AARP study shows Seniors favor a good life, over a lengthy one

Published in RINewsToday on September 26, 2022, 

Even with many older adults facing health challenges in their later years, they maintain an optimistic view of their aging and expect their lives to improve as they grow older, according to new research findings from AARP in collaboration with National Geographic Partners. The study found that three-quarters or more of those age 60 and over have at least one serious health condition, nearly half rate their health as very good or excellent.  

“The insights in this [57 page] study demand that we reexamine our assumptions about aging, especially outdated stereotypes around growing older,” said Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP in a statement released on June 1, 2022, announcing the findings of the study. “Far from being dragged down by worries about their health and finances, adults in their 70s and beyond are optimistic and positive about their lives.

They have a clear-eyed view of what it means to age, and they want their final decades of life to be independent and healthy – as they define the terms!” she says. 

According to the Second Half of Life Research study, Americans are doing more to stay healthy as they move into their later years.  They are more likely to take control of their health by getting health screenings, eating more produce and monitoring their sugar intake. And having more healthy years matters more than simply living longer – most respondents say that they were interested in a hypothetical pill that could slow down aging, but far fewer would take a pill to extend their life by a decade. 

The AARP study also found that the oldest Americans are also some of the happiest people: about one in three people aged 80 and older said they were very happy with their life, compared to just 16% of those ages 40-49. The researchers paired a national survey of adults 18 and older with in-depth interviews to paint a detailed picture of Americans’ outlook on life in the years from 40 to 100, and how those perceptions evolve with each decade. They found that relations with families and friends become an important feature and a source of purpose and joy as we age. Retirement allows one to control their lives and they choose to spend it with loved ones and having hobbies. Travel is expected but falls off as the person ages.  

The AARP study’s findings indicate that as people move into their later years, they don’t seem concerned about the length of their life, and as they live longer it becomes even less of a concern. “Fear of dying is low and drops as you age; feeling the need to prepare grows as you age,” notes the researchers.

On the financial front, just over half of adults 70 and older say their financial situation is excellent or very good – but responses vary widely by household income. More than half of those with an income of less than $30,000 per year rate their financial situation as fair or poor, while 60% of those with an income over $100,000 rate their finances as excellent or very good.

Among adults who are still working, most want to retire at a younger age than they think they will be able to – a gap that gets smaller with age. 

Most Americans want and expect to live independently as they age; only in their 80s did more respondents say they would need support to do so. Living in “my home” is also preferred over living in a retirement community, but this desire declines in the later decades, says the study’s findings.

The AARP Study also found that brain health, independence, and relationships were the top concerns of the respondents. The study’s findings indicate that memory loss was a top concern, too. For the respondents, memory and strength becomes a top concern as the person reached age 50 and over, while fear of cancer became less of a concern.

The study’s respondents expressed fear of becoming incontinent and have diminished hearing in their later years, but fear of diabetes and sexual performance loss declined after their 60s. 

For older study respondents, reliance on Social Security becomes a certainty. Hopefully this finding will reach the ears of Congressional lawmakers as they debate the merits of strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program.

The study’s findings note that researchers also say that fears about the ability to live independently steadily increase over the decades.  Assistance from family and friends are more preferable to respondents when living at home, than hiring help. This preference increases as they age.

AARP’s Second Half of Life study, conducted in collaboration with National Geographic Partners with Heart+Mind Strategies, included an online and telephone survey of 2,580 US adults ages 18 and older, conducted January 7-28, 2022, and 25 in-depth, individual 30-minute interviews conducted virtually from February 22 to March 4, 2022.  Final data have been weighted to the U.S. Census for analysis by age group, gender, census division, ethnicity, and education.

To view the Second Half of Life Study’s report, go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/life-leisure/2022/second-half-life-desires-concerns-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00538.001.pdf.

For more information, please contact Vicki Levy, AARP’s Senior Research Advisor, at vlevy@aarp.org.

AARP survey: Close link for women between discrimination and mental health

Published in RINewstoday on Sept. 5, 2022

The Washington, DC-based AARP recently reported the results of its annual survey, Mirror/Mirror: Women’s Reflections on Beauty, Age and Media™. The survey findings indicate that discrimination is a real and common occurrence. Nearly two out of three (63%) women 50-plus say they feel discriminated against regularly. For most American women who experience discrimination, they regularly rate their current mental health lower, on average, than those who do not, and that age, race, ethnicity and/or skin tone, as well as weight, are the most common types of discrimination reported. 

AARP partnered with the NORC at the University of Chicago to conduct a national survey last fall. As to methodology, AARP’s study included a national survey of 6,643 women ages 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish; most were online, while about 100 were via telephone. The survey was weighted to be representative of the segment it represents. 

The survey findings indicate that bias occurring in everyday encounters take their toll on women’s mental and physical health, as well as their finances, and career opportunities.

According to the findings of AARP’s survey, in addition to suffering other forms of discrimination, women 50+ also experience age discrimination, as many appear to be deemed “too old.” The study’s data, released on June 22, 2022, found that ageism seems to be the most frequently reported type of discrimination (48%) among women 50+ who experience discrimination regularly. Among these women, discrimination based on weight appears to have the greatest impact on their mental health, say the researchers.

AARP’s Mirror/Mirror™ survey also reflects the pressure working women feel to look or act a certain way. In fact, more than half (57%) of women 50+ surveyed feel pressured to wear professional clothing at work, while 47% feel they should wear age-appropriate clothing; 43% feel pressured to wear gender-appropriate clothing, and 43% feel pressured to behave a certain way at work.

AARP’s survey findings also found that 67% of working women aged 18-plus reported experiencing discrimination at work that impacted their earnings. Additionally, 87% say they have been overlooked, or devalued; have been passed over for a raise, promotion (42%); been told to behave a certain way at work (38%); were excluded from projects or meetings (29%;) or been unfairly fired from a job (23%).

The survey shows that while experiences of discrimination may vary, women who experience discrimination regularly adapt to it in similar ways. For example, 74% closely observe their surroundings, 58% carefully watch what they say and how they say it, and 51% consider feelings of safety and comfort in their everyday interactions.  

“Every day, the mental health of countless numbers of women is affected by acts of discrimination. Irrespective of their age, ethnicity, or any other factor, women should not have to adapt their behavior to lessen the incidence of discrimination against them,” said Yvette Peña, AARP Vice President of Multicultural markets, announcing the study’s findings.

The survey, key elements of which appeared in a digital and print content collaboration with Allure in their June/July issue, also reveals that younger women are more likely than older women to experience discrimination; they experience more types of discrimination; and they’re more likely to say that discrimination impacts their mental health. However, age discrimination impacts women of all ages. Around 1 in 3 women (30%) experience age discrimination “at least sometimes,” and women age 50+ experience age discrimination at roughly the same rate as women ages 18-49.

To see AARP’s annotated questionnaire: https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/life-leisure/2022/mirror-mirror-2022-womens-reflections-beauty-age-media-annotated-questionnaire.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00539.007.pdf/

For details about this study:  https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2022/women-discrimination-and-mental-health/?cmp=RDRCT-MIRRORMIRROR-06222022

AARP report: 6 Pillars of Brain Health – lifestyle changes and community policies

Published in RINewstoday on April 4, 2022

The Washington, DC-based AARP releases its latest Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report citing strong scientific evidence that behavior changes and lifestyle habits can positively impact one’s brain health – yet many adults struggle to implement such simple changes.

In a new report released last month, “How to Sustain Brain Healthy Behaviors: Applying Lessons of Public Health and Science to Drive Change,” GCBH outlines how individuals age 50 and over, communities, and policymakers can all take steps to support brain health.

The World Health Organization predicts that the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow to 82 million by 2030 and skyrocketing to 152 million by 2050. The GCBH report notes to lower this expected trajectory it will take “effective behavior and cultural changes, initiated and driven by all the pertinent actors working in concert at all levels of society.”

The 38-page report and its recommendations are based on a review of the current state of science and the consensus of 20 experts from across the world in an array of disciplines, notes the report. GCBH is an independent collaboration of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts from all over the world who are working in the area of brain health related to human cognition to promote brain health.

GCBH’s 38-page report, released March 15, 2022, provides tips to support brain-healthy behavior. Over the past six years, the GCBH has issued reports on broad topics taking a look at whether adults’ behavior and lifestyle style habits could affect their brain health as they grow older.

“While we encourage people to make good decisions, the GCBH recognizes that an effective strategy to enhance brain health must be framed broadly, and that individual choices are made in a larger social and environmental context… Simply putting research findings forward and expecting people to change their behaviors and sustain healthy lifestyles accordingly is unrealistic,” say the report’s authors. 

Calls for Supporting Positive Brain Health

In the latest GCBH report, the authors share what they have learned about how to persuade and motivate people to maintain brain-healthy lifestyles, and how community policies can be shaped to promote this vital goal. 

“We know what works to support brain health – this report focuses on how to make that happen,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, GCBH’s Executive Director. “Our experts have identified specific, practical tips to help older adults, communities and policymakers support the habits that are good for brain health. We show that change is possible, and why supporting brain health for an aging population makes good health and economic sense for communities and society as well as individuals,” Lock says.

“We describe why implementing programs designed to promote brain health for older adults makes good health and economic sense for communities and societies as well as individuals. GCBH experts advise individuals to set specific goals, be realistic about what they choose, and approach their goals step by step,” says the report’s authors. 

“We encourage community-based organizations to create opportunities for peer-to-peer coaching. And we urge policymakers to raise public awareness that people can take steps to help themselves. These and many other recommendations along with a framework for achieving change for individuals, community organizations and policymakers are provided in the final report approved by the GCBH Governance Committee,” they add. 

The GCBH report also calls for addressing the disparities in health and access to care that undermine the cognitive well-being of underserved communities including many African Americans and Hispanics.

Hearing loss, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression are among the health issues that may be linked to cognitive decline and should be properly managed with access to health care.

The Six Pillars of Brain Health

After a careful analysis of scientific findings, GCBH’s report notes that “evidence continues to mount” that people may be able to lower their risks for cognitive decline by engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors, referred to as the six pillars of brain health.

Specifically put:

“Be social” and continue to maintain and expand your social network.  Keep tabs on family and friends and don’t isolate yourself from others. 

  • Find new interests and hobbies to “engage your brain” and to stimulate your thinking. 
  • Meditate, relax, and maintain a consistent schedule to “manage stress.”
  • Don’t forget the importance of “ongoing” exercise” and schedule at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week.  
  • Achieve “restorative sleep” by at least getting 7-8 ours of restful sleep daily.
  • Finally, “eat right” by choosing a nutritious, heart healthy diet to limit high blood pressure, of fish, poultry, nuts, low-fat dairy, vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and vegetable oils. 

The GCBH recommendations urge people to avoid smoking and not drink alcohol.  But if you drink, limit alcohol to more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

The Brain-Heart Connection is examined in GCBH’s report.  Hypertension is a serious risk to brain health that can lead to stroke, mild cognitive impairment, or dementia. With knowledge of this, the report notes that people can lower blood pressure by increasing physical activity and reduce overeating, excess drinking, smoking and even reducing sodium (salt) intake.

The GCBH report provides simple, easily obtainable steps to make successful behavioral changes to improve brain health.  Specifically, people can:

Set a goal, identify a specific action you want to take on.

Be thoughtful and realistic about the goals you choose.

Find something that is fun and choose what is enjoyable for you.

Re-purpose some of your free time.

Rethink your environment to reduce the temptations and encourage better choices.

Celebrate the wins.

Learn from the setbacks.

Involve friends and family with common goals to reinforce healthy choices; and

Pick a good start time. 

While brain health behavior changes can be achieved by individuals, these changes require the support health care providers, employers, and community organizations.  Health care providers can help their patients improve their lifestyle habits and make healthy choices to reduce risks and alleviate the symptoms of disease. Employers can promote healthy behaviors too by creating healthier work environments, offering wellness initiatives, health screenings, immunizations, supporting healthy sleep by minimizing shift work, not requiring employees to respond to emails 24/7 and respecting vacations and breaktimes.  These all can promote better brain and mental health, says the GCBH report.

Mission-driven organizations, like AARP, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Heart Association, can also provide individuals with needed information and tools to access their own wellness and motivate a person to make positive behavior changes.

Finally, policymakers can set goals to improve the public’s brain health with a focus on building equity, fighting the sigma of dementia, and implementing best practice to improve brain health from around the world. They can also become aware of how public policies in other areas, such as the built environment, nutrition, and education, can have a lifelong impact on brain health. Some specific examples of successful public health policies include seat-belt laws and smoking cessation requirements.

“A chasm remains between what researchers are discovering about brain health and how little this knowledge has been applied for the public good. Progress will require the combined actions of individuals and communities, reinforced by public policies that facilitate healthy lifestyles,” says the report’s authors. “By applying lessons of public health and science, we can improve brain health for the benefit of individuals, communities and countries around the world,” they say, noting that this report lays out the steps needed to achieve this goal.

The full report on “How to Sustain Brain Healthy Behaviors” is available by going to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/brain_health/2022-03/gcbh-behavior-change-report-english.doi.10.26419-2Fpia.00106.001.pdf.

To obtain all of the GCBH’s past reports on brain health, go to https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/global-council-on-brain-health/resource-library/.

To see how staying socially active impacts brain health, go to https://thriveglobal.com/stories/spumoni-s-where-everybody-knows-your-name-study-says-being-socially-active-may-improve-cognitive-functioning-2/