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With abundant resources, the “Back to the Future” summit guides seniors into the realm of aging well 

Story and photos by DIANNE RUSSELL

The old adage “Age is just a number” plays well in theory, but in truth, the numbers do matter. Age brings with it a myriad of challenges, both mental and physical, trials that at times, seem overwhelming. However, on Friday, the 12th Annual South County Senior Summit, “Back to the Future of Aging and Dementia” – sponsored by Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Office on Aging, Age Well Senior Services, and Soka University – offered attendees many tools and resources to navigate the rocky terrain of aging. 

With abundant Lisa

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OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett welcomes the audience

Supervisor Bartlett welcomed the large crowd, stating that when she took office in 2014, 750 attended the summit, and this year, they expected participants to number around 2,000.

That isn’t surprising. Where else can seniors listen to experts demystify aging concerns and gather resources to make informed choices – and all at no cost? 

An important result of research is that senior health is 80 percent local (meaning choices), and 20 percent genetic. One of the speakers admitted, “It takes a village to achieve quality of life as one ages and to stay vital and independent.” The resounding advice was to take action, and there are many ways to do so.

Lifelong learning

A critical takeaway from the talks was that mental stimulation is paramount in fighting the isolation and loneliness of aging, getting out of the house and developing friendships is crucial. Saddleback College Emeritus Institute offers a variety of tuition free courses for older adults in over 30 sites in South County. The summer term begins on May 28, but students can typically register for classes even after they have started.

Dan Predoehl, director of Saddleback College Emeritus Institute, said, “There are currently 6,100 registered students. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed stated mental stimulation was the most important aspect of Emeritus Institute courses.” 

With abundant DeLorean

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Time traveling DeLorean from movie Back to the Future – complete with Doc Brown

Michael Schrader, CEO of CalOptima, explained their program: “CalOptima is a county organized health system that administers health insurance programs for low-income children, adults, seniors and people with disabilities in Orange County.”

CalOptima’s One Care (HMO SNP) (a Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan) is for low-income seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for both Medicare and Medi-Cal.

Additionally, Age Well Senior Services (formerly South County Senior Services) offers a variety of services. CEO Steve Moyer explained that Age Well is a nonprofit, public benefit 501(c)(3) organization located in Laguna Hills. Since 1975, Age Well has been providing critical services, resources, and programs to seniors living in South Orange County. One of their services is Meals on Wheels, which consists of three meals a day. Last year, they delivered 342,000 meals. They also provide transportation for non-medical emergencies such as doctors appointments (last year, they provided 64,000 non-medical rides), and their senior center gives seniors opportunities for socializing. 

What’s most important to seniors

        Erin Ulibarri, Operations Manager for OC Office on Aging, detailed the five most important concerns for seniors: personal home safety (83 percent), in-home care, family caregiving, case management, and housing referrals assistance. Her office provides older adults, their families, and caregivers with information, referrals, and access to agencies and programs that can help them with senior-related services.

There’s no doubt that cognitive functioning is uppermost on seniors’ minds.

Dr. Joshua Grill, PhD, Director, UC Irvine Institute of Memory Impairment and Neurological Disorders, presented the latest statistics on Alzheimer’s disease (a type of dementia), its scope, state of the science, and what seniors can do. The lifestyle risk factors include: family history, head trauma, midlife obesity, midlife hypertension, high cholesterol, and poor sleep. Of course, the biggest risk is age. Dr. Grill said, “The risk dramatically increases as we age.” To lower risk, factors involve: higher education, healthy diet, physical exercise, cognitive activity, and social activity.

With abundant Grill

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Dr. Joshua Grill points out risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease in OC

The most common progressive dementia among the elderly is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for approximately 70 percent of all cases. Nearly 50 million people in the world have Alzheimer’s disease, including 6 million in the United States. Approximately 600,000 Californians are affected, with an estimated 84,000 individuals in Orange County. In OC, it’s the third cause of death, while in other places, it’s the sixth cause. Collectively, it costs 200 billion dollars a year and can cost a family $300,000.

It represents a cluster of systems that cause cognitive impairment, which can result in the inability to function in daily life, and at its worst, the patient needs 24 hour a day, 7 days a week care. 

Unfortunately, as stated by Dr. Grill, the drug options in 2019 can’t slow or reverse the disease or prevent onset or stop it. The hope it that a cocktail of drugs might work, and UCI Mind is looking for research heroes.

Judi Bonilli, Director of Education for Brain Fix Now, offered words of encouragement to take action using the Six Pillars of Brain Power (which counteract the triggers for Alzheimer’s). All are evenly weighted: stress management, health (drug interaction), physical activity, nutrition, lifelong learning, and social prescriptions. Her motto is “The future is what you make it.”

Healthy living online community

Iris OC, of which Linda Zimmer is project director, is a healthy living online community for older adults. It uses technology for aging services, since each individual can input personal information and then search events and services.

Dr. Kerry Burnight, Chief Gerontologist and one of the creators of GrandPad, works to prevent social isolation by use of an elder user-friendly phone. She also advocates for elders and has worked in elder abuse. The GrandPad is described as, “a simple and secure tablet for seniors. GrandPad senior tablet easily connects loved-ones ages 75+ with family & friends.”

How does the movie Back to the Future play into the topic of aging well? We obviously can’t time travel back 30 years, the past is gone, but with 2019 comes a vast array of knowledge to maneuver the bumpy path of “aging” in order to live well and independently – into the future.

For more on Emeritus classes at Soka, go to www.saddleback.edu/emeritus.

For more on Age Well Senior Services, go to www.agewellseniorservices.org.

For more on UCI Mind, go to www.mind.uci.edu.

For more on Iris OC, go to www.irisoc.

For more on OneCare Connect, CalOptima, go to www.caloptima.org.