Healthy Aging Conference shares advice for the aging and their loved ones

Staff writer

The 23rd annual Healthy Aging Conference, “New Attitudes on Aging,” in Williamsburg, brought forward modern techniques to old problems in the aging and caretaking community.

“I wouldn’t say the issues here have changed; if anything, I’d say there is more of a focus on holistic things than in the past; meditation, those sorts of things,” said Diane Hartley, who works for the Peninsula Agency on Aging and helped plan the conference. “But its always been focused on how can you help yourself to maintain a healthier lifestyle so you can age more healthily.”

More than 260 people attended the event at King of Glory Lutheran Church, which started with keynote speaker Barbara Hamm-Lee, executive director and host of Another View, a weekly call-in radio talk show that discusses modern issues from an African-American perspective.

She shared what she’s learned as a new caretaker for her elderly mother and advocated for embracing the changes each new phase of life brings.

“Change is hard. You have to take care of yourself. You’re going to feel guilt, you’re going to feel some resentment, you’re going to feel happy, you’re going to feel sad,” Hamm-Lee said. “You’re going to feel all these different emotions and as far as I’m concerned, let yourself feel every last one of them. If you bottle it up, then you will grow old. Older is an attitude, older means you are growing in grace to embrace what’s next.”

A sense of humor, the establishment of boundaries, asking instead of assuming and maintaining dignity for loved ones are important to remember as a caretaker, she said.

Several speakers followed and experts shared information on how to get the best night’s sleep, the importance of healthy eating and the benefits of CBD and holistic alternatives.

Some important takeaways included:

» Older people get tired earlier and wake up earlier. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is important. A lack of sleep can contribute to chronic pain, depression, anxiety and other illnesses such as dementia. Take a 20-minute power nap once a day, maintain a sleep schedule, create a dark, quiet environment and use your bed only for sleep to get the best quality sleep, said Dr. Richard Parisi from the Sentara Sleep Center.

» Most people get sick from malnutrition, toxicity and trauma, said Julie Mitchell from Williamsburg’s Nutrition and Wellness Center. It’s important to avoid heavier foods when aging because the stomach produces less hydrochloric acid to break down proteins. She also recommended adding Vitamin D to your diet and drinking half of your body weight in water every day. To make sure you’re digesting your food properly, she said you should have a bowel movement one to three times a day. If you’re not, you should see a doctor or nutritionist.

» The AARP views caregiving as a national issue and is pushing for a tax credit for family caregivers. The group is also campaigning for lower prescription drugs costs and are looking for those with experience with the issue said Carol Downs, AARP state president. The organization is also looking for volunteers to create local senior group activities.

» CBD oil, an extract of the cannabis flower, can play a major role in resolving the pain epidemic said Dr. Conan Hones, from the Williamsburg Drug Company. Doctors often are reluctant to talk about it because it is not yet federally accepted as a form of pain treatment. But CBD can be helpful for ailments such as anxiety, pain, spasticity and psychosis, and it is non-psychoactive, meaning it will not get you high. Studies also show it can help people stop using opioids and other pain killers.

Presentations ended with a stretching and meditation session led by Frank Alvarado, who teaches integral yoga in the area and a cooking demonstration and tasting from Chef Glen Belvin, the food services director from Spring Arbor of Williamsburg.

Guests could also enjoy vendors of local businesses and organizations that helped sponsor the event, such as Greg Garrett Realty, of Riverside Hospital and Harmony Senior Services.

This year’s conference was the third Jacqueline Ivory attended. Especially with her family living out of state, she said she’s always looking for events that share helpful information on the aging process.

“We’re always looking for new information because we’re not given enough medically. The doctors are paid to prescribe certain drugs that are not really beneficial to us,” Ivory said. “I want to hear what everybody has to say because sometimes you relate to them and it kind of helps you.”

Martin can be reached at (757)-243-3685, by email at sararose.martin@vagazette.com or on Twitter at @SaraRoseMartin.

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