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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Tapping Into a Better Brain

July 15, 2019

A number of years ago, before I went back to school to study gerontology, I began noticing articles in a variety of publications suggesting that exercise might just be the key to unlock the door to vibrant health—mentally and physically– as we enter the second half of our lives. As I write this, we now know beyond all doubt that exercising every day is the key to dynamic aging. It will effectively disrupt aging and can stave off a vat full of health problems. Earlier this year in two posts, Shake Your Booty and The Rhythm of the Drums, I explored the latest research citing dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brain and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles.

If you ever participated in your high school’s annual musical production, or took modern dance or ballet because your mother forced you to, you will remember those students who never got the steps, and who had the grace of a spastic earwig. I confess to being one of those students. Therefore it was with no expectations, and little hope, that I signed up for tap class. The first semester wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t cotton on to this kind of dance; so different from the free-form rock and roll dancing I knew. I would sit in my car after class and cry, disheartened that the parade of life had passed me by and that, maybe, I was too old to get this.  Same experience for the second and third semesters, but by the beginning of the fourth, I noticed a small but encouraging change: I could remember how to execute some of the steps after a few tries, and some days both feet would behave for most of the class. Finally, I could keep up with the routine. My teacher, Vicky, a life-long dancer near my own age, who is demanding but very kind, never gave up on me. My fellow tappers were also free of judgement and full of encouragement. The continuously positive environment was the reason I stayed, unlike years before when a ballet teacher shamed me in front of the class for being such a hopeless beginner.  

Shuffle-ball-change by double-toe-tap, I improved. Some weeks it all flows, and other weeks I just give up and make up my own steps while the others tap out a perfect routine. Over time I learned to joke and laugh at my mistakes, and everyone laughed with me. I gave up trying to be perfect, and let the over-achieving aspect of L.J. take a break on the bench.

As our time together as a class has increased, everyone has lightened up, we laugh more, and have a lot of fun. Some days we follow class with lunch together. I look forward to my class each week, and miss it when summer comes. About the same time I could follow along fairly well, I noticed my mind felt clearer, a little sharper. Now, even when I am tired I think better, and my thoughts seem more organized. From my research I know the tracks I began laying in my brain two years ago have gone from resembling noodles, to ones stronger than cardboard, to pathways now as strong as wood. That’s only one step away from making permanent steel tracks. Maybe then I can get the routine down on the second or third try. At this moment, I am so grateful I didn’t give up, that I found a new form of exercise I enjoy.  

And, I expanded my world with new friends who share my passion for aging vibrantly.

 Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Set in our Ways

July 8, 2019

I recently had lunch with a dear friend who is in his mid-eighties. In our many years of friendship we have covered a huge variety of topics from politics to the latest James Bond movie to the best kind of pajamas (cotton, with dog print, of course.) A couple of years ago, I noticed a shift in his thought process and responses. He is still as sharp as a Swiss Army knife, however, when we hit on a topic and I offer a counter perspective, in the past he would nod, contemplate my words and offer a considered response. Lately, he has gone from doing that to simply dismissing my opinion as irrelevant. The pitch of his dismissal has also escalated. He has developed a habit, which I see is a variation of the Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory in action: Selective Exposure Theory.

This can happen at any age, but it is a behavior often adopted by the elderly. This behavior is happening in the US in greater numbers and is becoming a growing concern for the seniors’ friends and family. More and more these seniors refuse to hear anything that defies their set beliefs, or their worldviews. Why does this really matter? It matters because it is a sign that these people no longer want to be fully engaged in the world, learn new things, or think deeply about important life/cultural issues specific to their areas of interest or expertise, as in the case of my friend who is a literary scholar.

This decision, whether conscious or unconscious, halts the intake of new information, a critical part of keeping our brains engaged, active, and challenged; all key components in opposing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We become what my sweet grandmother used to call, “set in your ways.” I have said many times before, (and will again!) our bodies are “use it or lose it” cellular machines, and that is equally true for our brains, our emotional hearts, and our physical bodies. I call this behavior Locking In, and once we start to lock in, our brains in all areas, begin to atrophy. The first to falter are our memory functions followed by our higher reasoning skills. From there we start to favor re-runs of I Love Lucy and twenty-four-piece puzzles. Maybe not right away, but the die is cast.

Now for some good news! You, or a loved one can avoid the above scenario by making different choices. Remember, if you don’t like the way your life is going, you have the power to re-choose.

Here are a few ideas to engage your mind if you begin to feel the Selective Exposure Theory surfacing in your psyche or see it creeping into a loved one’s: 1) Go to a lecture/discussion group on a topic you are only mildly interested in, listen to the comments, and keep an open mind; 2) Even better, learn about something completely new that you have no prior knowledge of; 3) Listen to music other than what you prefer, and try to appreciate its value; 4) Take a break from your usual reading preference and try something different. If you like mysteries or romances, check out some historical non-fiction, true crime, or sci-fi. Then, find a friend who loves that genre and share opinions; 5) Sign up to volunteer in a field you know nothing about. (For me that would be childcare ;-))

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The goal is to challenge your brain, force yourself to think and learn about new things. Before too long, I wouldn’t be surprised if your memory is better, and you look five years younger!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Quarterly Blog Post Recap

July 1, 2019

Quarterly Blog Post Recap

(April-June 2019)

April 1, 2019—What With Age Comes Wisdom Really Means

Growing older, gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is often not as important as being kind

April 7, 2019—The Role of Telomeres in Slowing Down Our Aging Clock and How to Increase Them

Stress increases our levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain. Regular exercise not only reverses the damage, but also improves brain and memory function and lengthens our telomeres.

April 15, 2019—Why Multi-tasking is Draining Your Brain and Memory Banks

Many things we do every day are hurting our brains more than helping, but our memory banks don’t have to stay in drawdown mode; we have the power to make generous deposits by choosing new ways of doing things that will add to our lives in every moment.

April 22, 2019—How Stress Negatively Impacts Your Memory

Lowering stress levels should be our number one priority. An overabundance of stress messes with our minds, and as we enter middle ag, our bodies don’t have the same reserves we once had to preserve brain function.

April 28, 2019—Dancing May Be the Best Aerobic Exercise to Reduce Dementia

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long-term health of your brain and reverse telemetric aging.

May 6, 2019 –Please Define Gerontology

Gerontology is the all-encompassing study of aging and the problems related to aging.  The practice of gerontology is both a science and an art; it’s the blending of research and education, advocacy, and care for the mid-life and beyond population. It is the study of body, mind, and spirit.

May 13, 2019—Aging In Place

Remaining at home, or as the gerontologists call it—aging in place—allows us to keep our connections to neighbors and friends, slows memory loss, and preserves our independence as long as possible. It is often more economical, too. Most of all, aging in place makes us happier!

May 20, 2019— Does Ageing Suck? Part 1

Getting older is a blend of acceptance, adherence, and attitude. Whenever we don’t like the way our lives are going, we have the power to re-choose a new life path.  Often the smallest changes make the biggest difference.

June 3, 2019— Does Ageing Suck? Part 2

Everyone eventually learns that growing older is a mixed bag of mostly good times with the inevitable bad. Seeing the glass half full is at times almost impossible, but good health practices and having meaningful relationships help us survive those toughest of times.

Quarterly Blog Post Recap

June 10, 2019— Are You Out of Balance?

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

June 17, 2019— How Much Water Should I Drink? Part I

Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, need water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally. Drink up!

June 24, 2019— How Much Water Should I Drink? Part II

A minimum of sixty-four (64) ounces of good quality, filtered water will cover your needs, adding in a few more glasses during and after exercise, and in very hot weather. This means only water. Other liquids—iced tea, juice, coffee, or vodka– don’t count toward your total daily intake

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How Much Water Should I Drink a Day? Part II

June 24, 2019

The topic of water is as big as an ocean, and so to continue…

In addition to the benefits I mentioned last time, drinking enough water can help us cut calories by filling up the available space in our stomachs with this zero-calorie fluid verses, say, Orangeade™. What works with weight loss is if you choose water or a non-caloric beverage over a caloric beverage and/or eat a diet higher in water-rich foods that are healthier, more filling, and help you trim calorie intake,” says Penn State researcher and multi-published author, Barbara Rolls, PhD.

One of the most widely known benefits of drinking water is good kidney function. Poor kidney function can cause all kinds of problems, including kidney stones. One in twenty of us will suffer from kidney stones in our lifetime, and the scale tips toward seniors as those who will suffer the most. Why? Because as we age, our thirst dial gets turned down and we are less able to register the need for water, so it becomes doubly important for us mid-lifers and seniors to consciously adopt the habit of drinking enough water. Dr. Barry Poppins at UNC Chapel Hill found that even after seniors were in dehydration, they were less thirsty and drank less replenishing fluids that did the younger folks in the study. Even when offered yummy drinks, the seniors in the study failed to drink enough to fully hydrate themselves. They had to choose to drink enough.

You may have read or heard about the connection between delirium/dementia and seniors. To stay on point here about the benefits of hydration for seniors, let me just say seniors are sometimes misdiagnosed as suffering from dementia, when in fact they are suffering from delirium—delirium being a serious disturbance in their cognitive abilities that results in confused thinking and a reduced awareness of their surroundings. A possible cause for the delirium? You guessed it, not enough water.  Another strong connection with not drinking enough water is an increased expression of Bronchopulmonary Disorders like asthma and other bronchial issues when people, especially seniors, are dehydrated and exercise. These folks need to be sure to drink adequate amounts of water to prevent an episode when they raise their heart rate.

Lastly, do you want your skin to feel and look younger? Drink enough water. Dehydration makes older skin look even drier and more wrinkled–a state improved overnight by drinking enough water to be properly hydrated. It can’t erase wrinkles, dang it, but softer more supple skin when glowing from being properly hydrated does make those laugh lines look positively endearing.

So the ten million dollar question on the front burner of your brain: How much water should I drink in a day? The answer varies according to a few factors, but a minimum of sixty-four (64) ounces of good quality, filtered water will cover your needs, adding in a few more glasses during and after exercise, and in very hot weather—like Texas in July and August. This means only water. Other liquids—iced tea, juice, coffee, or vodka– don’t count toward your total daily intake. Those are just extra.

I started with a little cup with a dial on it as my way in, but there are now new-fangled ounce-and-cup- counting vessels all over the market. Choose the one that appeals to you and buy two—one for the office and one for home. Your brain, your heart, and your parched skin will thank you for it. We can beat dehydration in old age and move toward being vibrant just by drinking water—and it’s calorie free!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan





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How Much Water Should I Drink a Day? Part I

June 17, 2019

My mother wasn’t a water drinker, and so I wasn’t a water drinker until I was in my late twenties when I first read about the benefits of good hydration and the importance of staying hydrated for healthy aging. It took a while for me to add this habit into my life. I used to have an eight-ounce cup with a dial, and each time I drank a full cup of water I got to turn the dial to the next opening. It somehow made it easier, and a little more fun to chug down those glasses.  Now, thirty-plus years later, it comes naturally. What’s more, I can feel the effects of dehydration when I don’t get enough water. Here is the really, really terrific news about drinking water: the effects are virtually immediate, and the positive feelings (which I will discuss in more detail) you will experience become accessible anytime you fill your body with this life-enhancing elixir. Now that’s pretty great in my book.

Our science lesson for today: Think back to high school biology class for a moment, where we learned that our bodies are made up of 60% water, our brains and hearts are 73% water and our lungs 83% water. Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, require water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally. Some of the most important functions of proper hydration include our digestion, circulation of our blood, the transportation of nutrients in and out of our cells, removal of toxins and waste from our organs and cells, and maintaining our body’s temperature. Whew, and that’s just the short list! Without enough water our body downshifts into crisis mode, causing stress to all parts, inside and out.

Without enough water, our cells can’t stay balanced (with the correct amount of fluid) and so electrolytes (a substance present in all our bodily fluids) can’t do their job effectively. Electrolytes are needed for all nerve reactions—in our muscles and…you guessed it, our brain. According to research, an electrolyte imbalance can cause a variety of negative symptoms, some potentially deadly. Fatigue after only limited activity is a sign of dehydration; the muscles don’t perform as well, and cramping may occur. This is especially crucial for folks who exercise regularly, and/or do so in a warm climate.

Brain fog and mental confusion are also triggers that tell us our bodies need more water. Remember when you drank too much alcohol at your niece’s wedding?  The headache and foggy thinking you felt the next day were due to dehydration from choosing to replace your water intake with gin and tonics. 😉  In a large study published in Nutrition Review in 2010, researchers found that a steady practice of denying your brain the water it needs can speed up the development of dementia. They also discovered being even mildly dehydrated causes mood fluctuations, difficulty in maintaining concentration, and influences the short-term memory process in all people regardless of their ages. It seems no one is immune. Running on empty, water-wise, impairs higher brain functions we use in math calculations. Insufficient water also affects the use of fine motor skills—think sewing or silver-smithing, as well as our eye-hand coordination needed to fold laundry, put on make-up, or write a letter (in the olden days, that is). Again, filling our internal tanks will alleviate most of these difficulties in double-quick fashion, so drink up!

I have more to say about this important topic so stay tuned, and…

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan
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