Whether it’s Silver or Golden Tsunami, Growing Senior Base Has to Stay Active
By Tom Anselm
The Silver Tsunami…You may have heard the term. It refers to the historic, mind-boggling, record-breaking number of people who are now or will become seasoned citizens in the next few decades. Now why it’s called Silver rather than Golden, since this is supposed to be The Golden years, has much to do with hair color. So for me, it just as easily could be called The Balding Tsunami. But, forgive me, I digress. (And so early in the column!)
This crazy little thing called aging has sure gotten a lot of attention in medical circles, and not just because of things like the Affordable Care Act. Practitioners and patients alike are scrambling to see what the future medical landscape is going to look like for these ‘geezer’s-to-be’ going forward.
To give some perspective to the scope of this phenomenon, in 1963 17 million of the citizens of the good old USA were 65 years of age or older.
In 2013, the number jumped to 40.3 million. By 2050, if current trends continue, the population of older folks will match the percentage of people under 15, at 21 percent each, the first time in history that this could happen. I’m not sure whether that’s because we’ll all be living longer, or our progeny will not be progeny-ing like they used to–or both. But that’s a story for another day.
So with all these people just getting older and hanging around, there is huge interest in what their quality of life is going to be. Questions of how to stay healthy and mobile and mentally sharp abound. The standard answers continue to be the best. That is, exercise regularly, keep your brain challenged, be socially active, engage in family and don’t let yourself get isolated. And the good news is that it’s never too early or too late to work on the idea of aging well.
Scientists are getting in on the action. One term they use that I really like is ‘Resilient Aging’. It refers, literally, to keeping your head in the game. It’s a ‘no-brainer’ that humans deteriorate and decline over time. Just ask my left knee. But the grey matter inside the old noggin actual undergoes serious changes in that it literally shrinks. One way ‘da shmartie-pants guys in lab coats’ say to lessen this is through exercise–physical and mental. People who do this can actually build up their hippocampus. (That word cracks me up, because all I can think of now is a bunch of hippos with bookbags wandering around the Quad at Mizzou.) This is the brain zone associated with memory and spatial navigation. It seems that an enlarged hippocampus is a good thing…unlike the prostate…. or that mole on your back. And bulking up this part of the brain can even help stave off dementia.
People may be getting older and not able to do what they once were capable of, but there is no reason for them to just sit in the recliner where the only workout they get is their thumb punching the remote.
The researchers say to ‘shake that thang’, if even to a small degree. Take that part-time job. Become a tutor. Get yourself a dog, and walk that sucker. Go back to school or sign up for art classes. The old line of “move it or lose it” (as in body function and one’s mind) holds true here, for sure.
Now I’m not saying we all need to hustle on down to Gold’s Gym and work the giant barbells. Or study Chinese. Or learn to play the glockenspiel. But a good way to approach the inevitable visit from The Grim Reaper is to embrace the good time you have left while you pump up the heart rate and grow that hippocampus.
And by the way, I AM a Gold’s Gym member, by virtue of my Silver Sneakers key tag through Medicare. So there’s that. Now I need to sign up for The Resilient Aging Club as well.
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