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Golden age



Check your calendar ó the first wave of baby boomers will hit age 65 in 2011. One challenge for these newly minted seniors will be maintaining their health. And that means mind and spirit, as well as body.

Let Go of Your Baggage

Think of life as climbing a mountain: The higher you go, the more you see. That "raised view" perspective can help you let go of baggage youíve been carrying around for years.

Many people in their 50s have experienced hurt, loss and stress due to unkept promises or problems in a relationship. Itís a mistake to remain angry and resentful, says Susan Wasserman, a social worker and psychotherapist at Inner Journeys in Shorewood.

"People think a lack of forgiveness will somehow hurt the person who hurt them. In fact, it eats you up and totally interrupts your ability to live with joy," explains Wasserman.

Ways to see the more complete picture: Consider where the other person was coming from and what his or her needs were at the time you were hurt. And, realize how you found meaning as a result of the situation. "It may not take all your pain away, but you begin to diminish the grasp the disappointments have on you," she adds.

Those who continue to personalize their pain can stay trapped by their past. They can become bitter, negative and defensive ó and just might enjoy the attention that comes with being a victim. "The people I see thriving are the ones who continue to grow," says Wasserman.

Handle with care

Your medication may be hurting not helping you

Seniors who use medications should pay close attention to what theyíre taking. Itís a big concern. One study revealed that 94 percent of people 65 and older take at least one medication, and two-thirds of seniors use five meds or more.

Age-related changes in kidney and liver function can affect how the body processes and gets rid of medicines, according to Laura M. Traynor, a pharmacist at Columbia St. Maryís and assistant professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. "If you have more of the medicine hanging around in your body, you could for instance be lowering your blood pressure too much, which could make you feel dizzy and perhaps fall," she explains.

Drugs can interact with one another, so itís important to inform your doctors of all medicines you use. Patients should bring all their medications and a list of what they take to each appointment, according to Dr. Michael Malone, a geriatrician at Aurora Health Careís Center for Senior Health and Longevity. "That list needs to be continuously reconciled with what the doctor thinks the patient is taking and what the patient is truly taking," he says.

Donít forget to include over-the-counter meds, supplements and herbals on that list. Some people take St. Johnís Wort for depression, but it can interact with prescription antidepressants, notes Traynor. "Thereís a common misconception that if something is labeled Ďnatural,í it is safe," she adds.

Weight loss in patients of any age can change how well medicines work, because some meds stay in the blood while others distribute more in the tissues. On the flip side, weight loss can indicate a reaction to medication. Other symptoms of medication interaction can include constipation, dizziness or weakness, confusion, dry mouth and being excessively sleepy during the day, according to Malone.

The effectiveness of drugs also is tied to a patientís diet. Avoid these combinations: grapefruit juice (blood pressure and cholesterol meds); and broccoli, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables (blood-thinners such as warfarin/Coumadin).

Remember that medicines do have a shelf life, so check the package or bottle for an expiration date. Malone also warns against patients using up medicines they have before filling an updated prescription.

Filling the 8-to-5 void

Weíve all heard it or even said it: "When I retire, Iíll Ö" Rare is the person who anticipates mental-health issues or conflict with their spouse, but it can happen.

"Our bodies have been programmed for Monday-through-Friday for 40-some years," notes Lisa Schultz, a psychotherapist who works with seniors at ProHealth Careís Behavioral Medicine Center. "Without something to fill those voids, people are more at risk for depression or chemical abuse."

Having someplace to be at a specific time is helpful. Take a class, get more involved in your faith community or join a social club. Many retirees increase their volunteering but, Schultz warns, donít let it become another full-time job.

"We donít want to replicate the 8-to-5, but you do want enough structure where you donít have the opportunity for boredom or complacency to take over," she says.

People whose jobs allowed little free time for hobbies can have the most difficulty transitioning and that usually means men, Schultz says. Couples need to communicate their needs and expectations, she adds. This includes any desires to move, downsize or spend the winters in warmer climes.

"If the woman didnít work outside the home, itís that feeling of ĎYouíre in my space now,í" explains Schultz. In couples where both people work, they might benefit from not retiring at the same time, she adds.

Finding Your Zen

Breathe in, breathe out, relax, clear your head. It sounds so simple, yet it can be a key to health for older adults. Meditation is making inroads in mainstream elder care because it is easy to practice and has been linked to all kinds of health benefits.

"There is a huge potential for healing in all of us, and this is how you tap it, by entering into the mindfulness state," says Dr. Anna Lemnari, a geriatrician and integrative medicine specialist with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.

In meditation, brain waves are slowed to a state of relaxed awareness. It can be done while sitting in a chair or while engaged in tai chi exercises ó "meditation in motion," Lemnari calls it. You can add a mantra, as in the practice of transcendental meditation.

"Many religions, including Christianity, have used it for centuries in the form of meditative prayer," notes Lemnari.

Jarka Axtell, a 72-year-old retired teacher, says her favorite meditation involves visualization and breathing techniques during her daily five-mile walk around South Shore Park. "I enjoy the beautiful sunrises, I connect with nature and sometimes I hug trees," she says.

After her walk, Axtell does another 20 minutes of meditation and then meditates again before bedtime. She learned meditation techniques about five years ago after her sister visited India and told her of its popularity there.

"My health is better because of it," says Axtell. "My awareness is better, my sleep is better, my mind is not so busy. I feel more centered, more grounded."

Different types of meditation have been linked to improvement in a variety of conditions. According to Lemnari, mindfulness meditation can help alleviate anxiety, chronic pain and psoriasis, while tai chi enhances physical balance, cognitive ability and may even improve immunity against shingles. Meanwhile, transcendental meditation has been associated with positive effects on the heart and blood vessels, according to the American Heart Association.

"The elderly stand to benefit quite a bit from the practice, because thatís the group that experiences the greatest burden of chronic diseases," says Lemnari.

For more information:

Milwaukee County Department on Aging and Aging Resource Center of Milwaukee County
(414) 289-6874,

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Waukesha County
(262) 548-7848,

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Ozaukee County
(262) 284-8120,