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International Day of Older Persons is celebrated on Oct. 1

Aging Matters

In late 1990, the United Nations set aside Oct. 1 as the International Day of Older Persons. The U.N.’s annual theme is “The Journey to Age Equality” and one of its aims is to draw attention to and awareness of age inequalities. One of the first steps in increasing our awareness of inequality is better understanding the aging process.

So, let’s see how much you know about the aging process. How many of the following do you answer correctly? (True or False).

• Men don’t have to worry about osteoporosis.

• There is such thing as too old to exercise.

• There is a specific age in which older adults should stop driving.

• Depression is a normal part of aging.

• Adults need less sleep as they age.

• It is a normal process of aging for people to gain weight.

• At a certain point, there’s really no point to kicking the nicotine because damage has already been done to the lungs.

If you answered “false” to all the statements, your score is 100 percent. If not or if you want to explore additional Aging IQ questions and answers, visit the National Institute on Health’s website at memoryworks.org/PUBS/NIA/What’s%20Your%20Aging%20IQ.pdf.

• Answer 1: Men are in fact diagnosed with osteoporosis. Eating foods rich in vitamin D and calcium and regular weight-bearing exercises are strategies to prevent or reduce bone loss, regardless of gender. If you have questions about osteoporosis risk factors, talk with your doctor and learn more about the disease by using terms such as NIH and osteoporosis in your online search.

• Answer 2: In general, physical activity at any age is healthy for the bones, muscles and organs. But make sure to check with your health professional before beginning a new exercise program.

• Answer 3: Every person is different, so it is a personal or family decision as to when or if someone should stop driving. Starting the driving safety conversation early is the best approach. Families may identify points at which they may reevaluate driver safety. These may include changes in joint or muscle health, difficulty seeing or hearing, getting lost on a familiar route, increased moving violations, or recommendations from a health care professional. NIH’s Older Driver website offers great insight on driver safety, www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers#besafe.

• Answer 4: If depression was a normal part of aging, all older adults would experience it. While that is not the case, it is important to watch for signs of depression in yourself or your loved ones. Some signs include feeling hopeless, losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, changes in appetite, sleep patterns, weight, or concentration, and many others. If any of these signs persist for two weeks, get help right away. If you need immediate help, call the National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP (4357).

• Answer 5: Many adults notice their quality of sleep change with age. This may mean having more difficulty falling or staying asleep or napping more regularly during the day. Waking up every morning exhausted is not normal, so if this is the case talk to your physician. Unmanaged sleep apnea increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, so if sleep apnea or other sleep disorders are suspected, follow through with testing and all protocol for managing the condition.

• Answer 6: For a variety of reasons caloric needs often decrease with age. But many of the micronutrients important for a healthy body stay constant or even increase with age. So choose a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are two examples of such diets. Spend some time learning about these diets and experiment with a new recipe that follows their guidelines.

• Answer 7: Now is the best time to stop smoking; it’s never too late. For information or assistance, contact the Hawaii Tobacco Quitlines at (800) QUIT-NOW.

So, how will you celebrate United Nations International Day of Older Persons on Oct. 1? Will you learn more about healthy aging, celebrate your kupuna, appreciate your own health, try a new healthy dish, take a walk, or something else? Mark your calendars and do something special to celebrate all the older adults in your life.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.