What We Can Learn From the “Oldest Old”

OAA 2014It is finally the merry month of May and I wanted to wish y’all…a Happy Older American month! Bet you didn’t see that one coming did you? Every year, May is the time we celebrate older Americans and their contributions as well as raise awareness for issues that older folks face. If you ask me we should be doing that every day! This year’s theme for Older American month is “Safe today. Healthy tomorrow.” Basically the choices we make to stay safe (like avoid injury and preventing disease) will help us live healthier at an older age.

With this theme I’d like to bring your attention to the 90+ Study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Irvine (UCI).1 It is one of the few studies out there that focuses on the “oldest old,” what it takes to get there and what it takes to stay there. It also looks at dementia in this age group.

Celebrating your 90th birthday is a commendable feat, which is why there aren’t many people 90+ out there to study. But, it is important to understand this age group because we have a longer life expectancy and there will be more older adults who will reach the 90 year old mark and beyond. In 2010 the US Census Bureaus estimated there was 1.9 million Americans 90-and-older.2 This age group tripled in the last 30 years! Sadly, most people in their 90s had 1 or more disability and required some kind of assistance.2 A study like the 90+ Study could really help us understand how we can reach 90 but stay healthy.

The 90+ Study follows the oldest old and collects data on diet, physical activity, medical history, medications, and so forth. Then it uses this data to understand which factors are associated with living a longer and healthier life free from cognitive decline.1,3

happy 90

So far, the researchers have published several papers and have received more funding to continue this work. Here are some of their key findings:1,3

  • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who did not.
  • People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than those who were normal weight or underweight.
  • More than 40% of people 90 and older suffer from dementia, while almost 80% are disabled. Both conditions are more common in women than men.
  • About half of those over 90 with dementia do not have sufficient Alzheimer’s-related plaque growth in their brains to explain their cognitive loss.
  • Individuals 90 and older who carry the APOE2 gene are less likely to have Alzheimer’s-like dementia but much more likely to have Alzheimer’s-related plaque growth in their brains.
  • Poor physical performance on activities such as walking is associated with increased risk of dementia

I don’t know where you’re from but in North Carolina, my home state, we are ranked #9 for people over the age of 60.4 This number continues to grow every day so I want to do my part in raising awareness for older adults. In the mean time I will continue to update y’all on trailblazing studies like this one. Comment below if any of the 90+ Study findings are intriguing to you.

Happy reading and a toast to all Older Americans out there no matter what age you’re at!

Special Thanks to Trinh Le for her assistance with this post.

Photo Credits

  1. Older American Month Logo: http://www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/images/OAM-logo2014.jpg
  2. Birthday Cake: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_LQnvgKAniIU/S93jquxya-I/AAAAAAAAARI/IksAMHtzoL4/s1600/Black+and+white+90th.jpg


  1. http://www.mind.uci.edu/research/90plus-study/#sthash.6IPUkL5J.dpuf
  2. http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-17.pdf
  3. http://news.uci.edu/press-releases/national-institute-on-aging-renews-funding-for-ucis-90-study/
  4. http://www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/oamonth/

3 Deaths in 3 Months

Well, I know it may seem that I’ve fallen off the face of the earth…but, I’m actually still here.  Last semester was a hard one for me.  Our family had three deaths in three months.  Needless to say, it was a time to focus on being together and remembering those whom we had lost.  I didn’t blog much since I was grieving and because I was teaching four courses and trying to keep up with the business of life (parenting, etc.).

It is good to be back on the blog.

DSCN0266In August, we lost Grandma C.  You may remember me talking about her in this post.  She is still the inspiration for this blog and her journey with vascular dementia will forever impact how I care for others.  At her core, she was a true southern lady who taught me a lot about life, food, meal preparation and nutrition.  Oh, how I will miss her!!!  In her final days she suffered another stroke that left her uncommunicative.  We felt her spirit as we sat by her bed as she passed.

We then lost our cat, Eleanor.  Eleanor was our grey tabby and she passed of what seems to have been a brain tumor.  In the end I was syringe feeding her chicken broth and giving her long snuggles.  Our other two four-legged family members (a 15 pound orange tabby and a 61 pound basset hound) also seemed to mourn her passing by staying close in those final days.

Lastly, we lost our Papa.  Papa had battled mesothelioma for 6 months.  He was a fun-loving, spirited man who taught us a lot about family, having a good time and being intentional with our time and talents.

3 deaths in 3 months.  I hope I never have to go through that again.

I will say that I did notice the role nutrition played in each situation.  It was interesting to participate in each “person’s” care. All of them naturally begin to give up food and water.  My Hospice colleagues always remind me that in the end we want people to “eat to satisfaction.”   “Let the patient be your guide.”  Let the patient be your guide.  I love that.  It held true in all three situations.

Although we may want to push, push, push food in the end, we may be doing more harm than good.  It seems that when some people are dying they may want to eat less and less in the final days and at the very end aren’t hungry or thirsty.  They can be truly satisfied with a bite or simple sip.

Well, as we start 2013 I’m going to dedicate my posts to “letting the patient the the guide.” We will be sharing a new smartphone app (and website) with you (that we designed) and we will help you navigate some foods that will better help you live healthy (and happy).


Don’t feel “TRAPed” with Parkinson’s

topnews.usThis past weekend I visited with a friend who has Parkinson’s disease (PD).  We were talking about some of the taste changes she was experiencing.  I was so inspired by her willingness to try new foods and food pairings in order to continue to enjoy food and mealtime.  If you would like to learn more about flavor, check out one of my past posts here.  Our conversation, also reminded me that I should share more about the relationship of food to some of the common PD meds and share a great video about PD and exercise.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the loss of brain cells that control movement. Clinical features of PD are often given the acronym TRAP (tremors, rigidity, akinesia or loss of motor function, and postural instability). Unfortunately, PD gets worse with age. Not only does Parkinson’s affect our coordination during daily activities like meals, but it can also result in a loss of taste & smell as well as swallowing difficulties. 1,2 But don’t feel trapped!  Here are some helpful tips to manage Parkinson’s:

* Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet, high in fiber and fluids to prevent constipation and lots of calcium, which helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain. Examples of foods high in fiber would be: bran, whole wheat, or whole grain items, dried fruit, fruit with peels, broccoli, beans, etc. Foods with a lot of calcium include: cheese, tofu, almonds, green leafy vegetables, yogurt, milk, and other dairy products.dietsfordiverticulitis.com

* If you are taking L-dopa, do not take your multivitamin or consume fava beans, aspartame (artificial sweetener in soft drinks, some chewing gums, or non-fat diet foods) or a lot of protein with L-dopa, as these can negatively interfere with L-dopa’s targeted effects. Instead, make your evening meals higher in protein than your morning meals.

* Liquid supplementation of CoQ10 may slow the progression of Parkinson’s. 60-1200 milligrams (mg)/day in divided doses is recommended. CoQ10 is best absorbed when taken with a meal that contains fat and perhaps during the evening hours. Make sure though to talk to your physician before taking these supplements, especially if you are on Warfarin, blood pressure medications, or thyroid or antiviral drugs. 3

* Avoid supplements containing greater than 100% of the daily value for pyridoxine, iron, and/or magnesium. 4

Check out this neatly organized handout for further information on managing Parkinson’s and some helpful nutrition tips:

Medication Tips for PD Patients

Also, check out this video on how exercise can help with Parkinson’s:

A special thanks goes to my co-author, Lauren Elder.