Catholic Charities conference focuses on healthy aging Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler and Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Sep. 17, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Having studied forgiveness for over 30 years, Enright has found that forgiveness increases happiness and a sense of well-being and may produce physical benefits by diminishing tensions, anger, resentment, and hurt. These benefits can happen even in people who have terminal illnesses, he said.

Enright said forgiveness is a moral virtue. It is practiced when we are good to others even when they treat us unfairly or hurtfully. “Forgiveness gives your heart a fresh start,” he said. “Forgiveness offers understanding, patience, kindness, and even love to another person.”

He emphasized that forgiveness is not finding an excuse for another’s behavior and it is not forgetting poor behavior. It is also not the same thing as reconciliation. “Reconciliation has to be earned. Forgiveness does not. You don’t necessarily have to reconcile if you forgive another person,” he said.

Why bother with forgiveness, especially since it can be a lot of work? Enright said that forgiveness is worth the effort. “Forgiveness is surgery for a broken heart. You have the opportunity to do surgery and rehabilitation of the heart.”

He talked about scientific studies on forgiveness done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including one led by Msgr. John Hebl, a priest of the Diocese of Madison. Monsignor Hebl studied a group of women aged 74 and older who went through two months of forgiveness counseling. At the end of the counseling, Monsignor Hebl found that the women were less anxious and depressed. “He demonstrated that forgiveness leads to well-being,” said Enright.

Dr. Mary Hansen also did a study of women in hospice who were dying of cancer. They were offered forgiveness therapy for four weeks. She, too, found that their psychological well-being improved and they had more hope for the future.

“The women ended up dying well with hope in their hearts,” noted Enright.They also healed relationships with estranged family members.

“Forgiveness therapy should be part of palliative care and it can work more powerfully than a pill,” asserted Enright.

Enright’s forgiveness program is outlined in his book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. He also has a new book being published on September 28 entitled 8 Keys to Forgiveness, a hands-on guide on the process of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is especially important for people to practice as they age, said Enright. He suggested that older persons help establish their family as a “forgiving community” and teach their children and grandchildren about forgiveness.

The Forgiveness Institute has a curriculum for children from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 available on its website at www.interna

Enright asked, “What will be your legacy? Will you leave a legacy of anger or a legacy of love? I want you to make a commitment to passing on a legacy of love.”

Mobility and aging

In the afternoon keynote session, Curt Campbell talked about “Mobility and Successful Aging.” Campbell is a physical therapist for Dean Clinic whose practice focuses on older adults with neurological issues.

Campbell thanked seniors who are doing their best to “age with as much grace and strength as possible. Thank you for being heroes to us.”

He also called those who work with the aging population “magnificent and you don’t get thanked enough.”

He said, “We know that growing old is difficult . . . we know it demands every ounce of courage and optimism we can muster.”

When looking at the top 10 causes of death, nearly 70 percent are from heart disease and cancer combined. Campbell said efforts should be taken in one’s life to prevent those things that are more likely to kill us.

He said that lifestyle choices, at any stage in life, can be just as important to health as genetic makeup and can lead to a longer life.

He based his talk around four main lifestyle choices:

• Stop smoking. Campbell said, “There is not one more thing you can do today that will have a better effect on the outcome of your health than not smoking.”

Other risky behaviors he mentioned included the danger of having a body mass index higher than 30 -- which is considered obese.

Another risky behavior is drinking alcohol to excess -- more than 14 drinks a week/more than four at one time for a man and more than seven drinks a week/more than two drinks at one time for a woman.

• Sell your television. This point dealt with doing intellectually stimulating exercises. He mentioned the concept of “novelty,” or learning new skills, and not always repeating the same activities over and over again.

Learning new skills is “important in keeping the brain young,” Campbell said. Some intellectually stimulating exercises include crossword puzzles, playing bridge, or learning a new language, along with “challenging reading” of the reader’s choice.

• Set fire to your couch. Campbell said there’s one thing that can simultaneously reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and other health concerns. It’s exercise.

Campbell said exercise will protect current brain cells, regenerate brain cells though learning, and grow new brain cells. He encouraged 30 minutes of exercise five to seven days per week.

He encouraged people to start exercising with what they can do. “Find out what motivates you, motivates your clients,” he said.

• Join a church. He encouraged seniors to get involved in the community: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Campbell explained that the more people are plugged into society, the better their brains are going to work.

Boosting brain health

In a breakout session, Joy Schmidt of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Dane County discussed how to “Boost Your Brain Health.”

While genetics play a role in brain health, what we eat and how we exercise also are contributing factors to healthy aging and can reduce risks of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

In the past, it was thought that brain cells could not be regenerated once they were lost. However, Schmidt said more recent studies show that we can grow new brain cells, primarily through life-long learning. “You can teach an old dog new tricks,” she said.

She suggested lifestyle choices to help people boost their health as they age: not smoking, keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum, protecting your head from injuries, monitoring diabetes, getting adequate sleep, monitoring medications and drug interactions, seeking treatment for depression and chronic anxiety, and exercising your brain and entire body.

“Learning new things and problem solving build new connections in the brain,” Schmidt said. “Physical activity helps the brain by increasing blood flow, increasing oxygen, helping grow neurons, and strengthening connections between cells.”

She also emphasized eating right by reducing fats and sugars and eating foods high in Omega-3s. Brain health can also be boosted through socializing, working longer if you enjoy your job, volunteering, spending time with children, traveling, and keeping purpose in your life.

For resources, go to

Health literacy

In a breakout session, Steve Sparks talked about how health literacy can lead to better health. Sparks is the director of Wisconsin Health Literacy, which provides education and training on improving health communications.

Sparks said that in the past, if patients did not understand something about their healthcare, they were the ones blamed for it. That has changed and more efforts are being made by medical professionals and care providers to make sure patients know what’s going on.

He said there’s a tie-in between literacy and health because the lower one’s literacy, the more likely he or she will be dealing with health issues.

When it comes to standard literacy, one third to one half of adults are below basic literacy levels. He called it a “silent problem,” because few people admit they have problems with literacy.

Health literacy involves obtaining, processing, and understanding information and making appropriate decisions. “You have to know where to get it. You have to know what to do with it. You have to understand what they’re talking about. And you need to be able to make decisions,” he said.

People with lower health literacy struggle to know how to use an inhaler, take medication at the right times, or know when their next appointments are, especially when discharged from the hospital.

As older people experience changes in how they hear, see, and process information, it can lower their health literacy.

For improving health literacy, Sparks emphasized using plain speech to describe medical conditions or instructions and not talking too fast.

For more information on Wisconsin Health Literacy, go to www.wisconsinliter

Diabetes prevention

Paul Manning of the YMCA of Dane County discussed “Diabetes Prevention: The Easy, but Not So Easy Choices You Make Every Day.”

He noted that one out of three adults are pre-diabetic, but only about 10 percent know they have this condition. “Pre-diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.”

He suggested that everyone should get their blood sugar tested, especially if they are age 65 or older.

Manning said the key to reducing your risk of developing diabetes and improving your over-all health is to reduce your body weight through exercise and diet.

He suggested using the word “activity” rather than exercise and trying to increase your activity each day, starting with small steps.

To eat healthier, he suggested reducing fat grams and keeping a log of everything you eat each day. He advised having an “accountability partner” or taking a class to keep on track.

Dimensions of wellness

A session on assessing health and life balance through eight dimensions of wellness was presented by Gayle Laszewski, older adult program director at the Goodman Community Center in Madison.

“Health is multi-dimensional,” she said. “The goal is to be balanced in your lifestyle between all those different dimensions of wellness.”

• Physical wellness is about body, energy, strength, endurance, and daily activities. Laszewski said it’s more than diet and exercise, it’s about taking care of yourself every day: good personal hygiene, following medical instructions, and getting enough sleep every night. Nutrition is another part of physical wellness.

• Social wellness deals with relationships and “all the people that are in your inner circle. It’s about maintaining those satisfying relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.”

• Emotional wellness is “all about feelings and what we do with them.” Good emotional wellness means managing and sharing feelings, along with accepting ourselves unconditionally. It’s also being able to cope with life’s challenges.

• Spiritual wellness is finding a meaning or a sense of purpose in your life. “It’s not just a destination, it’s a journey,” Laszewski said. She encouraged using beliefs and values to guide one’s direction in life.

• Environmental wellness includes taking care of one’s natural surroundings and also having access to safe places to live and access to healthy foods. She encouraged taking action to have healthy friends and atmosphere around us.

• Intellectual wellness is about seeking new ideas and new skills. “Be a life-long learner,” Laszewski said.

• Financial wellness is knowing one’s net worth and how much we’re spending now versus what we’ll need in the future. “It’s important to know that your net worth is not your self worth,” she added.

• Occupational/vocational wellness is about “meaningful daily activity” that could be a job, but not necessarily. It could be volunteering and mentoring -- things that make you feel like you’re contributing to the world.

Attendees did an activity to determine how they scored in each of the eight dimensions, where they are doing well, and where they could improve.

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