ALISO VIEJO — Kicking off her presentation with memory recall warm-ups, Judi Bonilla, education director at Brain Fit Now!, asked audience members at the South County Senior Summit to remember a specific date before asking them to repeat back a proverb.
“When is the best time to plant a tree?” Bonilla asked the crowd, which hurled best guesses her way. “The answer is 20 years ago.”
The next best time? It’s now, she said.
“But guess what — you can’t do anything about the past,” she said, applying the same logic to day-to-day life. “What you can do is chart a new future.”
Bonilla was one of six speakers at the 12th annual South County Senior Summit on Friday, May 17, held at its new location at Soka University in Aliso Viejo. Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett hosted the event, supported by the Orange County Office on Aging, Age Well Senior Services and CalOptima.
This year’s theme was “Back to the Future of Aging and Dementia,” a nod to Robert Zemeckis’ 1980s sci-fi classic and how referencing the past may benefit one’s next move forward.
Over 1,000 seniors were in attendance.
“Orange County alone has more patients afflicted with dementia than in 26 other states,” said Dr. Joshua Grill, a director at UC Irvine’s Institute of Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND). “To say that this is a problem that hits close to home is a dramatic understatement.”
Grill presented statistics that showed of the 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, women and people of color are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease and the rate of those diagnosed is projected to increase 29 percent by 2025.
Beyond memory loss, dementia comes at a great cost — about $290 billion federally every year, Grill said, which includes Medicare, Medicaid and out-of-pocket payments. Per family, long-term care averages about $350,000 over a lifetime.
So what can be done about it?
Bonilla had some suggestions. She explained the six pillars to brain health as taught through Brain Fit Now!, a brain-healthy lifestyle program promoting the importance of starting cognitive initiatives.
The six areas include stress management, health management, physical activity, nutrition, lifelong learning and socialization, or “social Rx.”
The key is to “make it a habit,” which Bonilla recognized may take two weeks to a year for some — the majority landing about somewhere near two months — before a brain-health practice sticks. As with each of the exercises, establishing a practice may be the same idea, but the process will be individual to the person.
For example, stress management, Bonilla said, may look like singing in the shower for some and practicing one’s short game for others. Some may make take the more literal approach, like sitting for meditation.
“You know yourself better than anyone else,” she said. “The key is to find something that works for you.”
Bonilla recommended bundling as many “pillars” as an individual can into one activity, her prime example being a trip to the farmer’s market. The challenge combines the physical aspect and the mental aspect to brain fitness perfectly, getting seniors out of the house, walking, interacting with the outside world while sending them home with a bag of locally grown fruits and veggies.
Presentations on senior-centric technology capped the summit.
Iris OC project director Linda Zimmer spoke about the online resource, which acts as an aggregate website that collects relevant news articles, local events and lists services pertinent to the senior community.
Under the “Conversations” tab, members can share their thoughts via posts and comment or like posts made by others as part of an online community. It’s social media localized and simplified, she said.
“We are building a community resource,” Zimmer said. “All of this information is not coming from one entity or one individual — it’s coming in a crowdsource way from the community.”
Kerry Burnight, chief gerontologist at Grandpad, introduced the crowd to a tablet designed with seniors in mind. Grandpad features large buttons and an intuitive interface capable of smartphone standards such as video chatting, photo sharing, emailing and contact storage but is secured by a privatized family network to deter ”spammers and scammers.”
A family administrator may access the tablet at any time through an app, allowing them to manage the tablet’s set up as well as view the tablet’s frequency of use.
According to the website, the tablet is $200 with a monthly $40 subscription.
“The future of longevity is connection,” Burnight said. “Set out and do that in person, but if not, do it with technology. Just connect with others.”
Richard Chong, 73, and Roze Chong, 70, moved to Laguna Woods Village less than a year ago. New to Orange County, discovering what services were available, the topics of discussion and the free lunch were the big draws for the couple.
“The demographics of Orange County in terms of (seniors) being the largest segment was really eye-opening to me,” Richard Chong said. “It’s interesting if you couple that with the assumed conservatism from before. But the fact that it’s gone a little bit democratic and more progressive — those two things could bode well for health options and health issues, elderly issues becoming a priority at this time.”
Laguna Niguel resident Joe Cudzit, 85, attended in search of ways to connect elderly communities. He serves as the chair for cooperation for the elderly community on behalf of his local Alcoholics Anonymous district.
“Dementia is a thing we’re worried about,” he said of he and his wife, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “We’re just seeing if there’s anything new … some things that were offered sound like they will work.”
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