'Aging in Stride' ... a clearinghouse of valuable information

Poor Prufrock, measuring out his life with coffee spoons. Are we to believe the droopy, moribund sentiment of T.S. Eliot's famous "love song," so full of regret and remorse for the perfectly natural event of growing old? Time marches on, to be sure, but unfortunately many of us find keeping pace a certifiable bummer.

Doesn't have to be, says Dennis Kenny, co-founder/president of Caresource Healthcare Communications and co-author of the new book "Aging in Stride." The book, also written by Dr. Christine Himes and minister Elizabeth Oettinger, is a veritable clearinghouse of information on the vast array of issues surrounding the process of aging. And not just aging, but aging successfully.

"There's a tendency to think that a lot of disability goes with aging," says Kenny, a former partner with the law firm Davis Wright Tremain, where he focused largely on consumer health and senior issues. After 13 years of practice, he quit the firm and, along with his wife, started up Caresource in 1991 as a means of improving the relationship between health- and senior-service providers and their patients.

"The mission of the book was to deliver in a real, positive, down-to-earth voice what the options and proven strategies are, and not to sugarcoat aging," Kenny, 58, explains. "The fundamental premise of the book is that information never hurt anybody."

And there is no shortage of information, from advice on preventing falls around the home and eating a balanced, healthy diet, to choosing a senior living community and experiencing a "good death." The book also contains numerous forms and checklists to help with such issues as choosing a senior living community and planning one's own funeral or memorial service.

Granted, Kenny says, many of these are difficult, even unpleasant, issues to contemplate, much less plan for. "By human nature, we're not wired to do that," Kenny says of the business of looking ahead to getting old and dying. "A lot of people choose not to think of these things in advance. It's just a lot to think about."

The result is that often seniors find themselves scrambling to overcome at the last minute a financial or health crisis without having all their bases covered, and at a time when emotions and anxiety are running high. "Nobody is saying it's easy," Kenny says, "but sooner is easier than later."

In this sense, "Aging in Stride" serves as a type of preventative medicine; it is a holistic primer that seeks to head off at every pass all manner of obstacles as one moves gracefully and, more importantly, fully informed into one's golden years.

According to Kenny, there are four key elements that define the book's mission - the three of which are connected as guides to maintaining a positive, healthy attitude to the experience of aging: keeping physically active, staying socially connected and, as Kenny puts it, "nurturing your spirit." On the more practical side is the important issue of planning ahead, which involves the steps of assessing one's options, taking inventory of one's assets and, perhaps most crucially, keeping an open dialogue with one's family about these things.

Kenny says he considers the physical component of the book to be absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy and positive old age. Even those who experience some of the more debilitating infirmities that can attend old age have options for keeping active, if only they are willing to accept limitations and try new things. Diminishment of physical abilities, at any rate, is expected, and should be prepared for. "Everybody can do something," Kenny adds. "The tendency to give up on activity is problem number one."

Staying healthy ultimately affects one's attitude, he says, and makes it easier to deal with every aspect of the aging process. As a reminder of this, Kenny has held onto an obituary he read about a physician in Pennsylvania who lived to be 104. "He had a view that you've got to keep moving," he says, adding that such an example should be an inspiration and a reminder for everyone. "I think more than anything, nothing succeeds like success," Kenny says.

The book also advises seniors to stay connected social, through involvement with friends and groups. As folks grow older, Kenny explains, many allow themselves to become isolated, especially as they move into an advanced age and friends begin passing away. "That puts a lot of emotional strain," he says. "It's hard to deal with loss."

"Aging in Stride" offers a variety of remedies to social isolation, including senior centers, libraries, clubs, community organizations and church groups. "There are programs you can tap into," Kenny says. Retirement communities should also be chosen according to social needs. "The social component is one of the things you're buying into," he explains of shopping around for a good retirement home. "And that's a good thing."

The important thing, Kenny says, is to replenish the friendships one loses, completely naturally, over time, and to maintain a "network of activities," as Kelly puts it.

The book even has a section devoted to embracing modern technology as another tool available to seniors interested in staying connected. For some, this could prove a difficult, intimidating step - we're all aware of the silly stereotype of the old fuster humbugging the Internet - though there are plenty of introductory classes offered through local senior centers and other places. "There's still reluctance by a lot of peo- ple to get 'hooked up,'" Kenny says. In the end, it may be the advantages of such technology - shopping online, corresponding long distance, enjoying chat groups - that may compel many seniors to take the leap.

As for the brass tacks of planning such things as wills, retirement hous- ing and even one's own memorial service, "Aging in Stride" offers plenty of strong, commonsensical advice. Kenny says that with all the recent talk over privatizing Social Security and the high cost of medical care, many people are understandably nervous about the prospects of entering their retirement years. "What this book tries to do is say, 'As an adult, we all have the right to guide our own care,'" Kenny asserts, adding that when it comes to setting out one's wishes for such things as medical emergencies, "you can never be too specific. You leave less area for doubt."

For all its hard advice and variety of perspectives and approaches, the book is not political, Kenny explains. Rather, it should be viewed as a tool, a guide for creating a usable blueprint for the whole process of aging. To better achieve that goal, a companion video that will be offered free when folks purchase the book "Aging in Stride" is in the works.

With more and more of us living longer, the aim, he says, was to cre-ate a reference guide that would cut across the generations with a broad popular appeal. "We really worked hard to get a broad base of support for this book," Kenny says, as is evidenced by the wide range of local and national organizations referenced; links to the relevant Web-based resources are provided at the end of each chapter.

"We tried to keep the perspective positive, matter-of-fact," Kenny says about the book, which he hopes a wide array of individuals will tap into as a source of useful information.

"You do have to accept life and your changing body, but that doesn't mean you stop moving forward.[[In-content Ad]]