Healthy aging is not only a product of genes, but is significantly influenced by how we live, said Dr. Richard Lindsay, the man who pioneered the development of the geriatric medicine program at U.Va. Dr. Lindsay spoke at the recent Care Fair, an event sponsored by Here to Stay Wintergreen, the Jefferson Area Board of Aging, and the Rockfish Valley Community Center.
His fast-paced and well-researched talk cited dozens of studies that examine the physical and emotional challenges of aging, including the Honolulu Heart Study. That’s the famous long-term study that followed elders for a couple of decades, finding that those who walked at least two miles a day had half the incidence of mortality as their sedentary peers at follow-up after 12 years. He cautioned, though, that physical activity is not the only factor in successful aging. Our elders also need strong social engagement, purpose and meaning in life, and environments that support these pillars of health. Dr. Lindsay is someone who takes his own advice. He’s retired from U.Va. and spends his days lecturing and volunteering at 90 years old. He also remains active in winter sports.
Besides his emphasis on lifestyle contributors to aging, Dr. Lindsay had a particular focus on the struggles of caregivers. While many assume that most of our elderly in need of significant help are in residential care, the huge majority of care is given by devoted spouses, children, siblings and in-laws who join the 980,000 other Virginia family caregivers providing $14.3 billion in hours of unpaid family care. While most of them say caregiving is an honor, there’s a down side, too, he said: Caregivers expressed high rates of fatigue, depression, anxiety and, when polled, admitted that they were not so good at taking care of their own health needs, whether they be adequate rest, exercise, dental care, or screening exams. Nearly 80% reported poor sleep; 67% reported stress; and 60% were in pain.
Both elders who need care and their caregivers suffer from loneliness. This is especially troubling, Lindsay said, since there’s a 50% increase in survival for those with strong, long-held social connections. Those without a supportive network have health challenges equivalent to those who smoke 15 cigarettes a day, or are alcoholics, or are sedentary.
Lindsay’s also concerned with the needs of the sizable number of caregivers who are under the radar: juveniles who play an important role in the care of the disabled and elderly in their homes.
Lindsay was joined by dozens of community health organizations that offer services in the community designed to help rural families maintain vulnerable seniors at home and to suggest options when professional care is needed, whether for medical support, or for giving caregivers a break. “The JABA (Jefferson Area Board on Aging) adult day program is excellent,” Lindsay said. Other representatives of for-profit and non-profit enterprises crowded the auditorium of the Rockfish Valley Community Center.
Most spoke informally to the dozens of interested visitors who stopped at their tables. A few, like Lindsay, had prepared presentations they delivered to sizable crowds in the RVCC “Rockfish University” room. One of them was Bonnie Scimone of Virginia Navigator, the non-profit that operates a comprehensive list of services through its Senior Navigator, Veterans Navigator and disAbility Navigator. Scimone unveiled the Navigator’s new website, designed to make it easy for even the most technology-challenged seniors and their families to find services or to get answers to questions. “It’s the place to start,” Scimone said. The new website lists thousands of options for those seeking information on housing, medical care, transportation, home healthcare, meals, and other necessities.
Scimone said that even with the accessible website, the agency is aware that many seniors and rural families don’t have computers or internet access, and said that an in-person computer access site will be set up in Nelson County, with expert guides to help.
Care Fair attendees also heard from Ben Shaw from Virginia Veteran and Family Support, who explained programs to help aging veterans; and Doris Gelbman, an elder law attorney. Outside of the Rockfish Valley Community Center, the Blue Ridge Medical Center dispensed flu vaccines and answered questions about the center’s services.
The Nov. 9 event was the second annual Care Fair staged in Nelson County to provide guidance and resources to support the aging population.
Here to Stay Wintergreen is a non-profit that encourages residents to identify needed services, then works to find, organize, and empower people and worthwhile organizations that offer assistance. It was founded more than 40 years ago when residents realized that Wintergreen and its surroundings were a naturally occurring retirement community. Find out more: www.heretostaywtg.org.
The Jefferson Area Board on Aging (JABA) has been supporting seniors, adults with disabilities, and caregivers throughout central Virginia for more than 45 years. If you have questions about aging, maintaining your independence, or need assistance, visit JABAcares.org.
The Rockfish Valley Community Center is a non-profit that provides recreational, educational, social and cultural programs in an historic building that volunteers are constantly improving. It houses retail space for local artisans and also offers space for organizations and community-sponsored events that enrich the lives of people of all ages. Find out more at rockfishcc.org.
Most of the service providers, for-profit, government-sponsored, and non-profit, who were at the Care Fair can be found through the Virginia Navigator: virginianavigator.org