Optimal Aging

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The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University will hold a forum on “optimal aging.” Six speakers will present information on the latest research on the topic. Richard Knopf, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the ASU College of Public programs, will talk about the event and optimal aging.

Ted Simons: ASU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is holding a forum on aging this Saturday at the ASU nursing building in downtown Phoenix. The event is called "Abundant Aging and Longevity" and will feature speakers presenting the latest research on a variety of age-related issues. Here now is Richard Knopf, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute-- It is Osher, correct?

Richard Knopf: That's correct.

Ted Simons: I want to make sure I get it right. It's going to be around for a while. The focus here is optimal aging. Define optimal aging.

Richard Knopf: I would love to. I'd like to start with the notion, did you know at the turn of the century the life span was 47 years? And we're up to 87 years now. So what is happening, we have a preponderance of older adults with a lot of gifts, a lot of ways to contribute to society, and historically many people looked at older adults as frail. So the whole idea is to flip that whole paradigm around and start looking at older adults with abundance and ways to contribute to society.

Ted Simons: And the event is titled "Abundant Aging and Longevity." That's what you're talking about, but it sounds to me like you're talking about folks who aren't necessarily aging. It's the other folks looking at the aging folks and saying, you're not so frail anymore.

Richard Knopf: That's right. And the reason this all came about is we started looking at the medical side of the house and we have an event that will look at breaking medical news, and the more we poked around ASU, we found out that's just a piece of the equation. There's things called community formation, there's caregiving elements, there's a lot of scientists doing a lot of work on how to create optimal aging processes, only some of which is related to medicine.

Ted Simons: Indeed. I notice you had speakers talking about Alzheimer's, and memory issues, and healthier brains, the study of bees and mice on healthier brains.

Richard Knopf: It's amazing.

Ted Simons: That sounds fascinating. Other issues, if you have a chronic illness and you're older, you could be spending quite a few years managing that particular illness.

Richard Knopf: Yes. And that's where the social environment comes in. We've done a lot of research on abundant aging. If you think of four cylinders in an engine, there's four things that have to work well. One is being physically fit. And physically alive. The second is cognition and being cognitively alive. We've always heard the saw I work crossword puzzles because it's good for my brain, but it's deeper than that. Neuropsychologists have talked about flexible cognition. Where different neural nets start working together, and that's different than ROTE learning. So the whole idea of the Osher institute is to expose people to cause and effect the reasons why things work, not just how and what to do. That's the second thing. And the third thing is actually the sense of community. There's some very sobering statistics put out by the AARP, and what they've shown is in the last 10 years, older adults feeling of loneliness has skyrocketed. Some 15 % more older adults feel lonely. The flip side, those who are doing research on that phenomenon find that people involved in community and involved with their family and friends, are interested on passing things along in the next generation, their rates of depression go way down. The fourth element, I almost forgot, is the feeling of self-efficacy. A feeling you're important, that you have a way to contribute. This all ties together in that medicine is only one piece of the equation in abundant living.

Ted Simons: Another speaker will talk about the literary and cultural ways to make every moment count.

Richard Knopf: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So basically you're talking about the arts and the impact on aging.

Richard Knopf: The arts and also he'll be sharing through history of literature how people have approached older adults, sort of looking at the end of life, and he's going to tie it into some meditative principles of how do you refrain the whole direction of your life? So you have a more abundant life.

Ted Simons: What about the issue of boomers balancing and maybe optimizing caregiving and their own, taking care of themselves? That's -- You talk about turn of the century, that's a new phenomenon too.

Richard Knopf: It's huge. Sandwiched. We often hear that word. And Dr. Kuhn will be speaking about that very issue of how to actually balance your own lives as you do the caregiving for your family.

Ted Simons: Is this an evolving issue? Is this something we're learning something new all the time? It sounds like it is, because as you mentioned, it's something that hasn't necessarily been around.

Richard Knopf: Yes. And that's the phenomenal part of ASU in which I'm very proud. The revelations are just incomprehensible, happening every month. So, yes, we're proud of that.

Ted Simons: The Osher lifelong learning institute, give us a synopsis.

Richard Knopf: A brief synopsis, part of Michael Crow's vision for an age-friendly University. That is to open the doors of the University to all components of society. We offer short courses, $35 a pop, about 150-160 course as year, it's literally simulating the ASU experience. You can come in and have a short course, no test, four session on sociology. Or on neuropsychology. Or robots and the planets. To bring older adults access to ASU intellectual, cultural and social experiences.

Ted Simons: All right. "Abundant Aging and Longevity" this, is 9a.m. to noon on the 15th at the nursing college.

Richard Knopf: Exactly.

Ted Simons: All right. Almost remembered that one myself.

Richard Knopf: You're good.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Richard Knopf: Thank you very much.

Richard Knopf:Director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute;

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