L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan


How Can a Gerontologist Help Me?

September 21, 2020

My goals as a gerontologist are to empower, educate, and energize women using great information backed up by sound science. We deserve to be the masters of our health and our destiny. Obviously, we have merited that unique focus all along, but thank goodness society is finally catching up.  We now see women across the planet stepping up and taking their rightful places as full creators of their future. I want to help each one of them access the very best version of herself.                                                             

I knew from the beginning of my most recent return to school, that I wanted to concentrate on issues facing women as they age, for both my own journey and to help all my friends live long, healthy lives so that I would have playmates! But seriously, I saw a great need: For so long, few health and science studies focused on women, and only a scant amount had used women participants.  For example, older studies on testing hormones used men as the participants! (How bizarre is that thinking?) Researchers and doctors just took the results of studies on men and applied the same guidelines to women, because women and men are exactly alike.  😉

Eventually studies featured female participants, but only in the last twenty years or so. Still, nowhere could I find clear, concise information regarding women’s health and well-being as seen through a gerontological lens—a holistic lens—as gerontology is a holistic discipline. Holistic means that since all our parts are intimately connected, to fully understand ourselves as complicated human beings we must look at all the different aspects of a person—the psychological, physical, and social elements. Gerontologists are social scientists.

How are Gerontology and Geriatrics Different?

Geriatrics is the study of the diseases of the elderly and focuses solely on medical conditions. 

Do Only Seniors Need a Gerontologist?

It is most often that older people seek the assistance of a gerontologist, however, I know that the younger a person starts following the advice we offer, the more vibrant they will be throughout their lives. Yet, most folks believe a gerontologist only helps seniors. If we could only get the younger ones to be interested (or think they will ever need us!)

How Does a Gerontologist Help with Everyday Living?

My job as a gerontologist for both my readers and my clients is to pull together the best science from each discipline on a subject, and filter it through my understanding and expertise. Then I offer non-pharmaceutical, life-enhancing suggestions and solutions to change the course of our aging. I want my readers to lead lives filled with more vibrancy, and so hopefully, more fun, and with greater opportunities for heart connections and satisfaction on all levels.

I “walk the walk and talk the talk,” as we say, by road-testing my theories on myself first before I suggest them to you. If it doesn’t seem to work, out it goes. I pass along the success stories through my articles and videos and hope they will help women, as they have helped me, feel more energetic, look younger, think clearer and sharper, remember better, and wake up each day excited to have another day here on this planet to manifest my dreams. Even if we have limitations or challenges, we can always strive to be more vibrant.

Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)

Earlier this year I became a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, CAPS for short, to further help seniors stay in their homes by retrofitting those homes to accommodate their changing needs. My thirty years of being an ASID interior designer and owning my own interior design business give me decades of experience added to my gerontological knowledge, to find just the right, and beautiful, solution to every home’s challenges. Adding this important component to my erector set, I can help build a better model for our future selves to be as vibrant as possible throughout our lives.

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The Life-Changing Sleep Secret!

August 31, 2020

I was born a night owl, loving the quiet of the late evening hours, when all the chores are done, commitments completed, the house nicely buttoned up for the night, and I have time for myself. In my younger decades I could easily stay up until 12 midnight or 1 AM, and wake up at a reasonable hour, refreshed. In the last few years, a strange shift has occurred. Even if I got the needed number of hours of sleep, when I go to bed at midnight, or later, the next day I’m tired and lack my usual pep-a-de-do. I can no longer deny the change.

It began in my early fifties and has slowly, and truly, become my new reality. I fought it for years, but now at almost sixty-one I can no longer stay up late, night after night, and expect to fire on enough cylinders to get through my To-Do list, much less anything on my Want-To-Do list the next day.

Going to bed earlier changed my life. I never thought this would happen, but as a gerontologist, I know retiring earlier to feel more competent is a part of aging well; a fact I wanted to ignore.

life changing sleep secrets

While research tells us losing our protective armor of hormones at menopause can also play a part in sleep-related issues– from small to great on a sliding scale depending on the individual woman– that isn’t my issue. Drilling into the science, I find as we get older, we experience a shift in our various circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms works as our body’s twenty-four-hour internal clock. Quietly, under the radar, they carry out key functions and processes. It is my circadian rhythm governing my sleep-wake cycle that downshifted when I wasn’t looking.

Much of the more conventional research ties an imbalance with sleep to our light/dark exposure, but I still wake up at virtually the same time I always did; it’s the time I turn off the light that makes the difference.

A few years ago, Dr. Julia Shekleton and her team at the Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, in their ground-breaking article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, identified why this phenomenon occurs. They called it the Wake Maintenance Zone.

We know the experience of the Wake Maintaince Zone more commonly as “getting a second wind.” Dr. Shekleton tells us the onset of our second wind usually occurs right before our body switches to “getting ready for sleep” mode by secreting melatonin—the hormone released by our brain that makes us feel sleepy. Looking at the circadian 24-hour clock, our brain begins releasing melatonin around 9 PM to our body’s clock even if you are traveling through several time zones. Additionally, in many women, but not all, melatonin declines more sharply at mid-life, which causes many women (and men) to struggle with getting enough restful sleep.

When our second wind kicks in, we get a seemingly “burst” of energy for two or three hours more, making sleep virtually impossible. By the time this second wind winds down, we are out of sync with our natural circadian sleep/wake rhythm, and so lose precious restorative sleep time. As Dr. Shekleton found, the next day our cognitive function suffers, and we feel tired, even if we slept in to try and make up for getting to sleep later the night before. And, if our stress level is high, our cortisol levels will take an uptick at night, just as we want to float off to slumber land, and further sabotage our ability to get restful sleep.

From my perspective as a gerontologist, what I find is working for me, and is helping my clients, is to turn off the light while we are still in the first phases of melatonin secretion—somewhere before 11 PM.  Research tells us this is the magic hour of demarcation, after which our body begins other processes that seem to also feed a second wind. More research is needed, but I know going to bed earlier than my usual time, makes this night owl a much happier, more energetic, and definitely pleasanter person to be around. 

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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George Eliot And I Are in Print!

August 17, 2020

After many months of hard work, and countless revisions, I am thrilled to announce the birth of our book, Live Vibrantly! With L.J. and Her Dog George Eliot. Many people asked me how this book came about. Here’s my story.

While finishing my return to graduate school– after a thirty-year hiatus– I began thinking about how my new business as a gerontologist would manifest. A friend, and artist, and one of my staunchest supporters and cheerleaders, Ann McIntyre, put forth a novel idea. She suggested adding a visual element to my practice. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out how that should look.

After graduation, my husband and I went on vacation to one of our favorite spots, the mid-coast of Maine. There, relaxing and recharging, I could finally stop and take time to just think. As I walked the beach each day, I asked myself, how could I incorporate a visual something into a world of words? Trusting the answer would come at the perfect time, I waited. One afternoon, while stretched out on a blanket, a vision popped into my head. I love clever cartoons; several live under the glass on my desk. I sometimes send particularly funny ones to my friends. Cartoons, cartoons…then my Aha! Moment. I would include funny, but gentle, comments on aging to compliment my Facebook and website blog posts and other offerings, and share them on all my social media platforms.  Adding my precious Havanese puppy, George Eliot, as my sidekick, completed the vision.

The more I thought about this intriguing idea, the more I liked it. Everyone I mentioned it to agreed. Now, how to fill in the details? Since my drawing skills end with stick figures, I needed help to transfer my ideas onto paper. Having worked with a talented young artist, Alex Mikev, on a previous project, I knew he was my man for the job. He said yes, and soon we solidified how George and I would look. We were ready to go!

The finished illustrations you see each week, begin by me drawing a rough sketch and thinking up the dialog. I then give that to Alex to work his artistic magic to bring my idea into frame. I find my inspiration all around me—from things I have personally experienced as I am getting older, things my friends say, quotes I read, comments from my readers, and the endless antics of life with George Eliot. I decided to select some of my favorite drawings I have posted since George and I debuted on the World Wide Web in January 2018–the day I hung out my sign and opened my door as a gerontologist.

 I hope you enjoy my humorous perspectives on aging as much as I enjoy creating them!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Cerebral Small Vessel Disease. Might You Have It?

August 10, 2020

Cerebral small vessel disease. You may know it by one of a handful of terms: white matter disease, small vessel ischemic disease, lacunar infarcts, white matter hyperintensities, or Leukoaraiosis. Cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) encompasses a group of changes and developments (abnormalities) in the small blood vessels of the brain. Today I want to talk about the signs of cerebral small vessel disease and some promising life choices we can make to keep our brains healthy.

Recent reporting by Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH,* and research done by Dr. Vincent Mok for the Journal of Stroke both note seeing white matter changes, (historically, and still today, called “white matter changes”) when viewing brain tissue on an MRI. Dr. Mok writes, “Lacunar infarcts (small strokes), white matter hyperintensities (these are seen during an MRI), and cerebral microbleeds [meaning bleeding in the brain from a very small blood vessel] are considered various manifestations of cerebral small vessel disease. These lesions are associated with a plethora of disabilities (e.g., stroke, cognitive impairment, depression, gait disturbances, urinary symptoms).”

cerebral small vessel disease

What Causes Cerebral Small Vessel Disease?

What causes CSVD to develop? That source of all disease: chronically high inflammation. After existing in our bodies for years, and accelerating the development of sticky plaque in our blood vessels and heart, inflammation leads to deposits of plaque, like tiny time bombs, in our brains. The damage accumulates and the small vessels in our brains become blocked – just like in a major artery. These blocks deprive our brain of nourishing blood to keep it humming in perfect tune. Blockages may allow the small vessels to leak blood into our brain tissue, resulting in a brain hemorrhage. Other conditions can also produce white matter changes, but CSVD tops the list of probable causes.

What are the Key Symptoms of CSVD?

We classify CSVD into three levels:

  1. no noticeable symptoms;
  2. moderate symptoms; or
  3. severe symptoms.

Many older adults with CVSD have no noticeable symptoms. Those we notice in folks with moderate to severe CSVD include:

  • Cognitive Impairment: When tested, those seniors with CVSD scored worse on the M-MSE, a standard exam given to test cognitive function. Vascular cognitive impairment is the term you might hear in relation to cognitive impairment and cerebral small vessel disease.
  • Walking or Balance Issues. Research shows a direct link between increased problems with overall mobility – including standing still and keeping our balance, and a disturbance in our walking and carriage when white matter lesions exist in our brains. Those of us with moderate to severe CVSD experience a noticeable downshift in our walking and balancing abilities.
  • Stroke Risk Increase. A study analyzing many studies found a 50% increase in the risk of having a stroke when white matter hyperintensities were present in the brain.
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Have You Learned a New Skill or Hobby?

July 27, 2020

In looking at the glass more than half-full (as is my nature), today I want to highlight why learning a new skill is a great way to live more vibrantly this red-hot minute. During these months of sheltering in place, I have experienced, and continue to experience, the complete scale of emotions– from feeling hopeless, angry, frustrated, and claiming few accomplishments for the day beyond the basics, to feeling good and full of energy. For me, reading the newspapers instead of watching or listening to the daily news has really helped. I know what is happening in the big picture, and reports from doctors and scientists keep me informed of the progress in controlling the virus/finding a vaccine. I also subscribe to several newsletters and email lists focusing on good news. These definitely lift my mood. I check in by phone with friends and loved ones around the globe, and I spend time being quiet and holding thoughts of peace, health, prosperity, and abundance for every living thing on the planet. All these things are helping. One thing I have added to the list that’s a game changer: the benefits of learning a new skill.

learn a new skill

We all know the thrill of accomplishing something new—learning to make delicious pie crust, mastering a new piece on the piano, getting a flowering plant to actually stay green and flower—anything you previously didn’t know how to do. (A very long list in my case!) Psychologists and researchers long ago proved how learning a new skill boosts our self-esteem and our mental health. Learning a new skill (jump rope, anyone?) also increases our memory and enhances our physical health. The biggest payoff? Learning a new skill strengthens our immune system.

Think of the excitement and great feeling you get from pulling out that perfect peach pie from the oven and having the family rave when you serve it for dessert. Success does wonders for our immune system. A cascade of healing happy hormones—dopamine (released when we feel we have accomplished a long-sought goal), serotonin (released when we feel seen and acknowledged), and oxytocin (released when we feel a sense of well-being and love.)

These major hormones and a cast of others boost our immune system by lowering our cortisol levels, a key hormone causing inflammation, which is the driver of all disease. Our production of antibodies goes up and our cells put on their extra-strong armor to help keep us healthy.

What is one thing I am proud of learning to do these last few months? I learned how to grout tile so that I could replace all the popped tiles in my bathroom. The tiles I selected twenty years ago (and never again) were small, one-inch square glass tiles. Over time, as my ninety-eight year old house has shifted, the tiles have on occasion popped out of the grout.

Well, pre-lockdown, I would have called my handyman to reaffix them. With that not an option, and the little pile growing, I decided I could do it myself. I watched YouTube videos, bought all the necessary tools, and went at it. Cotton swabs became my new best friends. When I was done, my biggest fear was that the tiles wouldn’t stay in their original holes, even though the product was a tile adhesive and grout mixture. But, it worked! I took a shower after waiting the prescribed twenty-four hours, and those tiles never budged. Dozens of showers later, they are still holding fast. My husband was impressed. What an accomplishment. Next, maybe I’ll learn how to repair the cracks and divots in my interior wood trim….

Ask yourself, what new skills can I learn during lockdown? Or, what new skill have you learned during sheltering that you are most proud of? Please tell me your story. We are all winners and deserve the cheers and support of our community. I can’t wait to read them!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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