Older and Wiser

Dr. Jesse Coon is an excellent example of the benefits of exercising. A retired Texas A&M University professor, Jesse is 88 years old and an avid swimmer. He is in the 85- to 89-year-old age group of master swimmers, holds world records in the 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly, and holds national records in the 50-, 100-, and 200-yard butterfly and the 100- and 200-yard individual medley. Dr. Coon set these records in 1998, the year he turned 86, and they are still unbroken. He is looking forward to setting new records in the 90-and-older class.

Dr. Coon does not limit himself to swimming. He cross-trains with weights, is known as Captain Moonlighter in local sailing circles because of his devotion to sailing (and especially enjoys the moonlight excursions), and loves to dance. He is very active in his church and volunteers his time going to nursing homes and visiting with the patients.

Support Structure

Seniors suffer more than 1 million bone fractures annually. Osteoporosis, which means porous bone, is a condition of the bone in which the integrity of the bone structure is reduced, and breaks and fractures are more likely to occur. Many people believe it is a matter of clumsiness or carelessness that causes the senior to fall and break a bone.

Often the bone breaks first and then the senior falls.

The truth is that often seniors break a bone and then fall. This is due to loss of calcium in the bone structure. Although osteoporosis often is thought of as a woman's disease, half the patients being treated for osteoporosis are men. A simple, noninvasive bone-density test can determine your bone mass. In July 1998 Medicare began to pay for the bone-density test once each year.

To combat osteoporosis, weight-bearing activities such as walking and dancing cause bone cells to react by producing more bone cells and building stronger bones. Calcium supplements also help to reduce the loss of calcium and keep the bones strong. New prescription medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as FOSAMAX, help prevent bone loss. In addition, estrogen-replacement therapy for postmenopausal women (see Chapter 6 for more details) often is recommended to preserve bone tissue. Consult your physician concerning these and other therapies.

Muscles and the elastic cushioning of the vertebrae stiffen without proper exercises. Because 62 percent of those over the age of 65 do not exercise at all, it is not surprising that many seniors complain of muscle aches, pains, and stiffness of the joints. Think of all that exercise can do for you: increase suppleness, strengthen bones, improve your balance, and reverse weakness. Exercise benefits us mentally as well, but we'll save that for Chapter 6, "Regain an Agile Brain."

Sleep Patterns

As you age, you may lay awake longer before you drift off to sleep. If you get up at the same time every day, you begin to experience an accumulating "sleep debt." You feel more tired as the days go by. A decrease in overall sleep begins at age 30 for many men and 50 for many women. By the age of 65, most seniors rarely experience an unbroken night's sleep. Research indicates that people between the ages of 73 and 92 have an average of 21 awakenings during a given night. Men experience these awakenings more often than women until about age 70, when both men and women exhibit the same patterns of wakefulness.7 Remember that sleep is essential to long-term memory formation as well as an overall sense of well-being. You must have complete cycles of sleep. Often, forgetfulness may be due to a lack of sleep instead of a decline in cognitive abilities. Chapter 6 details more information about the effects of sleep on learning.

Lack of sleep affects your intelligence, memory, and ability to concentrate.

There are many sleep strategies to help meet the daily demands on your memory. You may want to talk to your physician about the use of a sleeping aid such as melatonin or sleeping pills. Please be aware that supplements such as mela-tonin are controversial, and you should check with your physician before you begin to take over-the-counter remedies such as these. Exercising your body during the day not only strengthens you physically but also expends energy and makes you ready for sleep. You also might try relaxation exercises, yoga, or the good old glass of warm milk prior to retiring.

Reaction and Retrieval Time

Reaction time is the amount of time it takes for an individual to respond to a stimulus. Average reaction time increases with increasing age for seniors as a group. However, some individuals 70 years old or older may react more quickly than an individual 30-year-old. Your performance depends

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