquainted with the required responsibilities. To save time and stress, you can use the estate’s assets to hire a lawyer who can do the legal work. Many experts advise this course of action because someone unfamiliar with the law can make mistakes. Errors can be costly because you may be held liable. An attorney in the right field (see sidebar) will be familiar with the probate court process and make sure everything is done correctly and on schedule. The disadvantage is that the lawyer’s costs reduce the amount of the beneficiaries’ inheritance.

Hiring a Lawyer

What lawyer should the executor hire to help with probate? It's critical to find a lawyer who's competent in estate law, preferably in the probate court that's handling your will. The executor may be tempted to use the deceased’s regular lawyer, or a friend or relative who is a lawyer. But if that lawyer primarily handles business transactions, say, or practices in another state, they may not be familiar enough with estate law in your area to handle the job efficiently.

American Bar Association

An executor’s duties include:

Get the will. The first step is to find the will and determine the contents. Hopefully the deceased will have told you where it is or the name of the lawyer who drafted it.

Go to court. You must file the will with probate court, although you don’t necessarily need to use probate court to settle the estate. That decision depends partly on state laws. Most states allow a certain amount of property—for example, $100,000 worth—to pass free of probate or through a simplified probate procedure. Many states require that within 10 to 30 days of receiving the will, you deposit the original will with the probate court in the county where the person lived.

Find beneficiaries. From the will, determine the beneficiaries and notify them.

Determine assets. Take an inventory of the deceased’s assets—whether real estate, securities or something else. To distribute the money to the beneficiaries, you may have to sell some of the assets, such as stocks, bonds or the deceased’s car. To pool the assets together, it’s a good idea to set up a bank account for the estate, from which you can distribute the assets.

Pay bills. From the estate’s assets, you will need to pay taxes, funeral costs, credit card bills, utility bills, mortgage payments, homeowner's insurance premiums and any other debt. Note that the executor is not personally liable for the deceased's debts. It’s important to keep a record of what you paid so that you can submit a full accounting to the court at the end of the process.

Notify all parties. You’ll need to formally end the deceased’s financial life. This includes notifying banks and government agencies—such as Medicare and the Social Security administration—of the death. Stop the deceased’s mail delivery and cancel any other contracts that may operate on a continuing basis, such as credit card or insurance payments.

File tax return. Cover the beginning of the tax year to the date the deceased died and include estate and income taxes. State and federal estate tax returns are required only for large estates.

Distribute assets. After paying all bills, pay the beneficiaries.

Go back to court. Once you have fulfilled your duties as executor, file a final report with the probate court, at which point the court will close the estate.


What Is Required of an Executor?,” Elder Law.

Why Do I Need an Executor?,” BrightScope Inc.

What Does an Executor Do?,” NOLO.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

Age related sleeping problems and insomnia

A restful night is important for our health and well-being,
yet, as we age, it can be elusive.

For most of us, a poor night’s sleep can mean irritability and fogginess the next day. But long-term sleep deprivation can have more serious effects, including memory problems and depression.

Insufficient sleep is an important issue for seniors, who sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans, whether as a normal part of aging or from medical problems common in older people. Chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis or back problems can keep us up at night, as does the need to use the bathroom if we suffer from bladder or prostate problems. As we age, we might take more prescription drugs that interfere with our sleep patterns. AARP’s 2016 sleep and brain health survey found that 43 percent of adults age 50-plus say they don’t get enough sleep.

How much is enough? Most research advocates 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, refuting the notion that we need less sleep as we get older. However, too much is not healthy. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston found that sleeping too much, as well as not getting enough rest, can lead to worse cognitive function in old age.

A new report from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health found that “chronic inadequate sleep puts people at higher risk for dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, fall-related injuries and cancer.” The council recommended that healthcare professionals take patients’ concerns about lack of sleep more seriously.

Causes of Insomnia

An inability to sleep well can be caused by primary insomnia from physical problems such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. Special devices or surgery can treat serious sleep apnea, while drugs can often help restless leg syndrome.

More commonly, insomnia is secondary, related to an underlying issue such as drinking coffee too close to bedtime, stress or noise at night. Physical difficulties that impede sleep include heart failure, arthritis or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). If you can fix the underlying issue, such as by wearing noise blockers at night, you can control the insomnia.

Effects of Insomnia

Scientists are discovering that sleep benefits us by recharging our bodies and minds. If we don’t get enough sleep, it can exacerbate various ailments:

Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you recognize and change the worries that keep you tossing and turning all night. In clinical trials, it’s proved as effective or more so than prescription sleep medications.

At the same time, CBT promotes good sleep habits. Check out the following strategies (from the Mayo Clinic).

  • Stimulus control therapy helps reinforce good sleep practices, such as setting a consistent bedtime and wake time.

  • Techniques that can reduce anxiety at bedtime include progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback and breathing exercises.

  • Passively awake therapy, also known as paradoxical intention therapy, is aimed at reducing worry and anxiety about being able to get to sleep by trying to stay awake rather than expecting to fall asleep.

  • Light therapy helps you reset your internal clock if you fall asleep too early and then awaken too early. You can go outside during times of the year when it's light outside in the evenings, or you can use a light box.

Lack of concentration. Because we need sleep for our nervous systems to work properly, too little affects our concentration the next day. This can hurt our ability to solve problems and learn new information.

Memory problems. Some experts believe sleep gives neurons a chance to repair themselves. Without sleep, neurons may become so depleted that they begin to malfunction. Research has found that the deepest levels of sleep help consolidate our memories from the day.

Serious health problems. Long-term insomnia can lead to heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, seizures, sensitivity to pain, a weakened immune system, stroke and diabetes.

Depression. One study showed that those with insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression as those who slept well through the night. One poll showed that people diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep fewer than six hours a night.

Harm to body. While we sleep, the body increases production of protein, which is needed to grow cells and repair cells damaged from factors such as stress and ultraviolet rays. Lack of sleep causes the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. And if we don’t get enough deep sleep, we don’t release enough of the hormone that helps increase muscle mass, thicken skin and strengthen bones.

Weight gain. One study showed that people who slept less than six hours a day had an increased risk of becoming obese compared to those who slept 7 to 9 hours. Apparently, sleep loss stimulates the appetite, particularly for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.

Increased mortality. Various studies have shown that those who slept less had an increased risk of death, particularly from cardiovascular disease.

Relief for Insomnia

If your inability to sleep well isn’t from primary insomnia, there are many simple actions you can take to get some good shut-eye:

Adhere to a schedule. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Your body adjusts to this cycle, so when you change it, your cycle is disturbed.

Take a break. If you’re tossing and turning, get up and do something different, like reading or listening to music, until you feel sleepy. If something is on your mind, write it down, so you get it out of your thoughts.

Turn off electronics. Your cellphone, laptop and TV emit light that can disturb your sleep cycle. Instead, before you go to bed, read, meditate or listen to music.

Exercise. Twenty to 30 minutes of exercise a day can help you sleep, but working out too close to your bedtime can be stimulating. Experts recommend a 5- to 6-hour gap between sleep and exercise. Similarly, don’t eat too close to bedtime.

Avoid stimulants. Having coffee, nicotine or alcohol before you go to bed is guaranteed to prevent sleep. Although alcohol will make you initially drowsy, it interferes with deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is needed for learning.

Nap early. If you’re tired, take a nap early in the afternoon and not for more than 30 minutes. Some studies have found that a long nap can cause problems with sleeping at night.

Seek out the sun. Get as much sunlight during the day as possible, while minimizing light at night. This helps your body stay on its inner clock.

Take medication. Your doctor can prescribe drugs that will help you sleep, if other less invasive methods don’t work. However, physicians don’t recommend taking sleeping pills on a long-term basis, and the pills’ side effects can be harmful for older people.

A non-prescription alternative is melatonin, a hormone that the brain naturally produces in response to darkness. Melatonin pills create the same sleepy response as the natural hormone, but medical experts warn that taking too much melatonin or taking it for too long can disrupt your sleep cycle. Doctors recommend 1 to 5 milligrams an hour before bed.

Other alternative medicines often used or recommended to help with insomnia are valerian root and chamomile. These are both available without prescription and can be given in pill/capsule form (or as a tea with chamomile). As with any prescription or non-prescription medicine, it’s best to consult your healthcare practitioner and/or pharmacist to make sure there are no known interactions with your current medication regimen.

Another promising sleep aid is cognitive behavioral therapy. See sidebar, “Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.”


You Need 7-8 Hours of Sleep for Better Brain Health,” Jan. 10, 2017, AARP.

What’s the Sweet Spot for Sleep and Optimal Brain Function?,” AARP.

Getting Older, Sleeping Less,” Jan. 16, 2017, New York Times.

10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss,” WebMD.

Insomnia,” Feb. 6, 2017, Healthline.

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep,” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Insomnia and aging,” Mayo Clinic.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors