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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 64, Issue 4, 2010

Issue cover

Articles

Research is needed to assess the unique nutrition and wellness needs of aging Californians

Inadequate diet and nutrition can contribute to or exacerbate chronic and acute diseases, hasten the development of degenerative diseases associated with aging, and delay recovery from illness. No single segment of society can benefit more from improved diet and nutrition, and regular exercise, than the elderly. While links between diet, exercise and chronic-disease risks are well documented, more research is needed on how best to use quality-of-life approaches and perceived benefits as motivators for behavior change among the elderly. This report explores how physiological components affect the nutrition and wellness of seniors, puts into context the status of related research, and helps establish a framework to reassess UC Cooperative Extension priorities for applied research, education and outreach to California’s elderly population.

Memory, brain and aging: The good, the bad and the promising

A large body of evidence converges on the conclusion that episodic memory (the recollection of personally experienced events) is the only long-term memory system that shows significant age-related deficits. Moreover, the brain regions most likely to show age-related volume loss are those most critically involved in episodic memory. Older adult brains may have much greater plasticity (capacity to change) than once believed; for example, neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons), increases in cognitive (includ-ing memory) performance, and increases in regional brain volume have all been shown to occur in older adulthood, as a result of physical or mental activity/training. The next wave of research will enhance our understanding of brain plasticity in adulthood and enable specific guidelines for lifestyle or pharmacological treatments that optimize brain and memory functioning well into late adulthood.

Effects of stress on health and aging: Two paradoxes

Although older adults are thought to experience more stress and to be more vulnerable to its adverse effects, they often report less stress than younger adults and sometimes show more resilience. Paradoxically, while stress sometimes has long-term positive effects on well-being, studies differ as to whether this increases or decreases with age. We conclude that older individuals have learned to appraise and cope differently with stress. This protects them in spite of their increased physiological vulnerability and may also increase the possibility of stress-related growth and optimal aging

Cognitive and motivational factors support health literacy and acquisition of new health information in later life

Health literacy refers to the ability to read, understand and use health information to maintain or improve one’s health. Health literacy skills have been linked to outcomes such as medication adherence, improved health and decreased health-care costs. Health literacy is particularly low among older adults. Given demographic projections that 20% of the U.S. population will be over age 65 by 2030, there is a pressing need to understand health literacy in later life. We present such a framework, as well as data from two studies that show how cognitive and motivational factors support one aspect of health literacy, namely, the acquisition of new health information. A clearer understanding of these issues will provide insight for targeting educational interventions designed to increase health literacy among aging adults.

Limited-income seniors report multiple chronic diseases in quality-of-life study

The silver century is now! Seniors 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the world’s population, and in the United States the 85 and over age group is increasing at the highest rate. This study documents the chronic diseases reported by a diverse group (n = 377) of urban, limited-income seniors who attended UC Cooperative Extension Quality of Life education forums. The data suggests that their greatest educational need is learning how to integrate multiple concepts and complex research and technology into their personal lives. The data correlated disease conditions, diet and physical activity with age and ethnicity to show the mag-nitude of multiple diseases among them, identify perceived educational needs, and describe seniors’ expectations and preferred education and training delivery methods.

The need for caregiver training is increasing as California ages

As the first baby boomers reach age 65 in 2011, California will face unprecedented growth in its aging population. At the same time, budget cuts threaten California’s In-home Supportive Services (IHSS), which now assists seniors aging at home and the disabled. We conducted a cost analysis and compared caseload changes using IHSS raw data from 2005 and 2009. Results showed an across-the-board increase in caseload and cost for indigent in-home care in California, with significant variation from county to county. Large numbers of minimally trained IHSS caregivers, and family caregivers with little or no training, raise concerns about the quality of care that elders and the disabled receive, while highlighting the need to protect the health and well-being of caregivers themselves. UC Cooperative Extension can play a vital role in training undertrained and unskilled caregivers through applied research, curriculum design, education and evaluation, and proposing public policy options to help raise the competencies of caregivers.