Do We Get Nicer With Age?

 Written By:  Gayle Horton

Our personality makes us who we are.  It influences our lives, from what career we choose to how we get along with our families.  It even influences who we choose as our friends, and even who we marry. 

Researchers believe that our personality does change as we age, because most people have personality changes over a period of their lifetime. My experience working with older adults is that they take the time to be more pleasant each day.  Many older adults have learned how not to sweat the little stuff in life!

There are "Five" big personality traits--conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion. One well known Psychologist, Sanjay Srivastava, PhD., reports that personality traits are largely set by a person’s genetics.  Psychologists Oliver P. John, PhD, and Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, and computer scientist Jeff Potter contributed to the research that long held assumptions about our personalities being set before we are born, may not be correct. 

These Big Five personality traits are often used to measure change in personality from age 10 to 65.

Extraversion, makes us talkative and sociable.  It is the one trait that makes us need to seek social support.  This trait also declines in women as they age, and it changes very little in men as they age.  Some research suggests that shyness might be linked to a shorter lifespan.

 Conscientiousness, is a trait described as being organized, disciplined, and being dependable.  These are also linked to success in your work ethic and your relationships which increase with a person’s age. This trait declines starting in late childhood to adolescence, but then increases again from adolescence into adulthood.  Dr. Srivastava states that "Conscientiousness grows as people mature and become better at managing their jobs and relationships, and agreeableness changes most in your 30s when you're raising a family and need to be nurturing."

 Agreeableness, a trait associated with being friendly, generous and helpful. This trait helps you to be polite and trusting, and you will most likely try to avoid competition. This trait starts generally in our 30’s and continues to improve through our 60’s.  

 Neuroticism, causes worrying, stress, and feeling anxious or moody.  Duringthis study the personality changes were generally consistent between men and women, except for neuroticism and extraversion.  Young women scored higher than young men, but that changed as men and women aged over time.  Worry and our sense of instability actually decrease with age for women, but worry does not decrease for men. This may be why the statistics of suicide have increased among older men.  Over time, people with a high level of neuroticism find new reasons to complain, worry, and be dissatisfied

 Openness, during this study showed declines in both men and women over time.  Our desire to try new experiences declines slightly with age for both men and women. This change indicates that the older we become the less interested we are in forming new relationships.  Socialization is much more difficult for older adults.  So, if an older adult appears cantankerous or eccentric, it is probably because he or she was that way as a younger adult.

 Therapists suggest that we can change our personalities or at least certain undesirable traits with therapy.  Many people consider seeking therapy to achieve better relationships at work and with their families. 






How Stress Affects Your Brain


Written By:  Gayle Horton


Each trauma in life that occurs will have a negative effect on your brain and impair your ability to function over time.


Some life events like a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one may cause changes in your brain function, but even temporary life events, such as an auto accident or job loss affect our emotional awareness. If you add up all of the annoying things that drive you crazy every day, you would be surprised at the damage that you are causing to your brain’s ability to learn and remember.  

As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, the results are not good.  A chronic reaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that our body manufactures to help absorb the short-term emergency situations.  When your stress levels do not change over long periods of time eventually you will cause damage to your brain cells.


When researchers analyze brain scans they can distinguish how different types of stress affect different regions of the brain. As these regions begin to shrink, we will tend to lose touch with our emotions, and we will act in inappropriate ways with other people. The mood centers in our brain will also severely distort our ability to regulate pain and pleasure.


Chronic stress can contribute to the brain shrinking gradually as we continue to push through every day, trying to meet deadlines, or manage work and family life.  A sudden significant traumatic event will affect our ability to cope, and over time all of these traumatic events will impair our thinking while our brain is deteriorating. However, anything that puts high demands on you, or forces you to adjust, can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.


It is important to understand what causes your stress. Maybe you can begin to reverse these effects because you are now more aware.  Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that only compound the problem. You might drink too much to unwind at the end of a stressful day, maybe you eat junk food and zone out in front of the TV or computer for hours, perhaps you use pills to relax, or you relieve your stress by lashing out at your children or other people. However, there are many healthier ways to cope with stress and its symptoms.


Relieving stress through exercise or meditation is an important way to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on your brain. Maintaining strong family and social relationships can also help you see the appropriate perception of events or experiences that may be too overwhelming for you to handle on our own. You may also need to seek professional help to set healthy boundaries as you learn to balance your stress levels.


Once you have mastered these core skills you will have the confidence to face stressful challenges, knowing that you will have the power to set healthy boundaries and bring yourself back into a healthy balance.







Alive Inside

Written By:  Gayle Horton

Alive Inside

The documentary “Alive Inside” was recently released in theatres in Atlanta.  After all of my years of working with Alzheimer’s patients, I am convinced that there is still a real person inside who is still hearing and thinking even though their brain is impaired.   This movie follows the story about a social worker Dan Cohen, who is the founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory.  Dan is noted for his fight against what he calls, a “broken healthcare system” to demonstrate music's ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.  

Many family members have witnessed the miraculous effects when music is personalized for their loved ones. The Journey Remembered DVD’s also offers music and visual therapy while holding their attention for longer periods of time while they are being entertained with positive images. 


Researchers are convinced that music and music therapy offers an effective method overall for treating symptoms of memory loss associated with dementia. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia would experience improved their social, emotional, and cognitive skills, while decreasing their behavioral problems.  Multiple studies regarding music therapy have proven to be an effective intervention for maintaining and improving active involvement.  In all of the studies the effect of music and music therapy were found to be highly significant.


These same studies showed that without the use of Music Therapy after four weeks however, the effects had mostly disappeared. Music therapy when used on a regular day to day schedule is a safe and effective method for treating agitation and anxiety in moderately severe and severe Alzheimer’s disease. 


In many situations Music Therapy has become a proven way to stop medicating people as a form of treatment for the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Today, I still find many health care professionals and families continue to push doctor’s to add anti-psychotic medications to control behaviors.  


As more and more studies show significant reductions in patient’s aggressiveness and anxiety, why are we not compelled to try a different method?  According to one Geriatric Psychiatrist that I have worked with over the years, states openly that he believes that we medicate patient’s to keep them in the wrong environment.  


The “BIG” question is why is Music Therapy or The Journey Remembered DVD’s not used as the first choice before using anti-psychotic drugs? 


As a Geriatric Nurse Consultant, I have been actively involved working with Alzheimer’s patients for over 17 years and I still do not have the answer. 






Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s

Written By:  Gayle Horton

1. Make sure that the environment is as quiet as possible to avoid interference especially from competing conversations and other noise. The quiet environment helps to improve the older adult’s perceptual processing of speech and recognition of spoken words without so many distractions.

2. Maintain eye contact and present information clearly in as few words as possible. Long and complex sentences challenge the older adult’s memory because understanding the entire sentence forces them to place information in their short term memory which may be already compromised.

3. Refrain from looking distracted by glancing at your watch or looking impatient, because you send a message that they are not important. Your nonverbal behavior can send the right message that they are important to you by using good eye contact.

4. If the person has a hearing problem, increase the volume of your voice only slightly, the louder your voice becomes, the more likely they will think you are angry. The person may not be having a hearing problem as much as a “processing” problem.

5. What do you tell someone after a recent visit to the doctor? “You have arthritis of the hip which is making it painful for you to walk and may eventually require hip replacement surgery if we cannot control you pain with medications.”

6. You might try a different approach which may help them to understand. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may only process every third word of what you may be trying to tell them, just imagine how your statement may sound; “You of which it painful you and require surgery cannot pain!”

7. Try saying; “The doctor gave you some medicine for your hip pain.” They may only hear; “Doctor, medicine, hip,” but it may help them to process what you are trying to tell them without frightening them.

8. Visual aids and hand gestures often communicate as well as words, because they are not as confusing.

9. Resist the temptations to fire off a series of yes and no questions when you visit. Try saying something open ended like; “Tell me about your day?” When the person begins to talk, focus on them and maintain eye contact. Try to read their nonverbal behavior and repeat what they have said by filling in the blanks if the sentences are not complete. Do not try to correct them if they make mistakes because they may stop talking for fear of making a mistake. The Journey Remembered DVD’s may help you find a way to communicate with them because the DVD creates access to deep rooted memories while using visual cues.

10. Use humor and a direct communication style with caution when interacting with older adults. Provide statements that sound encouraging and affirming when dealing with some with Alzheimer’s. The tone of your voice and holding their hand can help to calm someone before they become angry. 11. It is important to validate what the person may tell you even if it is not entirely clear. You may say something like “It sounds like you were not happy?” Be careful to not agree on every statement they make because their impaired thinking may tell them “yes” the staff members have been mean to them. It is better to use distraction techniques and take their mind away from their negative thoughts.

The Elderly and Alcohol Addiction

Written By:  Gayle Horton

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are common among older adults. It has been described as a “hidden national epidemic.” As we age, our bodies are more sensitive to alcohol and our tolerance is decreased. One third of older adults develop a problem with alcohol in later life. The other two thirds grow older having medical and psychosocial issues that contribute to self-medicating with prescription drugs or alcohol.

Family physicians have very few opportunities to identify older patients who have problems related to alcohol, because the older adult will not be truthful. The effects of alcohol increase in elderly patients because changes associated with aging and interactions between alcohol, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications.

Physiological changes related to aging can alter the presentation of medical complications of alcoholism and may cause serious side effects in elderly people. Alcohol treatment programs and alcohol withdrawal in elderly persons should be closely supervised in a senior mental health facility which will improve the outcome after discharge.

The International Classification of Diseases-10 of the World Health Organizations has added and additional category called “hazardous drinking.”

There are generally two types of elderly patients with drinking problems; the early-onset group and the late-onset drinkers. The early-onset drinkers usually start drinking in their 20’s or 30’s, and continue excessive drinking as they age. This group comprises of about two thirds of the seniors with a drinking problem. The late onset drinkers usually start drinking during some major life change, like retirement, death of a loved one, or health concerns.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse recommends for those 65 years of age and older to have no more than one drink a day. A drink is classified as 1.5 oz. of hard liquor, 12 oz. of beer, and 5 oz. of wine. Red wine has the most health benefits. The elderly are at much greater risk of serious medical disorders when they abuse alcohol than someone who does not abuse alcohol. I find that these older adults are often depressed and are lonely, and when they drink so they can forget about all of their losses.

I strongly recommend assisted living to help with more opportunities for socialization and structure in their day.