Want to Age Better? Join a Choir

Join-ChoirBy Deborah Quilter for Next Avenue

Twenty years ago, when academic researcher Julene Johnson wanted to study how music might help the aging process, she couldn’t get funding. Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, suspected that music might improve memory, mood and even physical function.

And, she thought, what could be more perfect than choral music? Your instrument is already in your body, and you are bathed in beautiful sound by fellow musicmakers. Singing in a group is fun, so there’s plenty of reason to come back week after week: You get to see your friends and exercise your vocal cords and brain all at once.

Fast forward to 2010, when Johnson won a Fulbright scholarship to study the impact of singing in the quality of life of older adults in Finland.

Why Finland?
Because there, children study arts, but they don’t stop when they get older, as so many people do in the United States. They keep singing or making music throughout their lives. In fact, in one city (population 125,000) there were more than 50 choirs — six of which were dedicated to older adults. Because of its emphasis on cradle-to-grave musical expression, Finland seemed the perfect place to study the effect of music on aging.

Music as a Force for Good
In Finland, Johnson saw the effects up close, including how making music together can build group cohesion toward a common goal.

Vocal music even played a pivotal role in Finnish history, Johnson notes. “Music was used as a political force,” she says. When Finland was ruled by Russia, citizens would meet and talk about politics. They planned how to change the future at singing festivals, which eventually led to the country’s independence.

When Johnson returned to the U.S., she was determined to learn more. So when the National Institutes of Health called for proposals to identify novel ways to promote independence and well-being in older adults, she applied for, and receive, a grant founding her Community of Voices study, the largest of its kind.

Johnson hypothesized that music participation is a cost-effective way to promote health, independence and well-being to help an increasingly diverse population of older people remain active and independent. Other studies have found that older adults who sing in choirs tend to have high rates of well-being and mood, but they didn’t address whether those effects can be attributed to choral singing or to the self-selection of the participants.

The Community of Voices Study
Johnson’s study — large, rigorous and randomized — would really put the hypothesis to the test. Involving 390 participants from 12 senior centers in the San Francisco Bay area, the Community of Voices study is unique in a few ways.

For starters, it is the first to test the effects of an arts-based intervention for older adults on improving key measures of health and well-being: cognitive health, physical functioning, emotional well-being and social connectedness.

Another difference is the deliberate recruitment of ethnically-diverse older adults. By 2030, nearly half of people over 65 are expected to come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
After participants were recruited, they were screened and given assessments that would be remeasured at six and 12 months. Participants needed to be 60 or older and have adequate vision and hearing and fluency in English or Spanish. People with significant cognitive impairment were excluded. Of the nearly 400 participants, 55 percent had not sung in a choir as an adult.

Serious About Singing in a Choir
The Community of Voices program also was different from the passive singalong approach to choruses that you might expect to see in senior centers because it was designed to include physical, social and cognitive components as well as performances.

Professional choir conductors and accompanists designed the musical program. Directors made certain adjustments for age, such as changing the key to allow for aging voices to sing without strain. But the 90-minute rehearsals involved learning new songs, paying attention to the conductor and synchronizing personal singing parts with the rest of the choir. The repertoire included Latin, African-American and Filipino music, show tunes that were tailored to each choir.

Rather than sitting the whole time, choir members stood or moved to different parts of the room. A 15-minute warm-up at the beginning of each session included vocal work, breathing and stretching movements. There was also a 10-minute refreshment break.

Measuring Outcomes
Each choir met once a week for a year, and performed three to four times in public. The average age was 71, females represented 76 percent of participants,and two-thirds were non-white. Researchers collected data about falls and the use of health care services every three months, and focused on three primary outcomes:

Cognitive function  Attention and executive function were tested.

Lower body strength  Participants were given a timed sit-to-stand test to assess their ability.

Emotional well-being  Participants were rated on the frequency of depressive symptoms including feeling down, having little interest in things, trouble sleeping, being tired, having poor appetite, feeling bad about themselves, having trouble concentrating or moving slowly.

Participants were also tested for verbal learning and memory, social engagement, social support, loneliness, walking speed, balance and falls.

Another key attribute was measured — self-efficacy — which Johnson defined as “people feeling like they have the power to do things for themselves.” In addition to literally building strength to sing louder, Johnson notes that singing can help people find their voice metaphorically speaking.
“The voice is a way of self-expression,” she says. “They can speak up to their landlords.”

The last Community of Voices choir is soon to finish its run for the study, and the data is still being collected and tabulated. One thing is for sure, though: The choirs were a hit. Once they finished participation in the study, all the previous choirs have continued to sing.
© Twin Cities Public Television – 2017. All rights reserved.

Fighting ageism and unfair treatment in health care

Fighting-Ageism-unfair-treatmentBy Terry Fulmer for Next Avenue

Everyone deserves equal treatment — in the broader society and in our health care system. Today, older people are often not treated fairly and do not get the care they deserve, simply because of their age. While one of our great success stories in the 20th century was the stunning gain in human longevity, recent research from The Frameworks Institute, funded by my group, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and others, has found that the majority of us still don’t recognize ageism or its deleterious effects. They call it a “cognitive hole,” a mental blind spot.

As 10,000 of us turn 65 each day, it is critical that we shine a bright light on this insidious prejudice. It is a matter of simple fairness and justice. It is a way to honor the priceless and irreplaceable contributions that older adults make every day to enrich our society and culture. And for those of us at The John A. Hartford Foundation, it is critical to the broader effort to improve care for older people.

The Dangers of Ageism
Research during the last two decades has implicated ageism in the under- and over-treatment of older patients, as too many clinicians mischaracterize organic medical conditions as normal aging. Others ignore pain, anxiety and depression as unavoidable as we get older or unconsciously view older people as less worthy or less important than their younger counterparts.

A classic example is the underdetection of elder mistreatment, when, for example, clinicians ascribe bruises to anticoagulants instead of making an effort to ensure there is no family violence. Another — the assumption that all older people become confused and forgetful, when, instead, a brain tumor may be the real problem.

These negative and inaccurate views of older people consistently hamper our ability to recruit nurses, doctors and other health professionals into geriatrics and gerontology. The result: our health care workforce often lacks the knowledge and experience to treat a group of patients who make up 35 percent of all hospital stays and 27 percent of all doctor’s office visits. And though nearly four in 10 older people take five or more medications, clinical trials generally exclude older patients with multiple chronic conditions, so we may misjudge drugs’ efficacy (and even dangers) with this important patient population.

Even our own views of aging can have important influences on health and well-being. Researchers note people with more positive expectations about aging live longer, experience less stress and have a greater willingness to exercise and eat better. Conversely, negative perceptions of aging — inadvertently supported by unhelpful and negative stereotypes in popular culture and the media — can reinforce self-defeating behaviors that make us more vulnerable to disease and disability.

Developing an Age-Friendly Health System
During the last century, our health care system has consistently demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt and to find innovative solutions to challenging problems. Looking ahead, we need an intensive effort to create an age-friendly health system where all older adults and their families feel that the care they receive is the care they want and that they feel respected in the process.

We need health care suffused with aging expertise, devoted to person- and family-centered care, and able to provide coordinated services in the hospital, clinic and the community. This work is neither simple nor easy. Raising awareness about, and addressing, ageism throughout the health care system — and throughout our society — will be critical to delivering the care all of us want and deserve as we get older.
© Twin Cities Public Television – 2017. All rights reserved.

Art is Ageless® call for entries is underway

Basic RGBAberdeen Village has issued a call for entries for the Art is Ageless® juried exhibit to be held April 24-May 26. Entries of artistic works will be accepted from any area artist who is 65 years of age or older to exhibit and/or compete for an opportunity to be featured in the 2018 Art is Ageless calendar.

Artists may choose to enter the exhibit only. For the competition, works are to have been completed in the past five years (since January 2012). There are nine categories, as well as designations of amateur or professional. Works to be entered for judging need to be at Presbyterian Manor by April 12.

The Art is Ageless® Program encourages Presbyterian Manor residents and other area seniors to express their creativity through its annual competition, as well as art classes, musical and dramatic events, educational opportunities and current events discussions throughout the year.

Local competition winners will join winners 16 other Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America communities to be judged at the systemwide level.

Entry forms and information can be picked up at Aberdeen Village, 17500 W. 119th St, Olathe, or by contacting Chrissie Ammann at 913-599-6100, ext. 2501 or cammann@pmma.org. Or go online to ArtIsAgeless.org to view rules, download an entry form or enter online.

Chaplain: Popcorn and a movie

shutterstock_297732923By Diane Gunsolley, Aberdeen Village chaplain

Do you remember when driving down to the local movie theater, sharing some hot buttered popcorn, and escaping into the adventure unfolding on the big screen was a fairly regular occurrence? Perhaps you still frequent the movies; for me, it’s rare.

Most of today’s films just aren’t worth plunking down the cash. When a movie sounds marginally good, I usually wait a few months, rent it at Redbox and watch it at home. Now that our TV sets are three, four or even five times the size they used to be, I feel like I’m at my own private movie theater. If the movie is disappointing, it’s not at all embarrassing to walk out, and if the movie is excellent, I enjoy watching the best parts a second time.

There’s a new movie coming out titled “The Shack” that interests me so much I’m not willing to wait for Redbox. The big question in my mind is whether the movie will do justice to the book.

“The Shack,” written by William Young, has sold more than 20 million copies since it was published in 2007. It is one of those page-turners that kept me up reading well into the night. “The Shack” is a heartwarming work of fiction. It is the story of a man overwhelmed with deep emotional pain who finds inner healing through interactions with God. The story asks wonderful questions about God and how he makes himself known to us.

I believe the book accomplishes its objective as stated by Wayne Jacobson, who collaborated on it: “Our hope was to help people see how the Loving Creator can penetrate our defenses and lead us to healing. Our prayer is that through this book people will see the God of the Bible as Jesus presented him to be — an endearing reality who wants to love us out of our sin and bondage and into his life.”

As a chaplain, I love engaging people in conversations about God, and this book gets people talking. All find it surprising. To some it is endearing and to others disquieting. Is the story and style appealing to everyone? No, it is not. Some believe it promotes false ideas about God. Whatever your perspective, it leads to great questions about the Christian faith.

On Tuesday, March 7, Independent Living residents have an opportunity to participate in an outing to view the movie. The next morning, I plan to lead a movie discussion during our regular Bible study time. I will introduce material gleaned from the book “Finding God in the Shack.”

Author and theologian Randal Rauser writes: “Perhaps the most we can hope for is to obtain glimpses of the beauty, harmony and unconditional love at the heart of God. ‘The Shack’ provides some fascinating glimpses indeed.”

I encourage you to join us at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 8, if you’ve seen the movie or if you are one of the 20 million who have read the book. Come too if you decided not to see the movie. Hear why some loved it and others rank it as inaccurate as the portrayal of God rendered by a cigar-smoking George Burns in the 1977 film “Oh, God.” Let “The Shack” be our catalyst to talk about who God is and how he makes himself known in the world. Join us for a great conversation.

Around the world and back to Kansas again

Mary Johnson 6Many of us can only dream about traveling the world, seeing different countries and meeting amazing people, but Mary Johnson got to experience that dream in real life. Throughout her 56 years of marriage to David Johnson Jr., Mary lived in nearly a dozen different places. Some right here in the United States, but several abroad, from Alaska to Germany and Guam.

The adventure began at KU. Mary was a sophomore, and David was a senior. He served in World War II and had returned to KU to graduate. They dated for a little while but Mary admits that she didn’t want to marry a minister. However, David’s charm won out, and they married on June 7, 1952.

In 1954 David became a Presbyterian USA minister and served at a couple of churches. It was 1961 when David became an Air Force chaplain. This began the many wonderful travels to places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and tons of other destinations around the world.

Mary was usually always by David’s side, with the exception of when they were in Alaska. For an entire year Mary saw her husband three days a month. She admitted “it was like meeting a new person every time David came home.”

Of course the traveling and three sons kept Mary and her family busy throughout the years, but never too busy to volunteer and gain many awards for her efforts. Mary won the Military Wife of the Year award and Vol Star of the year for Johnson County Community College. Mary confesses that she is an avid meetings person. She loves a good meeting! “There is a feeling of accomplishment and a plan to move forward when you finish with a meeting.”

In addition to her many awards and acknowledgments, she picked up a few precious pieces of fine memorabilia along her travels. Some of her nicest pieces came from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Alaska, but perhaps the most precious items in her collection are her KU trinkets. She loves her team and knew that she and David would always come home to “roost” in Kansas. They settled in Overland Park. David retired as chaplain and a colonel. Mary and David enjoyed their church and family, volunteering and living life.

David died in 2008. In December 2015, Mary started a new journey and made the move to Aberdeen Village. The move sure hasn’t slowed Mary down.

“I knew Aberdeen was the place for me, no question about it,” she said. She is still quite busy with volunteering, enjoying old friends and making new ones here at Aberdeen. Let’s not forget about her Jayhawks — she is still cheering them on!

“I just love how I still get to enjoy and show off all of my favorite memorabilia pieces in my beautiful apartment,” she said. Mary also gets to enjoy her eight grandchildren. There is much to be said for traveling the world, but there is nothing quite like being home!

Learning to swim at 80

Tackling a lifelong to-do can be really enjoyable

By Louise Jackson for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Every Thursday night, I drive to the gym, wriggle into a swimsuit that does nothing to hide my bulging belly or my wrinkled, sagging underarms, put on swim goggles that make me look a bit like someone from outer space, grab my cane to help keep my balance while walking from the dressing room into the pool area and slowly ease down the steps into water smelling of chlorine.

I’m 80 years old and taking a swim class for the first time in my life.

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How to become a Boomer tech genius

Humorous and helpful ideas to get savvy about electronics and apps

By Barbara Crowley for Next Avenue


(Editor’s Note: This article is a reader-submitted essay.)

I believe my generation, the boomers, will change the way the world views aging.

I think we’ll do this by railing against getting old, whereas the generations before us just sat back and accepted it.

Suppliers of cosmetics, plastic surgery, pharmaceuticals and vitamin supplements have voluntarily joined our cause. Actually, these businesses don’t see it so much as a cause, but as a potentially lucrative demographic  — now tagged the “grey market.”

For most of these businesses, the focus is “anti-aging.”

I take issue with that term. The dictionary definition of “anti” is “opposed to.” Can you really be opposed to aging? Like you have an option and can cast your vote?

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Gestures of love

Aberdeen Village Independent Living residents Kenneth and Esther Minter

Aberdeen Village Independent Living residents Kenneth and Esther Minter

Do you want to know what a whole lot of love looks like? How about 193 years worth of love? With that many years of love there are bound to be some pretty amazing romantic gestures along the way, as well as great bits of advice on how these couples have endured for so many years. That is what you will find with these four couples who live at Aberdeen Village.

Kenneth and Esther Minter, independent living residents, have been married for 63 years, since 1953. They first met at a hayrack ride, and it was nothing but love from there on out. One of the most romantic gestures that Kenneth made for Esther was when they were starting their family. Kenneth was in the navy. Esther was in the hospital after having their first child, and some local navy friends gave Kenneth two lobsters so that he would be able to eat while Esther was in the hospital. Kenneth knew this was a treat, so he saved one lobster for Esther and prepared it for her when she returned home. They say there are many fish in the sea, but one lobster is all it took for Kenneth to show Esther just how much she meant to him. Kenneth and Esther’s best advice for a long-lasting relationship is not to argue. “Yes, there will be good days and bad days, but you just get through them.”

Richard and Kay Benjamin are also residents of independent living, also married for 63 years. They first met at a Pie & Box social. One of the events at the social was a Miss Popular Contest. Richard voted for Kay. Unfortunately, she didn’t win the contest, but she won the heart of Richard. Six months later they were officially introduced, and their love story goes on from there. Kay had always been an avid piano player growing up, and Richard knew how much she loved to play. She was at home one day with their two children and the doorbell rang. It was a delivery man. Kay told the man he must have the wrong address, but he confirmed the address and that it was for her. He said that he had a piano on the truck that he was to deliver to her. Kay was overjoyed because this was their first piano for the family. She was so excited to be able to play again. Richard and Kay’s best piece of advice for a long-lasting relationship is to go with the flow and have patience. Richard admitted he has had a lot of patience throughout their marriage. Kay then said with a big smile, “Obviously, humor is also important.”

Bob and Barbara Buehler are residents of our health care neighborhood. They have been married for 67 years. The Buehlers met in junior high. Bob was in line walking down the hall, and Barbara was standing outside of her sewing class. Bob thought she was pretty and then he introduced himself to her, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask her out. When he was a junior in high school, Bob did ask her on a date, but he was too nervous to ask her out again until he was a senior. They started dating when they were in college and have been together ever since. They both agree that being friends throughout your relationship is key. Barbara’s birthday is the Feb. 16, so Bob always took great care to not lump her birthday and Valentine’s Day together. He always did something special for her.

Duke and Wilda Vogel are residents of Aberdeen Village’s assisted living neighborhood. They have been married for 12 years. They grew up together and have been friends since fifth grade. The best romantic gesture that Duke has made is to tell Wilda every day how important she is to him, and that she is his best friend. Their best piece of advice is to know the person you are marrying and dedicate your life to keeping peace in your relationship.

Being older is better for many travel discounts

Those milestone birthdays can add up to major savings

By Irene S. Levine for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

The next time you travel, ask about a “senior discount.” You may discover there are fabulous perks to reaching those milestone birthdays. Many hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, entertainment venues and big-box stores offer age-related discounts, although they’re often not publicized.

It’s no wonder travel companies seek opportunities to woo older travelers. U.S. News & World Report recently reported that boomers control 70 percent of all disposable income in the United States. Moreover, older travelers are likely to have more time to travel. A report by AARP found that boomer travelers anticipate taking four or five trips a year.

Whether you are traveling in the U.S. or abroad, here are some tips for finding age-related discounts to whittle down the costs of your next vacation:

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4 ways to beat the winter blues

Use these ‘light’ tips to brighten your days.

By Patricia Corrigan for Next Avenue


When the sun wakes up late and slips away before the workday ends, when many a day is dark and gray, when it’s Groundhog Day and even an early spring seems far away, many large, hairy mammals — Punxsutawney Phil, included — choose to hibernate. But not us!

We slog through, knowing that the passage of time will bring brighter days ahead. But we can do more than wait it out. Here are four easy ways to beat the winter blues and create a little sunshine of your own:

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