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Martha Stewart

We all know Martha Stewart as the reigning doyenne of domesticity, but did you know she also created an incredibly successful living center for older adults? The entrepreneur, author, and (naturally) just-minted podcaster opens up about what inspired her to venture into geriatric care, how to fight ageism, and the fact that Wordle is more important than you think.
by Sollis Health

You donated $5 million (and some design advice!) to create the Martha Stewart Center for Living back in 2008. Tell us a little about what it does.

Our approach is that growing older isn’t about aging, it’s about living. The Center emphasizes holistic care, offering services such as tai chi, yoga, music therapy, nutrition planning, and fall prevention programs. The result has been a highly successful model of care in which patients experience half as many emergency room visits as other older adults, shorter hospital stays when admitted, and 50 percent fewer readmissions after hospitalization.

What inspired you to invest your time and money in care for older adults?

I was inspired by my mother, Martha Kostyra, to get involved in this work. She lived an active life to the age of 93. There is an urgency to this work—by the end of this decade, Americans over age 65 years will outnumber those under 18, and those who reach 65 can now expect to live into their mid-eighties and nineties. Our healthcare system is simply not set up to meet their needs. The Center for Living provides a model for how we can adapt our system to care for their needs.

What have you learned about geriatric care from the experience that you didn’t know before? In general, what has surprised you the most?

I was shocked to learn that there is an enormous shortage of geriatricians in this country—just over 1 geriatrician for every 10,000 patients! It’s a field that is failing to attract new physicians—and meanwhile, we need more of them every year to care for the growing population of seniors.

“I was shocked to learn there is an enormous shortage of geriatricians in this country—just over 1 geriatrician for every 10,000 patients!”

How has the center evolved since it first opened?

In June 2019, I was proud to help Mount Sinai expand to a second location, in downtown NYC, where patients have access to the Center for Living’s holistic care, as well as specialists from more than 20 disciplines. Mount Sinai’s Geriatrics Department consistently attracts national recognition for their work, and I am also proud to note that they have been ranked #1 in the nation by US News & World Report for the past three years.

What are some everyday things which often get overlooked that older people can do to help themselves age more gracefully and live life to the fullest?

Develop a healthy daily regimen. I start every day with a green juice from fresh vegetables. I schedule workouts with trainers to make sure I don’t skip out on exercise. Keep your brain sharp. I like to do puzzles and word games like Wordle and the New York Times Crossword daily.

Given that 1 in 7 people over the age of 71 suffer from some form of dementia, what advice do you have for anyone who might be watching a parent decline mentally?

Do NOT assume cognitive decline is a part of normal aging—make sure the patient gets an evaluation from a primary care doctor, a geriatrician, or neurologist. Sometimes there are treatable medical conditions that affect mental function, and everyone deserves a full evaluation.

Do you think ageism in America is worse than other countries? What can we do about it?

Yes, but ageism exists everywhere. We have to start with ourselves—notice when making negative comments about our own aging bodies and “old age” jokes. Ageism is just a bias against our (hopefully) future selves.

“Ageism exists everywhere. We have to start with ourselves. Notice when making negative comments about our own aging bodies and “old age” jokes. Ageism is just a bias against our (hopefully) future selves. I know 90-year-olds who are sharper than people half their age.”

In a medical system that can be bureaucratic and even unsympathetic, what do you think is the best way for older adults to advocate for themselves?

Ask your doctor lots of questions. Trust your intuition. You know your own body best. If something doesn’t seem right, pay attention. Get another opinion if you feel your doctor is not listening to you. Aches and pains do not have to be an inevitable part of aging.

What are the biggest enduring misconceptions about aging—and caring for people who are aging? What do you wish you could help people understand better?

Growing older shouldn’t mean a loss of function, or an inability to engage with your community. I know 90-year-olds who are sharper than people half their age. And they are having a great time at this point in life!

Any good words to live by?

Learn something new every day! Staying curious is a great way to remain engaged in the world around you.
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
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