What is normal aging?

Dr. Susan Varano, geriatric physician and former director of Yale’s Elder Horizons Program, answered questions about aging at The Greens at Cannondale’s third Community Education Series. Dr. Varano had good news and not-so-good news for older adults.

“There are those who face aging with acceptance and those who don’t want to talk about it,” she said. Acceptance is better because there are ways to make aging less burdensome. Changes will inevitably occur. Nothing seems as good as it used to be, but new routines can help make life easier. One of the biggest fears is memory loss. Finding it hard to remember names, wondering why you just walked into the kitchen are normal experiences for older adults. Growing older requires new habits. Making lists. Organizing your day. Parking your car in the same place. Doing one thing at a time and completing each task before starting another.

Dr. Varano told the larger-than-usual audience to accept the fact that their sense of smell and taste will probably decrease, but using more salt isn’t the answer. She encouraged people to experiment with other herbs and spices.

Though people may have trouble with their teeth, they should resist catering to a sweet tooth. Sugar is the enemy, since the ability to absorb glucose decreases, and people could be headed for diabetes. Though there seemed to be lots more bad news than good news, Dr. Varano’s lively, entertaining approach was welcomed.

Though she is too young to have experienced these changes, she knew the techniques of living to a ripe old age from her patients. She explained that since older eyes have a decreased ability to face darkness, people should drive when it’s light. They should adjust their day to the season. At night, they should make sure the path to the bathroom is visible (and not cluttered with sleeping dogs or cats).

Dr. Varano sympathized with everyone who needed a hearing aid. She understood the challenges of proper adjustment, but said to hang in there even it takes weeks to get it right.

“Hearing loss can lead to isolation and depression, but with the right equipment, hearing doesn’t have to be a big problem.”

When she got to the topic of the bladder, she said, “You have to train your brain to avoid accidents. Urinary incontinence is not normal aging. There is stress incontinence and urge incontinence, but you can train your brain to discipline your bladder.”

Dr. Varano had all kinds of tips for older adults. “Don’t talk while you’re eating. Sleep is critical. Keep a sleep diary. Most important, check in with your doctor to evaluate every medicine you take. Is the dosage right for your current weight and state of health? Many medications should be adjusted with age.”

There was lots to think about, and the audience left in good spirits. Dr. Varano ended her talk with an offer: TransCon Builders, the parent company of The Greens, offers a free memory screening that can assess the actual state of a person’s memory. This can ease fears and help identify a problem when it’s easiest to treat. To find out more, call The Greens at Cannondale at 203-761-1191.

The next educational seminar is Sept. 10, when Dr. Stephen Jones of Greenwich Hospital will discuss “Keeping Your Brain Young.” The Greens at Cannondale is at 435 Danbury Road.