Upbeat attitude, resilience, passion drive healthful aging
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Paula Rath
Editor's note: This is the second of two parts in a series on aging. Our first story ran on Sept. 7.
A common trait observed among these healthy elders is optimism.
"Approach, attitude and lifestyle are all critical to the way we live. Being healthy at 70-plus has to do with how much we have loved, how much we are loved, a sense of service to our community, whether we have been valued by the world around us and finally, if we have been good shepherds for the physiological gifts we have been given," said Dr. Ira Zunin, director of Manakai O Malama Integrative Healthcare Group.
Zunin sees the years between ages 59 and 65 as critical. "That's when you can access your 401(k), so there's often an emerging sense of lifelong work and service being thrown to the sidewalk. Forty years ago, cars didn't run past 100,000 miles. Forty years ago, 65 was considered old. The norms were different."
Zunin's advice for aging healthfully: "Live every day remembering this may be our last. Live in grace and this awareness, so we can do what's most important for ourselves and the world around us, and the result is a better, longer, healthier life."
He added, "It's about moderation, taking the middle path; what motivates us, honoring the messages our bodies give us."
PICKING UP, MOVING ON
Loss, of course, is a natural part of aging. Loss of close friends, family members, and most assuredly, a spouse, can wreak havoc on the life of an older person. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Dr. Gary Johnson, chief of geriatrics at Straub Clinic & Hospital, said that his patients have often surprised him with their resilience.
"Many people have fooled me and did better than I expected," Johnson said. "From a medical standpoint, of course, grief is a normal response when loss occurs. People go through a set of experiences, and then they pick up and go on."
For some people, however, grief can lead to chemical changes in the brain that are identified as clinical depression. These chemical imbalances, Johnson explained, can prevent people from getting on with their lives.
"Sometimes, medical intervention with medicines is necessary," Johnson said, "But I say this with caution. There's not a pill solution for every problem," but certainly some people require medicinal intervention.
While many elderly people take a slippery slide after the death of a spouse, Craig Ono, of Kailua, did quite the opposite. After four years of full-time care of his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, her death was a blow.
"When she died, I felt like an old, old man, and I thought to myself: 'OK, now you're going to die pretty soon, too,' " Ono said.
Ono was, in a word, exhausted. He had spent many sleepless nights getting up with his wife every hour. As a sole caregiver, he never had a break, until, he said, "her brain forgot to tell her to swallow." and he and the doctors carried out the wishes expressed in her living will and simply let her go.
After the shock wore off, Ono got a new lease on life.
"I had a purpose after she died," he said. "I didn't want to be a burden to my kids. I decided I wanted to die healthy."
It's been 12 years since her death and, he said, "I couldn't believe that I could feel this good."
Neither can his neighbors, who see him out mowing the lawn, riding his bike to the supermarket, walking briskly through the neighborhood and even climbing on his roof occasionally.
Severe hip problems in both hips, involving total hip replacements and subsequent surgeries, could easily have landed Jane Morris, 83, of Kailua, in a wheelchair. But she's a fighter. While she suspended some activities during her surgeries, recuperation and physical therapy, now she's back at it again.
She does Pilates with Lisa Ortega Robertson at On Balance Pilates Studio once a week.
"I think Pilates is absolutely one of the best things you can do as you age," she said. "They stress balance, and balance is vital to do all the things you want to continue to do."
She paddles a kayak, walks as much as she can and works in her garden.
"My husband calls me his Energizer bunny," she said.
Balance is a major concern, so Morris works with Robertson on the BOSU ball and stability ball. "I haven't noticed not being able to do a lot of things until about now. Now I'm slowing down somewhat. I don't have the stamina and can't walk as far," she explained.
Morris also exercises her brain every morning with crossword puzzles and Sudoku. She is active in her community, volunteering with the Outdoor Circle and Keep It Kailua.
"I care about Kailua and don't want it to become a Windward Waikiki," she explained.
For stress relief, Morris lies in a hammock and listens to the ocean.
Dr. Drake Will, 84, of Makiki, could easily have given up on life but he, too, fought to retain his healthfulness. One day about 15 years ago, at age 70, he arrived at work, parked in the lot at The Queen's Medical Center and suddenly collapsed from a massive stroke.
He was paralyzed on his right side, and there was a long recuperation period. At Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, he said, "They did not let me rest. They were after me all the time with classes and exercises and personal instruction to get me back to normal." The paralysis has disappeared, but he still has some shakiness in his right hand. Although he is a right-handed person, he has adapted by using his left hand for many things.
Two years ago, he had a total knee replacement. "I'm pleased as punch with it," Will said. "I was down to the place where I was having trouble walking, but now I can walk everyplace. I'm slow, but I can walk."
"Everywhere" is right. He walks from his Makiki apartment to Ala Moana to buy groceries. He walks to the Downtown library every week. He also rides TheBus often, including around the island.
Reading is one thing that Will said keeps his mind sharp. "I'm intellectually active. I read the newspaper, I don't watch much TV, and I read two or three books a week."
Will has always loved to cook and is a gourmet. That hasn't changed much. He still cooks a lot and loves to learn new recipes. The only change from years past is that he doesn't eat large portions anymore. "I eat a balanced diet and am careful about fat. I haven't gained a pound in 15 years."
He also quit smoking 15 years ago after smoking two packs a day for many years.
Jack Cione, 82, of Makiki, may best be remembered as a producer of "girlie" shows. Now he is a vibrant, energetic force of nature at Arcadia retirement residence. He says his secret of healthful aging is "repotting."
By repotting, Cione means taking a new direction in life, sort of re-inventing himself. He's done it many times. In the 1940s, he was a musician. "I played boogie-woogie piano, and we had a trio." He then became a professional dance instructor, and by 1948 he had opened a chain of dance studios. In 1956, he married and moved to Hawai'i, opening his first nightclub in 1957. He ended up with 12.
In 1974, he decided that gerontology was the wave of the future. and went back to school to get his degree in the subject.
"I was going to build senior care centers but got sidetracked again" he said, and repotted himself with even bigger nightclub shows, which he took to Las Vegas, Hong Kong, South Korea and Honolulu. Repotting himself once again, for 25 years he produced and directed the Mardi Gras Follies.
When he moved into the Arcadia retirement residence, he adapted to his new environment with enthusiasm. "I used to produce shows with beautiful showgirls like Tempest Storm and Sally Rand. Now I produce shows with beautiful 90-plus-year-olds," he said cheerfully.
Cione's "Skool Daze" productions, which feature the residents and staff at Arcadia, always have capacity crowds. Amusing and lively, they have provided a source of entertainment for the audiences, of course, but even more for the cast.
Tookie White, 86, dressed like a third-grader, donned pigtails with ribbons and played the accordion in a recent show. She keeps in shape by doing an aerobic exercise routine every morning in her apartment. She does word puzzles and Sudoku to help her get to sleep. But the real secret of her healthful aging seems to be her attitude of service to her community.
While raising four outstanding children, White worked with teens as a social worker in the Family Court system. After she retired, she kept working with teens in trouble as a volunteer.
Although her husband died just two months ago, White plans to return to volunteer at the Children's Justice Center and with the Community Foundation scholarship program. She will deal with her personal loss by helping others.
Resilience, optimism, passion and service to others all contribute to the healthy aging process. It's not just about genes and environment, hearts and lungs.
"I used to produce shows with beautiful showgirls like Tempest Storm and Sally Rand. Now I produce shows with beautiful 90-plus-year-olds."
Reach Paula Rath at firstname.lastname@example.org.