TIME Aging

The World’s Oldest Person Has Died in Japan

The World's Oldest Person Celebrated Ahead Of Turning 117
Buddhika Weerasinghe—Getty Images Misao Okawa, the world's oldest Japanese woman, poses for a photo on her 117th birthday celebration at Kurenai Nursing Home on March 4, 2015, in Osaka, Japan

Misao Okawa was 117 years old

The world’s oldest person, who celebrated her 117th birthday less than a month ago, died early Wednesday in Osaka, Japan.

Staff at Misao Okawa’s nursing home said she died of heart failure, the Associated Press reported. She reportedly lost her appetite 10 days ago, and breathed her last with her grandson and carers beside her.

“She went so peacefully, as if she had just fallen asleep,” said Tomohiro Okada, an official at the home. “We miss her a lot.”

Born on March 5, 1898, Okawa was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 as the world’s oldest person. Okawa, who had two daughters and a son with her late husband, is survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

[AP]

TIME medicine

How 3D Imaging Can Tell Exactly How Old You Are

You may be able to dodge questions about your age, but your face can’t

For the first time, scientists have used 3D imaging of a people’s faces to predict their age. The 3D information was so accurate, in fact, that it was better at pinpointing age than the best known marker, a test that involves studying the DNA.

Reporting in the journal Cell Research, Jing-Dong J Han, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology, found that certain facial measures are reliable predictor’s of a person’s biological age. The researchers analyzed 3D facial images from more than 300 people, and matched them up with measurements from several dozen blood markers including cholesterol and albumin. Specifically, the width of the mouth and nose, and the distance between the mouth and nose tend to expand with age, and the eyes tend to droop over time. Measuring this change provides a relatively stable way of tracking, and predicting, a person’s age.

“Overall facial features show higher correlations with age than the 42 blood markers that are profiles in routine physical exams,” says Han.

 

Weiyang Chen–2015 Nature Publishing Group. Visualizations of facial aging.

MORE: Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions

She arrived at the finding after hearing a colleague present work on using 3D facial images to quantify racial differences. “It immediately struck me that facial images might be a potential good phenotype to include in our study to quantify the extent of aging,” she says. “I did not expect to see such remarkable changes with age, nor did I expect the 3D images to be such an accurate biomarker for biological age.”

Why is it important? Han says that pinpointing how quickly a person is aging via the relatively easy 3D algorithm could have useful health implications that go beyond keeping people honest about their age. Such a measure might provide a window into deeper physiological processes that could be aging abnormally fast. “It might have important implications for assessing the risks of aging-associated diseases, and for designing personalized treatment schemes to improve their life styles and health,” she says.

MONEY retirement planning

The Smart Way to Choose a Retirement Community

The decision to move to a retirement community is never easy. But new pricing information can help you plan.

Moving into a retirement community is a complex and often emotional decision, especially if health issues are a reason. Figuring out the finances of this move adds to the challenge. But by understanding the expenses you’ll need to pay, seniors and their families can make the best possible choices.

The good news is more cost data is now available. A Place for Mom, a senior community placement service, just released what it claims is the first pricing survey of these residences—one that is does not rely primarily on data reported by the communities themselves. Its Senior Living Price Index is based on reports from seniors it has placed. The company works with 20,000 residences around the country and advises an average 50,000 families a month.

The prices are listed by category of residence—independent living, assisted living and memory care (for those with dementia) —as well as by region. (The prices for independent living do not include health care expenses, but they are included for assisted living and memory care.) The survey only covers larger communities—those with more than 20 residential units.

Here are the top-level results for each type of community by region, showing average monthly prices:

  • Independent Living — $2,520 (U.S.); $2,532 (West); $2,362 (Midwest); $2,765 (Northeast); $2,587 (South)
  • Assisted Living — $3,823 (U.S.); $3,771 (West), $3,825 (Midwest); $4,315 (Northeast); $3,562 (South)
  • Memory Care — $4,849 (U.S.); $4,787 (West); $4,958 (Midwest); $5,779 (Northeast); $4,345 (South)

Clearly, senior living can be expensive. But keep in mind, these are averages covering a wide range of prices, says Edward Nevraumont, chief marketing officer at A Place for Mom. So look at these figures as just a starting point. And be sure to consider future price hikes, which are likely to outpace inflation, thanks to rising demand for living units.

Prices don’t tell you everything you need to know about a residence—other factors can be just as important, though harder to compare. There are communities geared to a wide range of preferences, budget levels, and health status. Some provide a full range of food services and on-site healthcare. Some are tightly regulated (nursing homes), while others are less so (independent living). “In our space, people have no idea of what they’re even looking for,” says Nevraumont.

That’s largely because families tend to wait till the last minute to start planning a move—typically when an aging family member is having health issues. The average person working with A Place for Mom adviser is 80 years old vs. 77 a few years ago. Of the clients the company helps place, five of every eight are single women, while two are men, and one is a couple. The average length of stay is 20 months.

For those considering a senior community, Nevraumont offers these tips:

Start shopping before a move is needed. Aside from the research that you’ll need to do, many residences have waiting lists that are months long. You’ll also need to have a conversation with all the affected family members to avoid potential conflicts.

Expect the move to take time. You may think you’ll be able to get Uncle Matt into a new apartment in a couple of weeks. The actual process takes an average of three months—or longer, if you’re on a waiting list.

Keep cash on hand. No getting around it—senior living communities are costly, especially for those with serious health care needs. So you’ll need to build a cash cushion to tap for those bills. “For both your emotional sanity and your financial sanity,” Nevraumont said, “figuring out this stuff early is really important.”

For more advice on choosing a retirement community, take a look at this checklist from AARP.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” and a research fellow at the Center for Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

Read next: The Secrets to Making a $1 Million Retirement Stash Last

TIME medicine

Many Doctors Don’t Tell Patients They Have Alzheimer’s

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PASIEKA—Getty Images/Science Photo Library RM

It’s hard to believe in today’s era of transparency in modern medicine, but there’s a diagnosis that doctors still try to keep from their patients

In a surprising new survey of patients who were asked about their interactions with their doctors, 45% of people whose doctors treated them for Alzheimer’s never told these patients that they had the degenerative brain disorder.

Led by researchers at the Alzheimer’s Association, the scientists looked at Medicare claim data from 2008 to 2010 for 16,000 people. They were asked, among other things, whether their doctors had ever told them they had Alzheimer’s disease. When the researchers then matched the respondents’ answers to their medical records, and the diagnostic codes that their doctors used to describe their care, only 45% of those who were billed for Alzheimer’s-related care were told by their doctors of their disease.

MORE New Research on Understanding Alzheimer’s

“What struck us was that physicians generally understand the positive benefits of disclosing the diagnosis, and agree with those benefits,” says Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Association, who oversaw the analysis of the survey data. “But many still don’t do disclosure in their own practice.”

One of the few papers investigating the phenomenon of Alzheimer’s diagnoses found that as few as 36% of doctors said they usually told their patients if they had Alzheimer’s. The main reasons for the intentional omission? Fear of causing emotional distress in their patients and the lack of time and resources to fully explain what the diagnosis means. This was true of both primary care doctors as well as neurology specialists who have more expertise in brain-related disorders.

Dr. Robert Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, advocates for transparency and honesty in disclosing diagnoses to his patients in his practice in Milford, Nebraska. But he understands why many physicians might be reluctant to use the word “Alzheimer’s” with their patients. “Labels are important,” he says. “When I label you and say you’ve got Alzheimer’s disease, then you’re likely to say, ‘Well that’s it for me, I better start looking for nursing homes.’”

MORE This Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Could Be a Game Changer

Alzheimer’s is a challenging diagnosis to make on several levels. First, it can only be definitively diagnosed at autopsy, when doctors can see the hallmark amyloid plaques and tangles that cause the gradual loss of memory and cognitive function. There is no blood test or brain scan that can conclusively tell doctors that a patient does or does not have the condition; while promising versions are being developed, it’s still a diagnosis that doctors make based on reports of the patients’ changing intellectual abilities and on psychiatric tests that aren’t specific for Alzheimer’s.

It’s also difficult to tell patients they likely have Alzheimer’s because there are currently no effective drugs for the disease. Medications can slow the effects of the cognitive decline, but nothing can stop or reverse the march of worsening symptoms. Wergin notes that once a patient is labeled with Alzheimer’s it could, at least before the Affordable Care Act, affect that patient’s ability to get insurance for nursing home care. “Once I label you, it’s in your chart. If an insurance company extracts your data, I’m not going to insure you because you are at higher risk of drawing on your coverage,” he says.

MORE New Test May Predict Alzheimer’s 10 Years Before Diagnosis

Wergin says that doctors may be over-anticipating the emotional distress that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can bring. While the news is certainly difficult, most patients and their caregivers may already be aware that a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s may be present. And while there are no treatments that physicians can prescribe for their patients — at least not yet — Fargo and Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services at the Association, note that it’s particularly important for Alzheimer’s patients and their families to know what to expect so they can begin planning. “There might not be a pill that slows the disease down or there might not be cures, but there are things people can do to impact their everyday quality of life,” says Kallmyer. “They can build a care team, and prepare advanced directives. And if a caregiver has knowledge of the disease, they can make things better in the day to day world of the person with the disease. If they don’t know about the diagnosis, they may not get that support.”

MORE Breakthrough Discoveries of Alzheimer’s Genes

But making doctors more comfortable with the diagnosis will take more structural changes in the way we deliver health care. The Alzheimer’s Association is supporting legislation that would reimburse doctors and their staff for a longer discussion about Alzheimer’s and how to plan for the disease. More medical schools are also including discussion about such planning in their curricula, as doctors in coming decades will be increasingly called upon to make this difficult disclosure.

Read next: A Simple 3-Part Test May Predict Alzheimer’s

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TIME Aging

Old People Should Be Part of NYC Workforce: Report

'Many of the older adults that we speak with want and need to work'

A skilled-labor shortage has left small businesses across the country scrambling to fill positions and New York City health organizations say there’s a simple solution: hire older workers.

“Hiring, retaining and using older workers strategically can solve a variety of pressing problems that employers in our city face,” said Shauneequa Owusu, a health policy expert at the New York Academy of Medicine, which co-produced a new report with the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University and the Mayor’s office’s Age-Friendly New York City.

Read more: The New Age of Much Older Age

The report, published Wednesday, suggests that workers 55 or older can bring skill and expertise while only requiring minimal adjustment on the part of small businesses (technology training can get older workers up to speed quickly, the report found). At the same time, research suggests the workplace can benefit from age diversity, too. “There is evidence that mixed age teams in the workplace are more productive than teams of workers of the same age,” the authors write.

“Many of the older adults that we speak with want and need to work. Furthermore, there’s growing evidence that it’s helpful to their healthy aging and wellbeing to continue working,” said report author Ruth Finkelstein at Columbia’s aging center. Recent research points to a clear association between being employed and improved mental, physical and emotional health, she said.

The finding comes as more and more Americans want to avoid a traditional work-free retirement. According to the new research, 700,000 workers are older than 55 in New York City alone, and many say they do not plan to retire conventionally.

TIME Japan

Japan Eyes Matchmaking, Paternity Leave to Lift Birth Rate

Policy proposals come amid an aging population

The Japanese government is so worried about the country’s low birth rate that it’s thinking about getting into the matchmaking game.

A new draft policy to increase Japan’s flagging birth rate includes support for matchmaking, leave policies, and fertility centers in order to jump-start baby-making and address the country’s aging population. While the national government may not be sponsoring its own matchmaking efforts, it will be support local governments sponsoring speed-dating events, the Japan Times reports.

The number of births in Japan fell to a record low for the fourth year in a row, with just over one million newborns in 2014 compared to 1.269 million registered deaths. By 2060, nearly 40% of Japan’s population will be over 65, and elderly citizens already make up a quarter of the population. The birthrate has fallen from 4.54 children per mother in 1947 to 1.43 in 2013.

Matchmaking is one of several measures proposed by the government to fight the inevitable population dwindle if Japan doesn’t get its birth rate up. Other measures include expanding the scope of free nursing care, building more fertility centers, and increasing paternity leave. The government says it hopes that by 2020, 80% of men will take paternity leave immediately after the birth of their child, and 13% will take paternity leave to help care for children at some point in their careers. (Currently only 2% of men take time off for childrearing.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is expected to approve the policy.

[Japan Times]

TIME neuroscience

A Drug Has Been Found That Reverses a Precursor to Alzheimer’s

Researchers now want to proceed to substantial clinical trials

Researchers at John Hopkins University have found that low doses of a drug more commonly used to treat epilepsy can reverse a condition that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

According to statements issued Wednesday, the epilepsy drug, called antiepileptic levetiracetam, calms hyperactivity in the brain — a well-documented symptom of people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which is a condition that heightens the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The team, lead by neuroscientist Michela Gallagher, now wants to pursue substantial clinical trials.

“What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further cognitive decline and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer’s dementia,” Gallagher said.

The researchers studied 84 people with an average age of 70. Participants received various doses of the drug, as well as a placebo, and the scientists used imaging technology to map brain activity.

TIME health

7 Timeless Ways to Be Happy at Any Age

Advice from a doctor in 1959

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When LIFE Magazine presented a four-part series on aging in America in 1959, it focused on the problems of old age, namely a growing older population pushed further and further to the margins of society. But it also beseeched the not-yet-aged to take a proactive approach to ensuring as healthy and full an older life as one could hope to have.

Michael M. Dasco, M.D., director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at New York’s Goldwater Memorial Hospital, offered the following tips to readers of all ages:

1. Prepare for your own old age: “The most important thing is not to let age hit you suddenly, without notice. You must face the fact that it is coming and that your children, who seem to be so slow about growing up, will one day leave you for families of their own.”

2. Broaden your interests: “Age inevitably involves loneliness unless you have made your plans in advance. You can do that by broadening your interests now. The manual worker should make an attempt to learn why cultural matters are so important to intellectuals, and the intellectual should begin learning the pleasures of working with his hands.”

3. Focus on independence: “To age happily you must learn to be emotionally independent. In this respect you can learn much from the Orientals’ ability to meditate and occupy themselves, even with small things like paper folding … It is also a good idea to learn another kind of independence: be able to cook for yourself, take care of yourself and entertain yourself so that you will not be helpless in these important skills.”

4. Start improving your health: “Most chronic illnesses begin to develop during youth; modern medicine puts the 70-year-old diabetic and the 17-year-old diabetic on the same diet. Take care of yourself now. Get used to eating, drinking and smoking moderately and your old age will be far happier.”

5. Listen to your body as it changes: “Above all, do not cling foolishly and illogically to youth by taking any one physical activity too seriously. If you are 50 stop thinking you are 30 just because you can still score as well at golf as the 30-year-olds in the club.”

6. Develop a healthy sense of self-respect: “Bear in mind that your opinion of yourself is often needlessly dependent on the opinion of the people around you. If people act toward you as if you are old or useless, you may come to think of yourself that way, but there is no reason to. You are as old as your capabilities, and you should assess yourself.”

7. Eat what you want, within reason: “People often think that as they get older they have to confine themselves to a ‘light diet.’ There is no need for this, and such a diet actually weakens you. The rule is to eat what you want, within reason. If you find you cannot eat ‘heavy greasy dishes,’ then do not—but do not blame it on advancing age. Many old people can eat such foods with no harmful effects.”

TIME Aging

The World’s Oldest Person Is Totally Chill About Turning 117

Misao Okawa, the world's oldest Japanese woman poses for a photo with her great-grandchild Himaki and grandchild Takako Okawa on her 117th birthday celebration at Kurenai Nursing Home on March 4, 2015 in Osaka, Japan.
Buddhika Weerasinghe—Getty Images Misao Okawa, the world's oldest Japanese woman poses for a photo with her great-grandchild Himaki and grandchild Takako Okawa on her 117th birthday celebration at Kurenai Nursing Home on March 4, 2015 in Osaka, Japan.

Misao Okawa was born on March 5, 1898

The world’s oldest person has lived through two World Wars and the invention of the first airplane, but it doesn’t seem like a long time to Misao Okawa.

“It seemed rather short,” Okawa said on Wednesday, the day before her 117th birthday, the Associated Press reports. When Okawa was asked about the secret to her longevity, she said nonchalantly, “I wonder about that too.”

Okawa was born in Osaka on March 5, 1898 and was recognized as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in 2013. She has slowed down in recent months but still eats well and is healthy, according to her Osaka nursing home.

She married her husband, Yukio, in 1919, and has three children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1931.

Japan has more than 58,000 centenarians, more than any other country in the world.

Read next: 13 Secrets to Living Longer From the World’s Oldest People

[AP]

Read next: Europe’s Oldest Woman Says Being Single Helped Her Live to 115

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY Aging

Handling Family Finances When Dad Is Losing His Grip

family of piggy banks
Sean McDermid/Getty Images

When the person in charge of family finances has dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a difficult transition is required.

A client’s daughter told me recently that she was beginning to notice her father having difficulties with memory and comprehension.

I had known that her father’s health had deteriorated somewhat, but he still seemed relatively sharp mentally up until the last conversation I’d had with him, around Christmas time.

The client’s wife has never been very involved in the family finances, and his son lives out of town. The daughter has been playing caretaker for some time. Now it seemed we needed to have a more in-depth conversation with everyone involved regarding family finances, longevity and what happens after the patriarch has passed away or can’t function as financial head of the household.

The loss of a loved one is unbearable, but far worse is losing a loved one to cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These decisions may cause personality changes. In some cases, a client may become belligerent or paranoid, especially when dealing with financial issues.

It is always preferable to have a client himself or herself acknowledge that something is wrong, but this may not always be the case. For this reason, financial advisers need to have a plan in place to address situations such as this one.

The first step is to get the family involved. Most of the time, the spouse or children will already be aware of the issue.

In this particular case, I could not discuss financial details with the daughter without a financial power of attorney. Fortunately, we were able to schedule a time for father, mother and daughter to meet and discuss family finances.

What if someone refuses to admit that he is losing his mental acuity? We dealt with this a few years back with another client. He was going through a divorce at the time — a process which may have either contributed to, or resulted from, his mental decline. We ended up being a part of an intervention involving the client, his children, his business partner and his pastor. The pastor referred him to a psychiatrist; luckily, the client pursued treatment that helped.

The key to handling many of these situations is having a ready stable of referable professionals in all aspects of life. In addition to the colleagues we deal with on a regular basis, such as lawyers and accountants, it is helpful to have contacts in the arenas of medicine and psychology.

Solid and consistent documentation is a standard in our industry, but it becomes absolutely imperative when dealing with cognitively questionable clients. Keeping communication records protects everyone involved and can go a long way to explaining client actions to family members if they are unaware of the problem.

Things don’t always go so smoothly. In some situations, you must fire the client. We have had to have these tough conversations in the past. It would be nice to say that we are always able to help facilitate a changing of the guard, but many of these personality issues are beyond our control. When cutting ties, it is important to do it with an in-person meeting. We’re honor-bound to do what’s best for the client, but it is also important to protect our practice. If we are unable to make progress, it may be best for clients to find someone who can better help them.

I’m very thankful the daughter came to me, rather than my having to reach out and have what could have been an unpleasant conversation. At this point we have now gathered financial powers of attorney and reviewed updated wills and trusts, coordinating with the family attorney. The mother and daughter are much more aware of the family financial situation and are not nearly as fearful about the future. I expect the daughter will take a more active role in the management of the family’s finances. We want to make sure that everyone involved is aware of, and on board with, the transition.

———-

Joe Franklin, CFP, is founder and president of Franklin Wealth Management, a registered investment advisory firm in Hixson, Tenn. A 20-year industry veteran, he also writes the Franklin Backstage Pass blog. Franklin Wealth Management provides innovative advice for business-minded professionals, with a focus on intergenerational planning.

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