Dr. Larry Dian starts his talks on a dour note.
Borrowing from American ethicist Dr. Joanne Lynn, the specialist in geriatric medicine asks his audiences to raise their hands if they want to die from cancer or heart or lung disease.
“Very few people put up their hands,” Dian said. “I say, alright the rest of you have chosen to die a lingering death of disability and dementia. Cancer, you know, is short, sharp and brutish. Acute medicine has been very good at dealing with acute diseases, but not so good at dealing with chronic diseases… The trick of successful aging is being healthy until the 15 minutes before you die.”
Dian will give a free talk entitled Successful Aging: Is 90 the New 80? at VanDusen Botanical Garden May 30.
Making it to one’s 90s partly involves “colossal luck,” conceded Dian, a clinical professor in the University of B.C.’s department of medicine. Maintaining a healthy body weight and blood pressure rate, not smoking, minimizing alcohol use and avoiding high-risk activities that include bungee jumping and racing cars also contribute to longevity.
Regular exercise, even for people in their 80s and 90s, is key. Dian prescribes 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise five times a week or two-and-a-half hours a week for the first 50 years of life.
Resistance training to minimize muscle loss should be the focus between 50 and 75. “When you see these young guys pumping iron in their 20s and 30s, it might do wonders for their sex lives but it doesn’t do anything for their health,” Dian said.
After 75, maintaining balance and flexibility is vital with activities that include tai chi and Osteofit at community centres. “Falls and lack of balance is what does you in,” Dian said.
He notes a recent American study suggests vigorous aerobic exercise may increase the section of the brain that shrinks with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dian adds the ability to adapt to change is crucial.
As an example, hearing loss is inevitable and hearing aids should be adopted early.
“By the time they get to be 80 or 85 and the hearing loss has progressed, they don’t have the physical dexterity to actually benefit from a hearing aid,” Dian said. “They’re quite finicky and uncomfortable and they whistle and you have to be able to adjust it… Your brain has to be agile enough to exclude background noise… If you’re 83, 85 and you’ve just put in a hearing aid because your kids are nagging you, the chances are you’ll wear it for a couple of weeks, you’ll get fed up with it and it’ll spend its life in a bedside table.”
Dian’s talk is part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging. A session on how to prepare personal affairs for ill health will happen June 27, with another series in the fall.
Dian’s talk runs from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the Floral Hall at 5251 Oak St. To register, phone 604-877-8335 or visit tapestryfoundation.ca.