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  • Six Myths About Aging

  •   Health Talk: Successful Aging

    Abigail Trafford
    Host: Abigail Trafford
    Hosted by The Post's Health Editor
    Tuesday, July 20, 1999

    When faced with a steady flow of information on aging, how can you tell the difference between fact and fiction? How can consumers maximize their chances of aging successfully?

    Sally Hurme, Senior Program Specialist with the Consumer Issues group of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), was our guest for this week's "Health Talk" with host Abigail Trafford.

    Please read the discussion below.

    Abigail Trafford: Hello and welcome to Health Talk. Want to age gracefully? Scientists are coming up with new ideas--and repackaging old ones. But it's not just science. Health care, relationships, work life--all these are important. Today our guest is Sally Herme from AARP who specializes in consumer issues. Send us your questions!

    Abigail Trafford: Sally Hurme, welcome to Health Talk. Today's Health section features a whole lot of stories on how to age not only with grace and flare but in good health--in mind and body. Several articles are about physical activity. People over 50 have discovered the thrill of "extreme" sports and there's a boom of older kayakers. What can you tell consumers about the importance of staying active?

    Sally Hurme: While white-water rafting is certainly a wonderful way to get exercise, we all don't have to go to such extremes to get healthy. For moderate exercise, even walking the dog or gardening is a good way to keep, or get, fit. The best thing to do is to have fun and keep at it.

    Potomac, MD: I've heard horror stories about seniors falling victims to telephone sales scams, and the like. How can seniors be protected from predators?

    Sally Hurme: It's important for all of us at any age to protect ourselves from unwelcome telemarketers. The primary step is to just not fall a victim to many convincing lines that telemarketers use. It's ok to hang up. Everyone should realize that while there may be legitimate telephone solicitors, may callers could be criminals. If necessary, practice just saying, "No."

    Arlington, VA: Writing a will is something people generally don't want to think about, but when is an appropriate age to begin considering a will?

    Abigail Trafford: One story in today's Health section gives advice about making a will. The general advice is to be sure to make a will, because if you don't, the state will do it for you. Experts also advise you to update your will as your life changes. Sally, when should you make your first will?

    Sally Hurme: Writing a will should not be put off until "old age," whenever that might be. As soon as someone has a child, they should have a will to select the person who they want to be guardian of the child and make arrangments for the financial management of the child's inheritance.

    Abigail Trafford: Sally, a big issue for seniors is getting access to prescription drugs. Medicare generally doesn't cover drugs. What can people do to get coverage? Where can they turn if they don't have insurance. Is there a source when people can get drugs at a discount?

    Sally Hurme: While some of the Medicare Supplemental insurance programs do cover drugs, they are the more expensive policies. There is one program, initiated by the Senate Committee on Aging, where certain drugs are available directly through the drug companies. Your doctor has to write to request the free drugs. Contact the Senate Committee on Aging for more information.

    Herdon, VA: I am a single, 54 year old female who is trying to decide the best time for me to retire. Is there a good resource I can consult that would direct me in this matter both financially and health wise?

    Sally Hurme: The best time to retire is very personal to each person. You would want to consult a variety of resources. Check out the AARP web site,, "About Money" for a retirement calculator. This site will help you determine how much money you will need to retire. But you will also want to think about what you want to do in retirement, where you want to be located. Many "retirees" really are retired; they are finding new careers, volunter activities, new adventures through travel. Only you can know what you want to do but the public library is full of good books on choosing retirement locations. There are so many variables--including your health--that you will want to check out many resources to learn all about the new life you can have in "retirement."

    Washington, DC: For my grandmother aging gracefully meant making end of life decisions. Do you have statistics on Americans that are considering hospices versus nursing homes?

    Sally Hurme: I don't have at hand numbers of those who are in hospices today. But I'm sure the number is growing. I don't think the choice is really between hospice and nursing homes. Hospice is more of a way of care for those who are terminally ill, than a place of care, like a nursing home. Hospice services can be provided in a nursing home or at home. In fact, many hospice services are not residential. Rather the hospice team provides services for the very ill and their families where ever the patient may be residing.

    Alexandria, VA: I would like to suggest running 30 miles a week. you
    can break it up if you have to by doing some miles in the morning and some in the afternoon. But my reginmen is that I run a lot and I eat a lot of good food, salads and bags of carrots; not just one or two but whole bags. My digestive system is great and running is definitely the fountain of youth. I am over 50. I also drink cocktails and I am in better health now than when I was in my 30s! I still have to work full time to pay for all the things I enjoy in life. I also believe that every woman and man should treat themselves first class all the way. When you have worked over 40 years you deserve the best that your money can buy whether it is clothes, gourmet food, the best liquor or what ever. Life is short so enjoy it to the fullest. I feel like 18 and better.

    PS--Swing dancing is also a lot of fun and good sweat.

    Abigail Trafford: What about this regimen? If you can do it, is this the fountain of youth? Health officials generally recommend that people engage in some physical activity for 30 minutes a day. But that's just to maintain the status quo. If you want to improve your strength and vitality, you have to do more. How much should seniors push themselves?

    Sally Hurme: I'd say, go as far as it is fun. An exercise regime should make you feel good, not terrible. It should relax you, not stress you. As Carolyn Stearns said in her article, stretch yourself, not stress yourself.

    Washington, DC: I'm getting ready to consider retiring, but I'm a little uneasy about having too much time and too little to do. Just because I'm retiring doesn't mean I'm ready to sit and twiddle my thumbs all day. Do you have any ideas for post-retirement leisure activity?

    Abigail Trafford: Do you have any specific advice where to start, Sally? It seems that corporate America is trying to get people to retire early--in their fifties--just at a time when people are living longer and can work longer. How do people get started on a second life?

    Sally Hurme: Retiring from your first job isn't the end of a productive life. Take an inventory of what you like to do and see how much you can fit in. Really devote yourself to what you have just not had time to do while working. Consider volunteer activities, a new career doing something new, taking up singing or acting or doing woodwooking or writing. I have an old house I'm restoring, so I can't wait to retire so I can spend more time doing plastering, stripping paint, rewiring, digging in a big garden. Some might think that is work, I think it is relaxation.

    Mt. Rainier, MD: I would think that our mental health and our financial well-being would both be improved by accepting aging as a natural function. I don't mean ignoring good diets and exercise which can help us age gracefully. But the con artists are finding their marks among those desperate to be 20 - 30 years younger than God made 'em.

    Abigail Trafford: Sally, doesn't aging gracefully involve accepting the consequences of growing older? But our culture seems dead set against any signs or symptoms of aging. What can be done about this? And how can individuals protect themselves?

    Sally Hurme: The tidal wave of Boomers approaching possible retirement age will probably take care of stereotypical thoughts about the negatives of aging. I'm guessing there will be so many of us that we will be able to change those perceptions just by our numbers and our determination to make life--as we know it--fun.

    Abigail Trafford: Sally, there's a growing population of people aged 50 to 65, who are not yet eligible for Medicare and other programs for Seniors. What special problems does this population face? Many are are retiring, or being downsized, or getting divorced, and they find themselves in a difficult situation. It's harder to get health coverage--yet they need it because they are at more risk of getting sick than younger people. It's harder to find a job at this age. Yet they may have more financial responsibilities than younger people. What is being done to address the needs of this group?

    Sally Hurme: I think there is unquestionable renewed interest in the problems of underinsurance or unaffordable insurance for the 50 to 65 age group. This is certainly a significant segment of the population who are justifiable concerned about getting or keeping insurance until Medicare becomes available.

    Annandale, VA: How do you lose weight when you age 55?

    Sally Hurme: Boy, I'm sure asking myself that same question. I can say there is no easy answer. I'd been able to maintain my college-age weight (plus or minus 5 pounds) until I hit 50. Now it is much harder to stay where I want to be weight-wide. I guess we just have to eat more sensibly (small portions), fewer treats, and get more exercise.

    Abigail Trafford: For people who don't want to do "extreme" sports but want to get exercise, what do you recommend. And how do you keep from getting bored with routine exercise?

    Sally Hurme: Variety, variety, and variety. Do something different, exercise a different body part, do your exercise with different people, different times of days, new location. Don't give it up, just change it.

    Mt. Rainier, MD: I normally do a 45 minute aerobic routine for my exercise, but in this heat I can't manage it. Would it be useful to substitute yoga for the aerobics on very hot days?

    Abigail Trafford: It's not WHAT you do, but the fact that you do it, that's important, the experts say. Anything that moves and stretches the body is a plus. Physical activity in this heat can pose health hazard. What do you recommend, Sally?

    Sally Hurme: Be very cautious about exercising outside in this heat. If you can't get out very early in the morning or late in the evening, find something cooler to do. Try ice skating at the county rec's way cool.

    Abigail Trafford: Thank you very much, Sally, for coming on the show. We could go on and on. We're all looking for the secret to aging! Thank you all for your questions. Next week, the subject will be dating on the internet. Join us same time, same place.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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