To the Class of 2022: Age boldly, enjoy your journey

Published in RINewsToday on May 16, 2022

According to Research.com, this year commencement speakers at colleges and universities in Rhode Island will impart their “pearls of wisdom“ to 19,782 graduating college seniors and their families. The usual commencement speech, traditionally about 10 minutes in length, offers simple tips and observations that, if taken, just might offer the young graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life ahead. Social media platforms and websites will quickly disseminate this sage advice given by well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and CEOs, to millions across the globe.

Globe columnist Dan McGowan gives his readers in the Rhode Map, the paper’s free newsletter about Rhode Island, a who’s who list of well-known commencement speakers that will gather at Rhode Island’s 12 Colleges and Universities to give the Class of 2022 advice on making their new journey in the world amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic causing sweeping societal changes in the workplace, health care, and social activity. 

McGowan’s detailed listing of “marquee names” delivering commencement speeches at Rhode Island’s colleagues and universities are:  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at Brown University; Emmy Award-winning actor and director Henry Winkler at  New England Institute of Technology; Human Resource Guru William J. Conaty at Bryant College; Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee at CCRI; Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman at Providence College;  Entrepreneur and Author Bruce Poon Tip, Founder of G Adventures; Miriam Hospital President Maria Ducharme at Rhode Island College, Deep Sea Explorer Robert Ballard noted for his work in undersea archeology at URI; Graphic designer, educator and Author Cheryl D. Miller at RISD; Navyn Salem, who founded the nonprofit Edesia, Inc. whose mission is to treat and prevent global malnutrition at Salve Regina; and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical adviser to the president at Roger Williams University.

This year’s commencement speakers are very well-deserving of their honor to address Rhode Island’s graduating college seniors.  But if I had an opportunity to speak before the graduating class of 2022, here are my thoughts and tips I would give, centered on the importance of aging gracefully and boldly over your accumulating years, and they will accumulate faster than anyone could imagine.

Aging can be viewed as a life-long, unpredictable journey.  A slang phrase in Wikipedia sums up “a simple existential observation that life is full of unpredictable events. Over the years, you might have heard the phrase, “Shit Happens.” Many people choose to hold on to their fading youth, not wanting to look in the mirror to see wrinkles, sagging stomachs, and even gray hair.  They hold fiercely to their memories of the 1963 Pepsi Generation commercial that celebrated youth and active people.   

It’s so easy to say, accept and embrace your aging.  

You will be tempted to chase after prestige, power, the perfect relationship, or a high paying job.  I say being healthy is your most important possession you can have in your lifetime. Cherish it. Work towards it. URI Gerontologist Phil Clark once told me, “Use it or lose it. Stay as physically active as you can.”  “If you rest, you rust,” he says, noting that physical exercise elevates our mood and benefits our cardiovascular system, too. This conversation took place over 25 years ago, and I still remember this advice.  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a North Attleboro couple, Mark and Nancy Shorrock began dining daily, seven days a week, if their schedules permitted, at Spumoni’s Restaurant in Pawtucket.  Over the years, they developed personal relationships with around 30 couples who frequented the informal restaurant and bar. While not a support system, that informal group who knew each other innately, benefited the Shorrocks, and I would think all of the people who kept coming back as regularly as they did. 

The importance of being around others is documented in a 2017 national report. The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report, released by AARP, cites strong scientific evidence that behavior changes and lifestyle habits can positively impact one’s brain health. It’s not uncommon for social networks to shrink as we age. “Research tells us that larger social networks may positively impact your health, well-being, even your cognitive functioning,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior vice president for Policy and GCBH Executive Director. 

So, as the decades fly by, work to maintain your social network of family and friends to maintain good cognitive functioning. And while you may build your on-line networks, do not overlook the greater importance of the in-person kind, those you break bread with, share what your children may be doing, or call just to hear a voice who knows a whole lot about you, without your even having to say it.      

Research also tells us that you can also reduce your risk of cognitive decline by exercising your brain. Take time in your busy day to read newspapers, magazines, and books, or even play a challenging crossword puzzle, build your vocabulary, learn a new skill, even play chess.

Being a volunteer can also be a protective buffer from the curve balls that life may throw at us as we age. “Volunteering can be medicine for the soul. It allows you to connect with other people, explore and remedy emerging community issues, make a difference as a caregiver or mentor and change lives. Volunteering is powerful and can define and redirect your life’s journey,” says Vincent Marzullo, who for 31 years served as RI’s National Service Director and still volunteers weekly at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

When you require help, don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends or even professional colleagues for support and assistance. People will always go up the ladder of their careers, even down, too.  Take the opportunity to be there for not only people you know, but also strangers when they need a helping hand to jump-start their faltering personal relationships or professional careers. 

Time really does fly after you graduate college.  Don’t be afraid to pivot in your career – you may have spent 4 years or 8 years or many more studying and becoming an expert in a particular subject, but find your passion calls you to another career-path. Don’t be afraid to take the path that calls out the loudest for you. As you move into your middle or later years, view your life as a meaningful journey, living in the present, not tied to past experiences, nor possible future events. It’s the journey, not the end result, that you should focus on.

Amma, a well-known Hindu spiritual teacher, tells her millions of followers to view their life as a ‘canceled check.’ Let go of those past regrets, forgive yourself for those mistakes especially made in childhood and teenage years, more important those you made as you move into your middle or later years. Don’t regret passing up personal or professional opportunities, for others will follow, she says. Use your time on earth wisely; don’t waste it carrying the burdens of past guilt or personal grudges. Think about that.

View your life as being back in high school, learning from each positive and negative experience you encounter. When you confront life’s health, financial, and personal and professional challenges, keep a positive attitude. Don’t be overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Each day you will make daily choices as to how you will react to your problems. In these situations, you can either see the proverbial glass as either being “half-full” or “half-empty.” A positive attitude allows you to see a “half-full” glass, thus allowing you to successfully overcome the adversity.

As we grow older, we sometimes put too much energy into reflecting on our personal and professional defeats, being depressed on the “bad hands” we were dealt. Savor your victories, but always forgive yourself for your shortcomings and failures. Learning from your shortcomings and defeats will build a strong bridge to future successes.

Also, forgive others who have hurt you personally and professionally. You cannot live or reconcile your life peacefully if you are still holding onto grudges, anger, and bitterness, all tied to past relationships or negative employment experiences.

Writer Simon Kent tells us a powerful story about forgiveness in an article penned in 2013 on the Toronto Sun’s website. When Nelson Mandela’s National African party won the election that would end apartheid in South Africa, he forgave his white political foes, says Kent, noting that the power of forgiveness kept the black majority ruling party from seeking revenge.

According to Kent, at his 1994 inauguration, Prisoner 46664 — Nelson Mandela — had kept a seat set aside for a very special guest he wanted to witness his swearing-in as President, the highest office in the land. This person, one of his former jailers from Robben Island, where he was held for 18 years of hard labor. 

Why do we continue to hold anger, bitterness, and grudges against others? If Mandela can easily forgive his former jailor and a white society that kept his black brothers and sisters enslaved for centuries, why can’t you forgive others, too? 

Pass on your hard-earned wisdom. As you begin to accumulate more of life’s professional and personal experiences, share your story with others, especially those younger than you. By the time you reach your twilight years, you will have accumulated a huge reservoir of untapped wisdom gained from your life’s journey from making both good and bad decisions.  When taking on the new role of parent or grandparent, always continue to share your insights and lessons you have learned to your children and grandchildren.  The generations following you will lose out if you remain silent and keep your knowledge and history from them.

Get off the treadmill of life. Learn to slow down and enjoy the simple moments of your life. In her books and lectures, nationally-acclaimed author Connie Goldman, has stated that the simple act of watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even puttering around your garden can be as stimulating as a jam-packed calendar of activities.  

My final thought – nothing is guaranteed in life except death, taxes, and even, hopefully, growing old. So, Class of 2022, I urge you to make the most of your life that is just beginning to unfold before you. Don’t focus on the end result. Focus on the journey. Sometimes it is not the big things that you do that count, rather the simple daily acts of loving kindness you give to all those around you.  

Enjoy your new journey. Age boldly.

AARP poll: women over 50 to decide control of congress, state capitols

Published in RINewsToday on April 11, 2022

It’s just 214 days until the upcoming midterm elections scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022, (Rhode Island’s primary is 167 days away scheduled for Sept. 13, 2022). During the 117th Congress, with a slim majority of 222 Democrats to 212 Republicans, the Democrats control the House chamber. When the dust settles after the election we’ll see if the Democrats retain their grip on this chamber. Washington insiders say that Senate Democrats, holding the majority with a 50-50 split with vice president Kamala Harris’ having a tie-breaking vote, could lose control of the upper chamber if the Republican Party flips seats. Thirty-five Senators are up for reelection.

Twenty Republican and 16 Democrat gubernatorial seats (including Rhode Island) are also up for grabs this election cycle, too.

A new AARP study finds that women voters aged 50 and over who haven’t decided which candidate to support will decide who controls Congress and state capitols across the nation in the next election.

Taking a Look at Older Women Voters

AARP’s  new research findings released April 6th, in partnership with pollsters Celinda Lake, Christine Matthews, Kristen Soltis Anderson, and Margie Omero, found that only 17% of women in this key voting bloc have made up their mind about who they will support in the upcoming 2022 elections. Not quite two-thirds (65%) of these voters say they will not make their decisions until weeks or even days before Election Day.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, women voters aged 50 and over do not solidly belong in either party’s camp — and the vast majority haven’t made up their minds about how they’ll vote in November,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer. “The instability and uncertainty of the economy, the pandemic, and the political environment are leading these women to demand that candidates address quality of life and pocketbook issues like the cost of living, supply chain problems, and ways to end the discord permeating politics today,” she says.

The pollsters found that the most important issues for r women voters aged 50 and over are “kitchen table budgets” and the “day-to-day experience of rising prices.” Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) see rising cost of living as the most important issue facing the nation today. And 59% say rising prices are the most important issue to them, personally, when reflecting about the economy.

According to AARP, women aged 50 and over are one of the largest, most reliable group of voters. According to voter file and census bureau data, they make up a little more than one-quarter (27%) of registered voters and cast nearly a third (30%) of all ballots in both the 2020 and 2018 elections.  In 2020, 83% of registered women voters in this age group turned out and in 2018, the last midterm election, they were 15% more likely to vote than the population at large, says the nation’s largest advocacy group.  

Concerns About Rising Costs and the Nation’s Economy 

AARP’s national survey also found that 72% of the woman respondents are concerned about having enough income to cover rising costs, with 48% saying they are very concerned. Fifty two percent say the economy is not working well for them, a 15-point change from 2019, when just 37% of women said the economy was not working well for them.

The pollsters found that most are not optimistic about their own financial futures in the next 12 months – with 47% saying they think their personal financial situation will stay the same, while 39% think it will get worse and only 13% think it will improve. The survey findings also indicated that those respondents age 50-64 are intensely worried about saving for retirement and their financial future – with 51% saying they are very concerned about Social Security being there for their retirement and 30% saying they are most concerned about having saved enough for retirement.  

According to the AARP survey, women voters aged 50 and over also expressed concern about political division in the country, and they are unimpressed with the job elected officials are doing on a range of issues, including their dominant concern of rising prices.

By more than a two-to-one margin, the pollsters say that these voters want politicians who are willing to work together to get things done, even if the result is an occasional compromise that goes against voters’ values (67%), over politicians who consistently fight for their values but don’t often find solutions (30%). This finding remains consistent across party identifications, with 77% of Democratic women and 57% of Republican women preferring a politician compromise to get things done, while 21% of Democratic women and 40% of Republican women prefer a values-prioritizing politician.

Taking a deeper look, the pollsters found that women voters 50 and over are divided evenly by party (44% R – 45% D), in sharp contrast to their male counterparts who are solidly Republican (51% R – 38% D).  In a generic ballot, the Democratic candidate for Congress (48% will vote for) has a 7-point advantage over the Republican candidate (41% will vote for) among these women voters.

Similar Observations from the Pollsters 

“Addressing the rising cost of living is an issue that any smart candidate for office will put front and center this year,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, founding partner, Echelon Insights. “Especially in midterm elections, women voters aged 50 and over will be a critical group that both parties must compete for, and cost of living is clearly the top issue on which they want leaders to be focused,” she said.

Celinda Lake, founder and president, Lake Research Partners, agrees with Anderson that women aged 50 and over can be the significant voting bloc in the 2022 elections. “They are sure to turn out in high numbers when many other voters are disengaging. These voters have yet to make up their minds and are dissatisfied with the jobs their elected leaders are doing, especially on the kitchen table economic issues they face every day,” she notes.

“Women over 50 may not only be the decision-makers in their households, but they may also be the decision-makers of the midterm elections,” said Margie Omero, Principal at GBAO.

Christine Matthews, President of Bellwether Research, says“Women over 50 are arguably the most important voting cohort for the 2022 midterm elections – and they are not happy,” “They are extremely worried about the impact rising prices – particularly groceries – are having on their budget and their ability to save for retirement,” she says.

Matthew adds,” A majority say the economy is not working for them – a significant uptick from two years ago. They want politicians to work together to find solutions to inflation and other key issues, but they are not pleased with what they see. Elected officials should be prepared to demonstrate to this key group that they are working productively on cost-of-living issues,” she says.

The AARP national survey was conducted by phone and online from Feb. 18 to March 3, 2022, using 1,836 voters aged 50 and over who are likely to vote in 2022, with samples of Black voters, Hispanic/Latino voters, Asian American/Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander voters, as well as American Indian/Alaska Native voters. 

A Final Note…

It’s just seven months before the upcoming midterm elections. The historical voting pattern of midterm elections is clear. “The sitting president’s party almost always loses House seats in the midterms. Going back to Harry Truman’s presidency, the president’s party has lost, on average, 29 House seats in each president’s first midterm election,” says James M. Lindsay, senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a blog article, “The 2022 Midterm Congressional Elections by Number,” published on March 8, 2022.

Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg chair, says, “The betting money is that the Republican Party will be the winner on election night, taking back control of one, if not both houses of Congress,” he says, noting that eight months can be a lifetime in politics. 

Republicans are optimistic in picking up seats because of Biden’s low job approval rating, inflation being at a 40-year high, 31 incumbent Democrats retiring (it’s more difficult to defeat an incumbent) and the COVID-19 pandemic still killing 1,500 American’s daily, says Lindsay. But Lindsay predicts Democrats may do better at the polls just because “the midterms are still eight months away,” and who knows where the country will be then. “The redistricting of House seats is going well for the Democrats with several states throwing out Republican redistricting plans and others enacting redistricting plans to benefit the Democrats, he says.

“The Senate math favors Democrats, the party just defending 14 seats while Republicans must keep 21 Senate seats,” adds Lindsay. “Ideologically extreme candidates” will push away moderate voters in House and Senate races, he says. 

But AARP’s national poll warning to Senators, House lawmakers, and Governors to not ignore the concerns of older women voters should be heeded. Not listening has a political cost. It may well determine the balance of power in the next election. 

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/