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'Embrace change': Nevada experts on how to stay physically, mentally fit as you age

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nov aging segment

From L to R: State of Nevada producer Zachary Green, Paula Rudeen, Dr. Dylan Wint and host Joe Schoenmann at Nevada Public Radio on Nov. 28, 2022.

You can’t stop aging. 

But everyone is trying to do that, at least on the exterior — the plastic surgery business in the U.S. will earn nearly $27 billion this year.  

And without surgical treatment, we’ve all seen people who age almost agelessly. Some of that is likely genetic; something passed onto us from our parents. Some, though, has to do with how we live our lives; how we choose to live. 

Is there a secret to getting older without looking or acting or feeling like you’re ready for it to just end? 

Nevada, whose population of those 85 and older is growing at twice the national rate, has an Aging and Disability Services Division.

Dena Schmidt is an administrator there. She joined  State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann along with Dr. Dylan Wint from the Lou Ruvo Center fror Brain Health and Paula Rudeen, a therapist with Blue Moon Senior Counseling. 

State sees waitlist for aging-related services

Schmidt’s division provides support services for seniors to make sure they can maintain the lifestyle of their choice. They’re mostly contacted about in-home support, but handle calls about assisted living or group homes, elder abuse, meal delivery and more. 

She said there are waitlists for some assisted living facilities, but the state recently received funding to help expand those available beds. 

“But it is a challenge. The number of beds is very limited in all of our communities in Nevada,” Schmidt said. 

Their goal is to provide assistance that can help keep people in their homes as long as possible, which is also harder in a post-pandemic world facing record inflation. 

“Especially with the economic challenges everybody's facing right now – the cost of groceries – we're really seeing a challenge with making sure that we can provide adequate numbers of home delivered meals,” she said.

“We've seen our waitlist increasing for a lot of those services, our home and community-based services waitlist have been increasing. From an administrator's perspective, it's really planning on how to work with the state legislature to ensure the funding comes through for those types of services, so that we can retain those services and grow them with the growing need.”

How to stay healthy as you age

As we age, we become a little bit slower, Wint said. It can be harder to learn new information or tasks. “We're not learning machines like we were when we were younger,” he said. But it’s not worrisome unless you’re losing the ability to do something you could do before. 

“We can reduce our risk of having dementia, which is loss of cognitive function to the point where you are unable to do one of your daily activities, we can reduce that risk by about 35% with lifestyle choices,” Wint said. 

And it’s not really a secret:

Physical activity. “Folks under age 75, you really want to focus on cardiovascular activity … aerobic activity. As you get to the older, ages 75 and older, focus on strength and flexibility and reduction in frailty.”

Cognitive activity. “Keeping the mind stimulated. There's no particular, specific activity that's shown to be better than others. But it is important that your mind is solving problems. The problem can be a crossword puzzle, the problem can be as you're working as a volunteer at a hospital, getting someone from one place to another.”

Social activity. “And that's particularly important for people over age 80, where loneliness seems to have a bigger effect on cognitive decline than even genetics and family history.”

Reducing health risk factors. “The risk factors we've been told about all our lives, you know, smoking, heavy drinking, fatty foods, excessively sugary foods, we need to avoid those things.”

He said a healthy diet is key. That includes choosing fruits, vegetables and whole grains over meats, and within meats, choosing seafood over red meat. Choosing healthy fats is also important: avocado oil or olive oil over corn oil or Crisco. 

‘Don’t lose your sense of wonder’

“One of the things that I've identified is that sense of mourning missed opportunities,” Rudeen said. “Life is a forward trajectory. Life will change with or without your permission. One of the things I encourage people to do is as life changes, come to peace with change, and confront the challenge, have the courage to change and embrace change, because it's common, whether it has your permission or not. Be proactive, explore, and don't lose your sense of wonder.”

As a therapist, she’s trained in CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as Wise Mind DBT, or dialectical behavioral therapy. 

She said there are three phases people struggle with most as they age: the first phase of early retirement, a second phase with limited mobility or resources, and a third phase where the body is compromised or begins to shut down. 

“And those are the phases that people struggle with the most, because the one thing that people struggle with, and it doesn't matter what the population is, is that loss of autonomy and independence,” she said.

What some listeners had to say

Paul is in his mid-50s and loves mixed martial arts, but called to ask if it was a healthy activity. Here’s what Wint had to say:

“Two components: one is that he's doing something that he really likes. And the second is that he's doing something that involves aerobic activity. … But we do try to avoid heavy contact, particularly with the head. Head Injury is a risk factor for cognitive decline, as well,” he said.

“So if there's a way to do the mixed martial arts, perhaps less competitively … without actually taking blows to the head, or even heavy blows to the body, which can be enough to cause a concussion, then that would be the way to go.”

Sean just put his mother into assisted living. She has a retirement account, but eventually the funds will run out. When should he start applying for financial services? 

Schmidt had an answer: “As soon as your mom gets close to those resource and income limits, so when her resources start to reduce to the point where she's not going to be able to continue to afford … I would definitely recommend doing it several months in advance, about six months before she actually is out of resources, in order to give time for the application process to happen.” 

Deborah, 69, called from Las Vegas. She’s been retired for two years and loves it. 

“I eat healthy, I go to the Y every day, I do Zumba, I party with my girlfriends on Fremont Street, and my kids are in travel hockey,” she said. She’s also learning mahjong and does crossword puzzles. 

“I think the most important thing is that I find joy in small things.”

Dr. Dylan Wint, neuropsychiatrist and director, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health;  Paula Rudeen, LCSW, therapist, Blue Moon Senior Counseling; Dena Schmidt, administrator, Department of Health and Human Services Aging and Disability Services Division

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.