How’s Your AARC?

How much time do we spend thinking about our own aging, and how does that affect our attitude about growing older? In 2009, the Journals of Gerontology looked at the concept of “awareness of age-related changes” (AARC), defined as “all those experiences that make a person aware that his or her behavior, level of performance, or ways of experiencing his or her life have changed as a consequence of having grown older”—both positive and negative.

In June 2017, North Carolina State University researchers noted that a person’s AARC can be affected by negative experiences, but also by their attitude about aging in general. Said study author Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology, “People tend to have an overall attitude toward aging, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own aging—or AARC—fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences.”

Neupert and her team instructed a group of seniors to keep a daily report of stressful situations they experienced, and also their attitude about their aging that day—whether they were more likely to report something along the lines of “I am becoming wiser,” rather than “I am more slow in my thinking.” The team found that unpleasant experiences indeed could trigger a more negative AARC. But, said Neupert, “People with positive attitudes toward aging were also less likely to report ‘losses,’ or negative experiences, in their daily aging evaluations.”

In 2016, Neupert and study coauthor Jennifer Bellingtier offered more evidence that having a good attitude about aging can help us weather stressful events. Bellingtier explained, “There has been a lot of research on how older adults respond to stress, but the findings have been mixed: some studies have found that older adults are less resilient than younger adults at responding to stress; some have found that they’re more resilient; and some have found no difference. We wanted to see whether attitudes toward aging could account for this disparity in research findings. In other words, are older adults with positive attitudes about aging more resilient than older adults with negative attitudes?”

In this study, the researchers instructed seniors to keep track of stressful situations they’d encountered during the week, and describe how they coped—did they feel fear, irritability, distress? Said Bellingtier, “We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress—meaning that there wasn’t a significant increase in negative emotions. Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days.”

Said Neupert, “This tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older. That affects our quality of life and may also have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks.”

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on North Carolina State University studies from 2017 and 2016.

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When Forgetting is a Good Thing

Something to consider next time you can’t find the car keys: Researchers remind us that forgetting isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

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Protect Your Eyes on August 21

Will you be able to see the August 21 solar eclipse where you live? The Federal Trade Commission warns that some companies are touting protective eyeglasses that will not actually protect your eyes. And be sure to inspect the glasses for scratches before using.

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More Seniors Than Ever, Says New Census Report

In June 2017, the United States Census Bureau released a population estimate showing that we have more seniors than at any other time in history. Census expert Peter Borsella explains that the aging of the baby boomers, who started turning 65 in 2011, is what’s behind this trend.

Said demographer Lauren Medina, “Our country’s demographic profile is aging and looks a lot different than it did two decades ago. The nation’s median age rose from 35.3 in 2000 to 37.9 in July of 2016.”

Median age means the age where half the population is younger and the other half older. Wait, 37.9 doesn’t seem so old, you might be thinking. But, said Medina, “Consider this: Residents age 65 and over grew by 14.2 million people between 2000 and 2016, making up 15.2 percent of the population. ” The older population now stands at 49.2 million—up from 35 million in 2000.

Here are a few fun facts for your next trivia party:

  • In no state did the median age go down.
  • Maine is the oldest state, with a median age of 44.6, followed by New Hampshire (43.0) and Vermont (42.7).
  • Utah (30.8) is the youngest state, followed by Alaska (33.9) and the District of Columbia (33.9).
  • The county with the highest median age is Sumter County, Florida, which jumped from 49.2 years in 2000 to 67.1 years in 2016! As you might guess, Sumter County is home to The Villages, a large and fast-growing retirement community.

What will the continued aging of America mean to our communities, senior services organizations, healthcare system, families, and seniors themselves?

Our communities. On the national, state and local level, increased support services for seniors will be needed to keep these older adults safe, healthy and engaged. Our communities themselves will need more work to make them livable for people of every age. With a never-ending battle over funding, it won’t be easy, warn gerontologists. We all should advocate for these services—for our older relatives, friends and neighbors and eventually for ourselves.

Senior service organizations. We’ll have a continued need for retirement communities, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and—the largest trend these days, with more than 90 percent of seniors preferring to “age in place”—in-home care services, from home health care to companion care and senior transportation.

Our healthcare system. Seniors spend more time in the hospital than any other age group, on average. So there will be more hospitalizations. Seniors also are more susceptible to hospital-acquired infections and delirium. And hospital care is very expensive, so preventing a return trip to the hospital is better for the health of seniors and the financial well-being of Medicare. Many hospitals are already adapting to this group of older patients, with designated senior wards, senior ER facilities, gerontologists on staff, and even house calls.

Our workplaces. More and more older adults are putting off retirement. Fewer seniors have pensions, and many have failed to save enough for a comfortable retirement, so more older adults must stay on the job. Others continue working because they enjoy their work and the accompanying mental stimulation and social contact. Many seniors will make a late-life career change, and here’s an interesting win-win development: More of them are taking “encore jobs” with senior services organizations, providing care for other older adults.

Our family caregivers. Adult children, spouses and other family members have traditionally provided care for seniors who have physical or cognitive challenges. They would be the first to tell you that caregiving is changing! The baby boomers had fewer children, had a higher divorce rate, and often moved around the country. So there’s a real shortage of family members to help them out when they need it. The longevity trend means that an elder and their adult child might simultaneously need care. More and more parent-child pairs are moving into assisted living.

Senior technologies. From GPS-equipped shoes for tracking dementia patients, to fall-prevention sensors, to sophisticated in-home monitoring, technology will take the place of some of the supervision now provided by professional caregivers and family. And some products that are universally used will be adapted to be a better fit for seniors. This includes large print keyboards on phones, adaptive interfaces, senior-focused social media—and, according to the number one request of older users, gadgets that aren’t so darned complicated and aren’t as constantly updated!

Planning is the key to making it work—on the governmental, community, organizational, family and personal level. Let’s make the country a better place for the seniors today and the seniors to come.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the U.S. Census Bureau

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Sleep and Dementia

During the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, researchers reported new insights on the relationship between sleep disorders and dementia.

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When a Loved One Is Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, Should They Give Up the Car Keys?

Dad has been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He insists that it’s still perfectly safe for him to drive—but is it? This conversation has led to some tense moments as the family discuss the best way to care for Dad as the disease progresses.

Some of the common changes of aging can make driving unsafe. Hearing and vision loss or impaired manual dexterity from arthritis or osteoporosis make it harder to act quickly and maneuver the car skillfully. Changes in memory and thinking caused by Alzheimer’s disease also can seriously narrow the margin of safety on busy streets and highways. Driving requires the ability to concentrate, to make quick movements, and to anticipate what’s ahead and make split-second decisions.

Experts say that people in the early stages of the disease may still be able to drive, with certain limitations. Sometimes as the disease progresses, a person is well aware that their driving is impaired, and they self-limit, driving only during the daytime and on familiar routes. Many eventually voluntarily give up driving.

But, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sometimes seniors with dementia are unaware that their driving skills are deteriorating. Then it may be time for family to step in. Driving safety isn’t something to be in denial about. Families should keep the conversation going, and not sweep the subject under the rug.

When Is It Time to Give Up the Keys?

NHTSA says people with dementia and their families should be alert for the following signs that Alzheimer’s is affecting their driving ability and it’s time for an evaluation:

  • Needing more help with directions or with learning a new driving route.
  • Forgetting one’s destination, or where one parked the car.
  • Trouble making turns, especially left turns.
  • Misjudging gaps in traffic at street crossings and on highway ramps.
  • Trouble seeing or following traffic lights and road signs.
  • Getting traffic citations or warnings.
  • Being honked at often by other drivers.
  • Stopping at green lights, or hitting the brakes at the wrong time.
  • Trouble staying in one’s driving lane.
  • Less muscle control, so it’s hard to push down on the pedals or turn the steering wheel.
  • Finding unexplained dents and scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs.
  • Trouble controlling anger, sadness, or other emotions that can affect driving.

Studies show that family members are often the first to notice these “red flags”—and, says the American Academy of Neurology, family who report their loved one’s driving is “marginal” or “unsafe” are usually correct. Urge your loved one to talk to the doctor about their driving. The doctor might recommend an evaluation by a driver rehabilitation specialist. You can find one of these experts through the American Occupational Therapy Association. In some states, doctors are legally required to report medical conditions that could make it unsafe for a patient to drive.

Having the Conversation

The decision about driving can be one of the most difficult conversations seniors and adult children can have! The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that families begin the discussion earlier rather than later, while the person with Alzheimer’s is still able to participate in the decision-making process. The association offers a series of helpful videos in their Dementia & Driving Resource Center.

It is definitely better to have this conversation before there is an accident or other crisis! It may take a little time for your loved one to accept this change. Be respectful, and allow your loved one to express their feelings—which may range from anger to grief to relief or a combination of them all. University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Dr. Emmy Betz suggests that seniors and their families establish an “advance directive” for driving, in which the person agrees to hand over the keys if their doctor or family believe they are no longer able to drive safely. Talk to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state to find out what your options are for having your loved one called in for testing. Experts warn that it can be very difficult to prevent a person with dementia from driving! Even if they have lost their license and you’ve hidden the car keys or even disabled the car, your loved one may try to drive anyway.

Giving Up the Car Keys Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Mobility

One thing that can make the decision and conversation easier is to pair it with an exploration of transportation alternatives. While the person with dementia is still safe getting out and about, but should not drive, public transportation is an option. Check out mass transit (bus, train or subway), taxis, rideshare programs, or transportation services for older adults. Eventually, it will be unsafe for the person with dementia to travel about alone, but it’s important to ensure that they don’t succumb to inactivity and isolation, which can hasten the progression of the disease and lead to depression, agitation and sleep problems. Call your local senior services agency to find out about paratransit and other special transportation for people with dementia. Adult day care, home care, or a memory care community may also be a good choice to keep your loved one safe and connected.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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Four Myths About Seniors and Oral Health

As we grow older, tooth and gum problems are more common. Some seniors think it’s inevitable that they’ll lose some or all of their teeth, or have chronic gum disease. But good oral hygiene and oral care lowers the risk of dental problems—so important because we know today that poor oral health is linked with malnutrition, a number of diseases, social isolation, and even dementia.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, recently dispelled several myths that could stand in the way of a seniors accessing prevention and treatment of tooth and gum diseases.

Myth #1: Only children get cavities.

Fact: Tooth decay can develop at any age. It can happen as long as you have natural teeth. Dental plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—can build up on teeth, and produce acids that, over time, eat away at the tooth’s hard outer surface and create a cavity. Even teeth that already have fillings are at risk. Plaque can build up underneath a chipped filling and cause new decay. And if your gums have pulled away from the teeth (called gum recession), the exposed tooth roots are also vulnerable to decay.

But you can protect your teeth against decay. Here’s how:

  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride can prevent tooth decay and also heal early decay. And it is just as helpful for adults as it is for children. Be sure to brush twice daily. This will help remove dental plaque that forms on teeth. Drinking fluoridated water also helps prevent tooth decay in adults.
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque between teeth. Or use a device such as a special brush or wooden or plastic pick recommended by a dental professional.
  • See your dentist for routine checkups. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of medicines you take), your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment such as a varnish or foam during the office visit. Or, the dentist may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.

Myth #2: Gum disease is just a part of growing older.

Fact: You can prevent gum disease; it does not have to be a part of getting older. Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. Gum disease develops when plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—is allowed to build up along and under the gum line.

The two forms of gum disease are:

  • Gingivitis, a mild form that is reversible with good oral hygiene. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily.
  • Periodontitis, a more severe form that can damage the soft tissues and bone that support teeth. If it is not treated, the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.

The good news is that gum disease can be prevented. It does not have to be a part of growing older. With thorough brushing and flossing and regular professional cleanings by your dentist, you can reduce your risk of developing gum disease as you age. Regular dental checkups, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding tobacco use also lower the risk.

Myth #3: Dry mouth is a natural part of the aging process. You just have to learn to live with it.

Fact: Dry mouth, the condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth wet, is not a part of the aging process itself. Without enough saliva, chewing, eating, swallowing and even talking can be difficult; dry mouth also increases the risk for tooth decay, and makes dentures uncomfortable. So it’s important to find the cause of dry mouth so you can get relief.

Oder adults are also more likely to have certain conditions that can lead to oral dryness, such as:

  • Side effects of medicines
  • Certain diseases that affect the salivary glands
  • Radiation therapy or chemotherapy used to treat cancer
  • Nerve damage caused by injury to the head or neck that damages the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva

If you think you have dry mouth, see a dentist or physician, who can try to determine what is causing your dry mouth and what treatments might be helpful. For example, if dry mouth is caused by a medicine, your physician might change your medicine or adjust the dosage.

Your dentist or physician also might suggest that you keep your mouth wet by using artificial saliva, sold in most drug stores/pharmacies. Some people benefit from sucking sugarless hard candy or chewing sugarless gum.

Myth #4: If you don’t use chewing tobacco, you don’t need to worry about oral cancer.

Fact: It’s not just smokeless tobacco (“dip” and “chew”) that can increase your chances of getting oral cancer.

The likelihood of oral cancer increases with age. Most people with these cancers are older than 55 when the cancer is found. Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarette smoking, puts you at risk. Heavy alcohol use also increases your chances of developing the disease. And using tobacco plus alcohol poses a much greater risk than using either substance alone. Recent research also has linked infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) with some oral cancers.

It’s important to catch oral cancer early, because treatment works best before the disease has spread. Pain is usually not an early symptom of the disease. So be on the lookout for any changes in your mouth that last longer than two weeks, such as:

  • A sore, irritation, lump or thick patch in the mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in the mouth
  • A feeling that something is caught in the throat
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue
  • Numbness in the tongue or other areas of the mouth
  • Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable
  • Pain in one ear without hearing loss

Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection or other problem can cause the same symptoms. But it’s important to get them checked out.

Source: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise

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Can Skin Care Products Really “Turn Back Aging”?

A celebrity touts the miraculous “fountain of youth” properties of an expensive face cream. A pop-up ad claims that “plastic surgeons don’t want you to know about this product that would put them out of business”! Dramatic before-and-after photos in the back of a gossip magazine show an elderly woman with a face of wrinkles, followed by a doctored “after” image with nary a line!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned a number of cosmetics companies that their marketing and advertising had crossed the line when making “anti-aging” claims. According to the FDA, these cosmetics makers claim their products can regenerate cells, boost the activity of genes and increase collagen and elastin in the skin. Said Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, “Consumers need to know that these drug claims have not been proven to the FDA when they are making a decision to purchase one of these products.”

Dr. Katz reported that the FDA has seen a huge growth in the number of products making these claims. Anyone who watches late-night TV, goes on the internet or riffles through the back pages of a magazine knows what she’s talking about. She says that if makers of a skin care product claim their lotion or supplement can “turn back the biological clock,” consumers should remember the old saying: “If a product seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do to keep our skin as healthy as possible as we grow older. Though the appearance of our skin as we grow older comes, to an extent, from the genes we’re born with, many important lifestyle choices can keep our skin healthy looking:

  1. Use sunscreen. According to dermatologists, this is the top step we can take to protect our skin from premature aging. Sun exposure leads to freckles, age spots, leathery skin, spider veins and skin cancer. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.
  2. Use a moisturizer. Especially during dry winter months, avoid chapping and cracking by applying a moisturizer to face, hands, and wherever else skin feels dry. Dermatologists say that certain ingredients are more effective at preventing wrinkles. But moisturizers need not be expensive. If yours has a high price tag, you may be paying for packaging and hype.
  3. Cleanse gently. Washing our face and hands regularly is so important for infection control, but some cleansers can strip the natural oils from our skin, leading to cracks and wrinkles. Look for a skin-friendly, gentle cleanser.
  4. Eat well and stay hydrated. A well-balanced diet that provides the nutrients we need helps keep our skin healthy. And drinking water helps us avoid dehydration of the skin – remember that alcoholic beverages have the opposite effect.
  5. Avoid stress. A number of skin disorders have been linked to the effects of stress. Reduce stress triggers in your life as much as you can, and talk to your healthcare provider about stress management practices. Don’t forget that exercise is a top stress reducer, and is beneficial to the skin in many ways.
  6. Get enough sleep. Sleep is the time when the body repairs and renews its various systems—including our skin. You’ve probably noticed that after a poor night’s sleep, your skin looks dull and saggy. This effect can be permanent if you continue to skimp on the shuteye.
  7. Stop smoking. Smoking causes premature wrinkling and sagging of the skin by narrowing the blood vessels so skin can’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to remain supple. Tobacco smoke also contains carbon monoxide and many harmful chemicals that destroy collagen and elastin.

If you have questions about your skin, talk to a dermatologist. These specialists can recommend products and procedures that improve the appearance and comfort of our skin as we grow older. Taking care of our whole body is the key to healthy-looking skin: It seems that beauty really isn’t skin deep!

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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Don’t Use a Kitchen Spoon to Measure Medications

When it comes to the medicines we take, it’s so important to take the correct dose. Too much and we might experience an overdose and dangerous side effects. Too little, and the drug might not work as intended.

With pills and capsules, it’s mainly a matter of remembering to take the right number every day and at the right time. But with liquid and powder medicines, things are a bit more complicated. We have to measure the correct amount of these medicines—and experts say many of us are getting the wrong dose because we’re using a regular kitchen spoon rather than a measuring spoon!

Need convincing? Next time you’re in a department store, check out the flatware display—you’ll see quite a difference in spoon size among silverware patterns. And take a look at the teaspoons and tablespoons in your own silverware drawer. Pour a teaspoon or tablespoon of water from a measuring spoon into your silverware spoon. It can be a real eye opener! Some teaspoons are actually closer to a tablespoon in size. Others are rather dainty—just right for stirring tea, but small enough that they would only hold a fraction of the recommended dose.

In a 2010 study from Cornell University, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, study participants were asked to measure liquid medication with a kitchen spoon. According to the study, the participants “underdosed by more than 8 percent when using medium-size spoons, and overdosed by an average of almost 12 percent—up to 20 percent—when using larger spoons. Yet, participants were confident that they had poured correct doses in all the test cases.”

Study author Dr. Brian Wansink, who is head of the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab, said that over the course of time, this error in dosing can really add up. He said, “It can lead to overdosing, or also to underdosing, potentially to beneath the point of effectiveness.”

Wansink and co-author Koert van Ittersum of Georgia Tech recommend using a dosing spoon or syringe, or perhaps the measuring cap that comes with some liquid or powder medicines. In 2016, they also urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to mandate that the pharmaceutical industry switch from teaspoons to milliliters in dosage instructions.

As evidence that this is a good idea, they conducted a new study in which they observed participants who were asked to measure liquid medications. When the dosage direction was given in teaspoons, participants were much more likely to just reach for a kitchen spoon, rather than using a more accurate measuring device. Said van Ittersum, “While we feel that we can estimate teaspoon doses, milliliters are much harder to estimate visually, therefore people are more likely to use accurate measuring spoons or cups when given dosage information in milliliters.”

So if you or a senior loved one take liquid medicines, put away the kitchen spoon and be sure to use a designated medicine spoon, dosing cup, syringe or dropper instead. If your loved one has low vision, get a spoon with large print numbers and gradation marks. And if you’re in a pinch and those aren’t available, use actual measuring spoons—not the spoon you’d use to eat your soup or stir your coffee.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on research from the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab. Read more about this research on the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab website.

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Are You Sunscreen Savvy?

Summer is in full swing! Maybe you’ve ventured into the great outdoors, only to suffer your first sunburn of the season. If you forgot your sunscreen, you are among the majority of Americans who don’t use sunscreen properly—or at all. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) report that few people use sunscreen to protect their skin, and those who do may not be selecting a product that provides effective protection.

According to the AAD, only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women are regularly using sunscreen correctly. Dawn Holman, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that women may be more likely to use sunscreen, specifically on their faces, because they want to prevent premature aging of the skin. People who have lighter skin that burns easily also are more likely to use sunscreen. But, warned dermatologist Dr. Mark Lebwohl, former president of the AAD, “Anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun.”

A second study, published by JAMA Dermatology, found that consumers who do use sunscreen are likely to be confused by labels as they try to select the best product. Fewer than half understand what “SPF” means, and even fewer know what “broad-spectrum” means. (“SPF” stands for “sun protection factor,” which rates a product’s effectiveness in blocking UV rays. “Broad spectrum” sunscreens protect against both UV-A radiation, which is associated with skin aging, and UV-B radiation, which causes sunburn. Both can cause skin cancer.)

Fortunately, noted Dr. Lebwohl, “Recent sunscreen regulations implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration make it easier for consumers to see on the sunscreen label whether the product is broad-spectrum.”

The AAD offers tips for selecting and using sunscreen:

  • Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Use enough sunscreen to cover your whole body (about an ounce for most adults), and apply it to all exposed areas, including the ears, scalp, tops of the feet and legs.
  • Ask someone else to help you apply sunscreen on hard-to-reach spots like your back.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.

Visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website to learn much more about selecting the sunscreen that’s right for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with materials from the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Medical Association.

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