Upleveling Aging

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At 70, you are still a child.

At 80, a young man or woman.

If at 90, someone from Heaven invites you over, tell him,

“Just go away, and come back when I am 100.”

~ Saying carved into a rock facing the sea near the village of Kijioka, in Okinawa, Japan (featured in Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity)

The ’80s pop band Level 42 took their name from the brilliantly imaginative sci-fi novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the people of Earth ask a computer named Deep Thought for the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” Seven million years later, Deep Thought delivers its momentous conclusion to their descendants: 42. The year I turned 42, I conceived of this age as the ultimate anti-aging tonic.

reverse mortgage newsNow, a Twitter friend has gone one better with this creative suggestion: “We should start referring to ‘age’ as ‘levels’. So when you’re level 80 it sounds more badass than just being an old person.”

An intriguing idea. No doubt LOs will be able to infuse their HECM presentations with this terminology as well, helping to reposition aging as a state of growth. Informing a prospect, “Now that you’ve reached Level 62 (or 75, or 83), there is a new opportunity open to you,” sounds inspiring indeed.

Traveling Back Through Time

Upleveling aging extends beyond mere verbiage, however. As we’ve explored before, telomeres (the tiny “shoelace caps” on our DNA that shorten with age) determine how quickly we grow old. With the 2009 game-changing discovery of the enzyme telomerase, which slows, stops and can even reverse telomere shortening, we may be on track to immortality. (Planetary carrying capacity is a subject for another day…).

We can learn a lot about how to help keep our telomeres healthy through diet, exercise and mindset. But beyond this, science has now discovered how to end cellular senescence, i.e., the aging that takes place within our cells.

A naturally-occurring “molecular postcode” delivered directly into the cells, experimental at present, may eventually be able to remove senescent cells in humans, allowing medicine to target multiple age-related diseases at once.

Watch This… 

In the meantime, technology continues to improve life for those already facing chronic health conditions. One exciting development is the anti-Parkinson’s watch, which could help the more than ten million people living with Parkinson’s disease worldwide.

One hallmark of this degenerative brain disorder is hand tremors. When Emma Lawton, a UK-based graphic designer, was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s at just 29, Microsoft innovation director Haiyan Zhang was inspired to invent a device to enable Lawton and others like her to write and draw legibly again.

The result is the Emma Watch, which uses vibrating motors to distract the wearer’s brain from trying to control the body’s limbs. It’s a creative disruption in autonomic functioning akin to the fantasy flights described in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — except now we’re making these creative leaps reality.

How to Avoid Inflammaging

Of course, one of the best courses of action for a HECM prospect or client who wants to uplevel aging is to avoid inflammaging (inflame-aging). Inflammation is at the core of all disease states.

It’s helpful to know — and eat — foods that fight inflammation. Most of them are delicious, even a treat: red wine and dark chocolate make the list, along with walnuts, wild-caught salmon, extra-virgin olive oil and broccoli.

Our telomeres may indeed have a rosy future, even if we never leave this galaxy.

In Sickness and In Health, Part 1: The Heart of the Matter

My mother died from congestive heart failure in January 2014, as discussed in this post on awakening to grief. That was when her organs finally shut down and the medical establishment was able to “pronounce” death.

In reality, after unsuccessful heart valve surgery in early December, it was only a matter of time. I’d intuited the end was near months before, since I believed she was too weak even to withstand the surgery. But with a lack of straightforward information from the doctors, other family members interpolated a sliver of hope and were determined to fight to the bitter end. And bitter it was.

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The Role of Comfort Care

Extreme interventions at the end of life may be authorized from love, but for the person whose life is concluding, these invasive procedures are likely to prolong suffering.

In fact, painkillers can actually shorten the life they seek to extend, by causing breathing complications, drug interactions, and more serious side effects, such as stroke.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush chose another route, and in so doing, shone a valuable light on the role of comfort care at the end of life. Like my mother, Mrs. Bush had had congestive heart failure for many years. But rather than being placed on the “conveyor belt” of costly medical interventions aimed at prolonging life, she made the courageous decision not to seek further treatment.

This is the purpose of hospice: to ease pain and provide attentive, loving support as someone prepares to depart earthly life. It takes courage to choose this route; to say, “I have lived a good life, and am at peace with what comes next.”

Barbara Bush’s Parting Gift

bush-careJust two days after deciding not to pursue further medical treatment, Mrs. Bush passed away, surrounded by her loved ones. The same might have been true for my mom; instead, she endured seven weeks of machine-supported existence, dying in the sterile, institutional healthcare environment so pervasive in modern America.

We’ve touched upon alternative endings a few times, such as this story about one LO’s mother-in-law’s decision to choose hospice care, and how you might broach the topic with HECM clients. Resources such as The Conversation and the National Institute on Aging’s End of Life guide are also useful tools.

“We’ve lost the rich wisdom of normal human dying,” writes British palliative care specialist and author Dr. Kathryn Mannix. Death is natural, but the systemic breakdowns that often lead up to it can be wrenching. As someone long in the public eye, Barbara Bush gifted us one final time with her choice to acknowledge her time was near, and to pass peacefully.

While death discussions are rarely easy, and not necessarily in your purview as a reverse mortgage professional, it’s important to be cognizant of the options available, and the choices others make that could prove relevant to your clients’ family members.

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Heart disease warning signs

Since heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., it’s helpful to be aware of these unusual warning signs many people might overlook:

  • Creased earlobes: More than 40 studies have shown a correlation between a diagonal crease on the earlobe and an increased risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
  • Fatty bumps on the elbows, knees, buttocks or eyelids: These benign bumps can signify high cholesterol.
  • Clubbed fingernails: Fingernails that become thicker and wider indicate oxygenated blood isn’t reaching the fingers properly. It’s one of the oldest known medical symptoms, sometimes referred to as “Hippocratic fingers“, named for Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
  • Iris halo: A ring around the iris of the eye is also a sign of fat deposits. About 70 percent of people over age 60 have it.
  • Rotten gums and loose teeth: Oral health is a predictor of the state of overall physical health. Dental decay allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream and create inflammation, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and a host of other illnesses.
  • Blue lips: Unless you’ve been swimming in frigid waters, blue lips are not normal, and can signify heart problems due to a lack of oxygenated blood in the tissues.

Of course, each of these symptoms can also be benign. The best course of action is for seniors (and people of every other life stage) to know their body, and seek the services of a competent health professional when they notice a change. The more information we have about health and well being, the better prepared we will be to make potentially life-altering decisions when the time comes.