aging | KUOW News and Information

aging

Losing your ability to think and remember is pretty scary. We know the risk of dementia increases with age. But if you have memory lapses, you probably needn't worry. There are pretty clear differences between signs of dementia and age-related memory loss.

After age 50, it's quite common to have trouble remembering the names of people, places and things quickly, says Dr. Kirk Daffner, chief of the division of cognitive and behavioral neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

I'm often asked for medical advice by friends, family members, even new acquaintances: What about this diet? What should I do about this symptom? What about this medication?

car keys
Flickr Photo/walknboston (CC BY 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1O4LD7v

Seattleite Else Driflot kind of knew when it was time to give up her keys. Her eyesight had declined and she was having trouble seeing. It made sense to give up her keys, but that doesn't mean she liked it. 

"It was totally miserable. You know, because I lived alone, I had a good car, I loved my car. So it was hard," Driflot said.

In some ways, Driflot was lucky because giving up driving was a pretty cut-and-dried decision. That's not the case for many seniors and that can lead to some tough conversations.

KUOW's Bill Radke spoke with Laura Fraade-Blanar, a graduate student at the University of Washington studying the link between aging and crash risks, about when and how to have those tough conversations. 

Being older than 65, single and looking for romance has never been easy, and for women, who outnumber single men, it's especially challenging. The Internet is making it easier for older women, who didn't grow up with the Web, to get outside their social circles for dating and romance, but it can make them more vulnerable to deception.

Kimberly Bodfish, who's single and 65+, has discovered what many people already know about dating online: People are a little generous about themselves in their profiles.

Bernie Sadowski at the Ballard Senior Center. He credits the senior center for giving him direction after the death of his wife of 50 years.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

When Bernie Sadowski first came to the Ballard Senior Center in 2009, he didn’t care about life. His wife of 50 years had died.

For the ongoing series The Changing Lives of Women, Morning Edition is exploring aging. We asked 85-year-old novelist Anne Bernays to reflect on the role of a woman's appearance as she grows older.


Along about the time I became a great-grandmother I dyed my white hair blue. Not a wussy "blue-rinse" blue, but eye-stabbing, punk-kid blue. At the time, I didn't do any soul-searching. I just thought, What the hell, why not?

A doctor takes a blood sample from an older patient.
Flickr Photo/World Bank Photo Collection (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/bq7jFt

American seniors are growing in numbers. But the number of geriatricians, doctors who specialize in treating older patients, is actually shrinking.

And there aren’t enough in the pipeline to meet the growing need.

Elderly couple walking
Flickr Photo/Abdulsalam Haykal (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re an older person, a fall can be devastating. One in every three older adults falls each year, and the risk of falling increases with each decade.

Jon Tucker (left), 76, has been a regular mall walker for 10 years.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Shops aren’t open yet, but a little before 8 a.m., Bellevue Square is already buzzing with walkers.

Carrying a portable oxygen tank, Jon Tucker is one of them. “I’m not very fast, but I get there,” he says.

Mountlake Terrace resident Jennifer Calnon, 67, recently discussed her advance directive with her doctor. Starting January, Medicare plans to pay physicians for end of life counseling.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

For Jennifer Calnon, end-of-life discussions boil down to this: “This is my life,” she says. “I should be the one who gets to make the decision.”

Calnon, of Mountlake Terrace, is 67 years old and fairly new to retired life. These days she has a list of projects she wants to finish. Like finishing the pillowcase she started years ago for her daughter’s birthday and cleaning out her junk room. 

The default in Washington state is to be rescusitated. Residents must fill out this bright green end-of-life care form (known as a POLST) to forgo being revived.
Washington State Department of Health

If you’ve talked with your family about end-of-life wishes – that’s the first step. You’ll also need paperwork to make your wishes clear.

There are different names for the documents you’ll need — living wills, advance directivesFive Wishes. They all serve the same purpose; they spell out what kind of medical treatment you’ll want if you become seriously ill, and how aggressive you want the treatment to be.

Maria Fabrizio

It’s a discussion that most people avoid: end-of-life planning.

Doctors say it’s important to have these conversations while you’re still able. But let’s face it, talking about advanced directives can be uncomfortable, even terrifying.

Labor organizer Ai-Jen Poo says the U.S. doesn't have a plan for its elderly.
Flickr Photo/Elliot Margolies (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The annual Citizen University conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. Their motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

The gathering evolved out of the work of the Guiding Lights Network, founded by author and educator Eric Liu in 2005. The theme this year was Citizen Power Now. To that end, participants focused on best practices for problem solving in a climate of political polarization.

Labor organizer Ai-jen Poo gave the keynote address, “The Future of Elder Care.”

Greta Austin's family faced the issues surround end-of-life care when her father, George Austin, was diagnosed with cancer. He is pictured here with his wife, Shirley, On Easter Day, 2013.
Courtesy of Greta Austin

Greta Austin has spent a lot of time in medical waiting rooms.

Two years ago last fall, her father came to Seattle from Wisconsin for treatment, and she sat with him at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

When we think of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias, we think of the loss of memory or the inability to recognize familiar faces, places, and things. But for caregivers, the bigger challenge often is coping with the other behaviors common in dementia: wandering, sleeplessness and anxiety or aggression.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds speaks with Page Ulrey, senior deputy prosecuting attorney with King County's Office of Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse, about House Bill 1499, which seeks to increase prosecutorial power in cases of elder abuse in Washington.

Edna Daigre, center, teaches a class for older dancers in Seattle's Central Area.
KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

Doris Tunney doesn’t even pretend to be offended when you ask how old she is.

“I’m 86,” she says proudly. “I’ll be 87 on March 26.”

Tunney is petite, with cinnamon brown skin, short, curly white hair and perfect posture. Dressed in denim capris and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, this octogenarian is ready to dance.

This past weekend, when I visited my mother in her assisted living home as I do once or twice a week, I brought along a present. That's not unusual: She and I share a craving for chocolate, and I often bring her new varieties of dark chocolate, her favorite, and other little gifts from my travels.

In Silicon Valley's youth-obsessed culture, 40-year-olds get plastic surgery to fit in. But IDEO, the firm that famously developed the first mouse for Apple, has a 90-year-old designer on staff.

Barbara Beskind says her age is an advantage.

When the Legislature convenes next week, Rep. Sherry Appleton plans to introduce a bill for a silver alert system in Washington state.

Similar to the Amber Alert for children, this alert would be for elderly people with dementia who wander off. Appleton says 60 people went missing in the past year.

“Six-zero,” says Appleton. “I think it’s a lot of people.”

In a little more than a decade, one in five Americans will turn 65 or older.

A study out of Harvard University found that there isn’t enough housing to meet the needs of these aging boomers.

The issue is especially problematic for gay and lesbian seniors who report facing discrimination when seeking housing. But there are a growing numbers of cities that have created affordable housing specifically for gay and lesbian seniors.

Joanne Hubacka has been doing hair for four decades at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Getting your hair done can be good medicine. It’s one reason why Joanne Hubacka, 69, is so busy. For four decades, Hubacka has been fixing people’s hair at life care center, a nursing home in Kirkland. Her profile is part of an ongoing series of audio portraits of people who challenge our assumptions of old age. 

Poet Heather McHugh.
Courtesy of the University of Washington

Ross Reynolds speaks with Seattle poet Heather McHugh, who is the author of eight volumes of poetry and numerous works of translation. She won a  MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius award, in 2009. Since her retirement as a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington this year, she has been working full time on a non-profit organization called Caregifted, which provides relief for family caregivers of  severely disabled people.

When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go.

The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.

"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.

Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care.

Mahadevan Iyer and a friend sit outside his apartment at a senior living community near Chennai, India.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

BANGALORE, INDIA – Three generations live under the same roof in this bustling home: two rambunctious kids, their weary parents and an 80-year-old grandfather.

The grandfather, Raj Krishnamurthy, is an eager host, and keeps offering me Indian snacks as we talk on the couch. He serves up a homemade yogurt drink specially made today for a Hindu holiday. Then he leans closer, as if to tell a secret.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds has a wide-ranging discussion of end-of-life issues with Atul Gawande, author of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End."  

Gawande discusses  several issues such as how medical science views death as a failure, and does not always examine how medical treatments affect people at the end; innovations in assisted living and hospice to not only improve the quality of life, but also allow people to live longer; and how health care professionals are trying to become better at end of life care.

Matthew Thomas' book "We Are Not Ourselves."

Marcie Sillman talks to author Matthew Thomas about his first novel "We Are Not Ourselves."

Ross Reynolds speaks with Issaquah-based filmmaker Taylor Guterson about his new film, "Burkholder," which opens at SIFF on Friday. 

Guterson doesn't use a script. He suggested situations and let the actors improvise lending a documentary feel to many scenes.

KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

There’s a lot of emphasis on healthy aging, as more baby boomers hit 65. But what about those seniors who don’t ski and skydive for fun?

Roz Chast's book "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Marcie Sillman speaks with Roz Chast, a featured cartoonist in the New Yorker, about her latest work of art is about taking care of her very elderly parents.

Pages