Nebraska couple ages with grace

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Video, story and graphics by Seanica Reineke, NewsNetNebraska

In 2008, nearly 40 million people _ 12.8 percent of the entire United States population _ were 65 years old or older, and the Administration on Aging expects that number to double within the next 30 years.

“We are seeing tremendous growth and a surge of older people in the United States,” said Julie Masters, chairwoman of the Gerontology Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Since 1900, the population of people over age 85 has increased more than 4,500 percent to 5.7 million, according to the Administration on Aging. Masters said recognizing aging as a process, not an event, is important when thinking about the future of the nation’s aging population.

Knowing how people have aged successfully is crucial for the future of the U.S., according to Masters, who says it’s important to find good role models going through the aging process.

Alfred Trook, 95, and his wife Elva, 85, are two people serving as aging role models, according to Masters’ definition. The Trooks still live on their farm in Weeping Water. They live life fully each day and don’t experience the activity limitations many people their age experience. These activities include bathing or showering, getting dressed, sitting down, standing up, eating, walking and going to the bathroom.

The figures show the percentage of senior citizens over 85 and living in their own homes who had difficulties with daily activities, according to a 2006 Administration on Aging survey.

Being able to handle daily activities without limitations is something the Trooks attribute to their daily exercise. Alfred walks on a treadmill and pedals an exercise bike for about 30 minutes each day, and Elva walks the length of their basement for 30 minutes each day. Elva said if she doesn’t get her walking in on a day, she notices it.

“This isn’t unusual,” Masters said, “because some people, when they age, may not have the ability to exercise due to health problems, but others haven’t exercised a day in their life, so you wouldn’t expect them to exercise.”

Masters said heterogeneity, the process of becoming different with age, is a key. She said people begin to “assume all people are alike, and that’s not the case.”
Aging isn’t a disease itself, Masters said, but older people are more likely to get chronic conditions. Even then, she said people who are more likely to stay active will believe they are in good health, but others may believe they are in bad health.

Sarah Briggs of the Nebraska State Unit on Aging said programs are available to educate people on health issues and how they can take better care of themselves.

“Doing all this in their home and still being part of the community where they live is the goal for a lot of folks,” Briggs said. “The Trooks’ story is what people hope for when they picture aging.”

Masters said the Trooks are doing what is essential for their overall well-being.

“They are doing everything they need to do in terms of their health.”

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