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Healthy Aging Matters—at Any Age

My grandmother, Dorothy Main, lived to age 95, and she was on the move for nearly all of that time. In her Hillsboro retirement community, a bus was always leaving to take residents to activities around town. More often than not, my grandmother was on it.

Lectures. Concerts. Fishing trips and restaurants. Even a visit to a llama farm. Despite her painful arthritis, my grandmother stayed game for anything.

She had already lost her husband, my grandfather. Every week, it seemed, she lost another close friend. But instead of withdrawing, she sought out connections to other people and places. I believe this social connectedness is what kept her alive, and relatively healthy, for so long. Research backs me up, connecting a larger social network to a lower risk of premature death.

Karen and her grandmother Dorothy take in a baseball game with Bullwinkle

As she aged, Dorothy never became invisible. That’s a major achievement, given that so many of the places we live, work and play are designed as if older people and their needs don’t exist.

This is a shame—for older people and for all of us. When older adults encounter barriers to engaging in our communities, we all miss out. We all know older people whose skills, experience and wisdom have improved—and continue to enrich—our neighborhoods and schools; our workplaces and economy; our government and politics. By failing to support and enable the many contributions that older adults make, we do more than diminish them. We deprive our communities of tremendous resources.

Too many people in Oregon don’t grow old like my grandmother Dorothy—reasonably healthy, happy and engaged with the world around them. It shouldn’t be so hard to do. Yet it takes tremendous physical, mental, emotional and financial resources to overcome the barriers to healthy aging present in our society.

The most obvious barriers are built into the design of our homes, cities and towns. It’s difficult to get out of your apartment or house and participate in the community when you can no longer drive. It’s no wonder that among adults age 65 and over, one in six reports feeling isolated, either socially or geographically.

It’s even tougher to stay socially connected, or meet basic needs like getting to a doctor’s appointment or grocery store, in rural areas, where public transit and other support services may be scarce or nonexistent. Even a stroll to the corner store is treacherous, if the sidewalks are uneven and your walker gets caught in the cracks.

There are less tangible obstacles to healthy aging, too, that can arise as early as childhood. A lack of access to healthy food, physical activity, immunizations, clean air or safe water (or a combination of these) during early or midlife can influence whether or not a person can grow older in a healthy manner, free of chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. In Oregon, 79% of adults 65 years or older are living with at least one chronic disease, and 44% are living with two or more.

Given these structural and systemic challenges to healthy aging, it must feel easier for many older adults to simply stay home, disconnect and disappear.

By 2050, the number of Oregon adults over 65 will more than double. We can start now to do better for our grandparents, our parents and ourselves. Like any barriers in our society, we can remove the obstacles to healthy aging that people in Oregon face—if we commit as a community to addressing them.

The proof is in places like Bridge Meadows in North Portland. This multigenerational housing development is reducing social isolation among older adults and providing affordable housing, while improving the lives of younger families raising foster children. It’s an inspiring example of how safer, healthier, age-friendly communities help people in Oregon of all ages. Check out the video above, and see for yourself.

The websites for AARP Oregon and Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County feature resources and entry points for making our communities more age-friendly. For people engaged in health promotion and disease prevention, Oregon State University Extension Service provides a range of Healthy Aging resources, and Portland State University’s Institute on Aging offers tools specifically for working with older adults with behavioral health needs.

I hope you’ll check out these resources and consider how you might get involved. Everyone benefits when Oregon supports more multigenerational communities like Bridge Meadows. Whether you’re 25, 45 or 65, we all have a stake in creating similar places and expanding the opportunities for people in Oregon to age in a healthy way.

After all, we’re all getting older—every day.

Have an interest in attending a webinar on the topic of Healthy Aging? Please join us for a free webinar on Thursday, March 22 at 2 p.m. For more information and to register, click here.

Curious about a chronic disease topic youd like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below. 

Stay True to You” urges teens to ask
questions about marijuana’s impact

I’m proud of the Oregon Health Authority’s new youth marijuana prevention campaign—“Stay True to You”—because it respects the kids and young people whom it aims to reach.

For the past year, in videos and on social media, on billboards and at shopping malls, and at staytruetoyou.org, this pilot campaign in five Oregon counties has been careful to not overstate what the science says about marijuana’s potential impact on developing brains.

What the science does say is already worthy of our attention:  

  • Brain development isn’t complete until your twenties. Using pot while you’re young can get in the way of reaching your full potential.
  • When you get high, you may have difficulty learning, memory issues and lower math and reading scores. The more you get high, the harder it may be to learn.

Real-life experiences

“Stay True to You” also shows, through testimonial videos by people in their 20s and 30s who used pot when they were younger, that weed affects everyone differently. For kids and teens watching on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, staytruetoyou.org, or between trailers at their local movie theaters, I hope these real-life stories are triggering important questions and conversations:

How would using weed when you’re young affect your brain? How could the legal and social consequences of underage pot use affect your plans for the future?  

Everyone in Oregon—especially young people and the parents, educators and other adults who care about them—deserves the whole story about youth marijuana use. Only then can they make informed decisions for themselves, now that recreational pot is legal for adults 21 and older, highly accessible and aggressively marketed in our state. This “Stay True to You” message applies also to other drugs, including alcohol, the abuse of which has caused severe and lasting damage to individuals, families and Oregon communities.   

Awareness growing—but we can do more

In a recent mid-campaign progress report to the Oregon Legislature, campaign evaluators noted that after its first five months, the pilot version of “Stay True to You” made young people more aware of the legal consequences of underage pot use. It’s also made them more aware that when it comes to weed, everybody isn’t doing it. In fact, four out of five high school juniors in Oregon don’t use marijuana, according to a statewide survey that students take anonymously

During the 2017 fiscal year (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017), the State of Oregon received more than $70 million in revenue from state marijuana sales taxes. But we can’t just take the money and run. It’s important to acknowledge that there likely will be consequences for all of us, young or old, whether we use pot or not—for example, more impaired drivers on our roads, and a greater need for drug treatment programs. Are we prepared to handle these challenges?   

The “Stay True to You” pilot campaign is now expanding to reach young people, ages 12 to 20, statewide. But when it comes to underage pot use, even effective marketing can’t give teens and young adults all the support they need to navigate these new waters.

We need to provide additional tools and maintain local control for communities across our state, so they can protect their own kids and teens—similar to the way Oregon supports the dozens of cities and towns working to keep young people from using cigarettes and other tobacco products. Statewide, new policies are needed to track marijuana advertising, limit marketing and promotion, and prohibit the sale of flavored products.

Tell us what you think

As any glance at Stay True to You on Facebook will tell you, this is a topic that gets young people talking. I hope the kids in your life will join in.  

Explore the videos, facts and resources on staytruetoyou.org. Check out the companion campaign designed for parents, caregivers, educators and coaches, called Talk with Them. Scroll through our Instagram feed. Or start a discussion below.

Whatever platform you choose, take a moment to let me and others around the state know how you Stay True to You.  

Curious about a chronic disease topic youd like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below.