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Good attitude is linked to healthful aging

Genetics unquestionably plays a large role in how you age and the diseases that may afflict you. But the aging process need not be a painful journey into disease and debilitation.

That was just one message shared during the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline on Saturday. Bereavement program and Spirit of Caring director Helen Rollins and geriatric nurse practitioner Kip DeWeese, both of LDS Hospital, tackled issues of aging, fielding calls that ranged from a woman's almost-crippling grief over a spouse's death to questions about irritable bowel syndrome and changes in the body.

"Aging can be a healthy process. You don't necessarily have to look forward to disease," DeWeese said.

Attitude and a willingness to stay involved and active, not to mention upbeat, can make a huge difference, said Rollins.

"Just like with everything," DeWeese added.

Among the big challenges facing seniors — and their adult children — are caregiver issues. It's not uncommon for both DeWeese and Rollins to hear, as they work with patients, that the person who has become ill, or has recently died, has been a caregiver to someone else.

Rollins meets families every day who are coping with a compound tragedy because a caregiver dies and that individual had taken the sole responsibility for someone else, whether a disabled or mentally ill spouse or an adult child with severe mental or physical disabilities. Because they've been the sole provider, a sad loss becomes a complicated tragedy of finding services and support for the person who has been left behind.

One caller was very concerned over just such a situation. Her father has been admitted to a nursing home for health reasons, but he had for many years been dedicated to taking care of his wife, who has a mental illness. Right now, it's unclear to the family what the future holds for either mom or dad.

Rollins said people need to take a long view and realize they may not always be there to provide care.

They need to ask for help, not only to ease their burden so they can provide the best care possible but to smooth an unwelcome or unexpected transition later.

Another issue that came up was redefining who you are after you've lost someone. One caller's husband died a few years ago, and she has not been able to move on, a situation recently complicated by her own failing health.

"She lost her job — caring for him — her lover and companion, even entertainment," said Rollins. "She's having a hard time."

The hotline tackles a different topic the second Saturday of each month. One question that always comes up is why the hotline is not broadcast on the radio where more people can listen. The answer is confidentiality. Many of the callers — including several Saturday — want to ask questions without worrying that others are hearing what they're saying.