This fall, the NCC Environmental Health Initiative is going to begin looking closely at the concept of healthy aging and how factors such as diet, exercise, and chemical exposures can affect long term health as we age.
As I learn more about this topic and begin to think through what compelling data, stories, and reflections to share with others I can’t help but think about my grandparents. I spent many weekends of my youth staying with them and attending their church in Portland, Oregon. They had a huge garden and many fruit trees in the backyard. I would help them harvest the blueberries, corn, apples, and other food they grew. My grandmother would can in jars much of the fruits and vegetables for the winter.
My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister who carried the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. He built the church literally from the ground up. He did community outreach and then involved the congregation in constructing a new church building over 60 years ago. My grandfather passed away at age 70 from prostate cancer. I can’t help but wonder if the pesticides he sprayed on the garden, the BPA in the lids from the glass jars they canned their food in, the fish he caught and ate from the rivers, the cologne he used, or the soap he and my grandmother made might have in some way have contributed to his cancer.
My grandmother is 93 years old now and living in a retirement facility just down the road from where my parents live. She survived breast cancer at age 84. There are a number of chemicals that can contribute to breast cancer such as pesticides, BPA, and personal care products. For twenty years my grandmother lived on her own across the river from where my parents lived, but near her church. Today my dad visits her every day. However my grandmother’s short term memory is not very good and this creates added stress and pain for everyone as we try to care for her. I certainly am invested in finding ways to improve the health of aging Americans from people who are my parents and reaching retirement to my grandmother’s age. Studies have found that links to certain chemicals such as lead, BPA, and pesticides are linked to conditions later in life such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
I am currently reading Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging: With a Closer Look at Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases by the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility (GBPSR) and the Science Environmental Health Network (SEHN). This comprehensive report describes how lifestyle choices such as diet and nutrition, and exposures to toxic chemicals, knowingly or unknowingly, can contribute to diseases later in life. The report argues that there are things we can do as individuals and as a country to improve the quality of life for aging adults. GBPSR and the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities are hosting a teleconference series on the issue.
We at the NCC Environmental Health Initiative are currently developing a guide for active seniors and grandparents to explore this issue from a faith perspective. In the winter of 2011 we will also offer some faith-based calls on this topic. In the meantime, feel free to learn more from this upcoming series organized by our colleagues in the Environmental Health community.
To access additional information and register for any of the webinars below, please go to this page of the AAIDD web site http://aaidd.org/ehi/content_3919.cfm?navID=306.
Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging with Ted Schettler, Maria Valenti
Tues Oct 12th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Built Environment with Kathy Sykes, Rodney Harrell, Regina Gray
Tues Oct 19th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Psychosocial Environment with Danny George, Peter Whitehouse
Tues Oct 26th from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Chemical Environment with Maye Thompson, Marybeth Palmigiano
Tues Nov 2nd from 2-3pm Eastern Time
Food Environment with Michelle Gottlieb, Emma Sirois
Tues Nov 9th from 2-3pm Eastern Time