SALT LAKE CITY — Kay Bradford wakes up each day and believes something wonderful will happen to her. It's one of her secrets to staying young.
"And believe it or not, something wonderful happens to me each and every day," she said.
Her exuberance is bolstered by dressing up every day and making regular visits to what she calls her "joy room," a room in her house filled with photos of loved ones, inspirational sayings, collectibles and souvenirs from her favorite journeys.
Bradford, who is nearly 90, said life is good.
"I do anything and everything I can to stay young and happy," she said. Among those tasks is Tai Chi twice a week, lunch dates with friends and multiple opportunities for church and community service.
Because of deep-seated religious beliefs, Bradford is certain heaven is a wonderful place. But while she waits her turn to get there, she said she is "having the time of my life."
Bradford was among hundreds of attendees at the 25th annual Conference for Seniors hosted Monday at the Little America Hotel, by Sen. Orrin Hatch and his wife, Elaine. The senator said publicity preceding the event is scarce, but crowds of seniors show up every year to gather information and gain an edge on the aging process.
Today's senior citizens, Hatch said, are paving a new road for themselves and can just as often be found in gym dance classes as in assisted living centers.
"They're always asking me what they (as senior citizens) can do," he said, offering suggestions such as getting out to vote, living within their means, helping others and volunteering their time to meaningful causes. "We love and appreciate our seniors so much. They're some of the most patriotic people I know. It's a joy to be around them."
Senior citizens can face various dilemmas as they age, including navigating unknown technologies, understanding potentially confusing tax and medical lingo, loneliness and a lack of social interaction, and trying to stay healthy.
"I need help with that more now than ever," said 83-year-old Shirley Petersen, of Sugar House. She used to walk every day for exercise, but with a decline in her health she has lost that ability.
She's been attending the conference for several years, each time going away with more knowledge, which she says is important "at my age."
Jeanette Alexander, 78, said the information she gleans from the conference is one of the biggest reasons she attends every year. She's trying to learn more about the computer, she said.
"There is so much available for us to learn," Alexander said. "I want to be computer literate."
She and her husband, 79-year-old Prentice "Al" Alexander, implemented what they learned last year at the conference about wills and testaments. This year, the focus was on learning the ins and outs of Facebook, which presenter David Muecke said is akin to "online journaling."
"People used to gather at the town center or sit on their porches and talk to everyone passing by, but since we don't do that anymore, Facebook fills in the gaps," he said.
The Alexanders belongs to the Sandy Senior Center and participate in classes offered there, but are also taking organ lessons to keep their minds active and learning. Prentice Alexander has also taken up teaching fitness classes at the center.
"I'm trying to keep healthy, but I also keep a pleasant viewpoint on life and that helps," he said. He's a licensed preacher and believes his faith keeps him going.
And he's on the right track, according to Dr. H. DeWayne Ashmead, another conference presenter who said applying equal attention to three things has been proven to slow the onslaught of Alzheimer's disease: proper nutrition, regular exercise and mental stimulation.
He encouraged conference-goers to explore new opportunities in life and "forget the things that aren't important."
In addition to health and wellness tips and the workings of social media websites, seniors at the conference were offered tips on talking to doctors, plans for successful retirement and collecting the benefits available to them, as well as navigating legal rights, volunteering and planning vacations.
Britt Vanderhoof, a registered nurse with Eclipse Home Health, said she is sometimes the only interaction the seniors she visits get.
"Hardly anyone comes to see them," she said. "When I see them, I know it lifts their spirits and it does mine, too."
Vanderhoof gives some patients a plastic counter to help them tally their happy thoughts throughout the day. She also goes away from home health visits with all kinds of marriage, family and life advice, as well as wisdom, which she said the elderly gains from their longer life experience.
"More people should go to their church leaders and ask how they can help their neighbors," she said. "I guarantee that in everyone's neighborhood, there is at least one mother who needs help with her children and one grandparent who is lonely. We can all do more to help."
Local Senior Corps representatives were on hand to recruit willing participants in their Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP programs, all of which help seniors become more involved in their communities.
"A big reason why people don't volunteer is that they don't want to be tied down, but sometimes the very thing they're afraid of is what they've been looking for all along," said Debra Smith, Senior Companions coordinator. "Volunteering adds structure to your day and week and adds to your life."
"Friends are the best collectible you can have," Bradford said. At age 75, she served a proselytizing mission for the LDS Church. She said it was difficult, but inspiring and "was the best thing that ever happened to me."1 comment on this story
Since then, Bradford looks for more opportunities to serve others and said she is most happy when doing so.
"It's how I stay positive and enthusiastic about life."