Most of us realize that we are heading down a one-way path known as aging but it need not be a slippery slope.
We have watched others, including our own parents or grandparents, who have aged well and some who have not entered their golden years in very good shape.
We may wonder what is typical and to be expected for us and our loved ones.
What can we do to age well ourselves and help our own loved ones be healthy?
Are there small things we can do for ourselves as well as help those about whom we care to be as healthy as possible as we age?
We want to age successfully with the highest possible quality of life!
We Define Optimal Aging for Ourselves
We all, caregivers and senior loved ones, don’t just want to age but really age well.
We want to do what we want when we want to do it.
We want to live independently as long as possible.
We want to care for ourselves instead of being dependent on others for care as we age.
Optimal aging is our senior’s loved one’s goal as defined in this way:
“the capacity to function across many domains—physical, functional, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual – to one’s satisfaction and in spite of one’s medical conditions.”
Ways to Age Successfully
Experts agree that, to age successfully, caregivers and seniors need to focus on these three areas — low probability of disease and disease-related disability, high cognitive and physical functional capacity, and active engagement with life.
There are a number of changes we can begin making today to be more healthy and successful as we age.
It is never too late to start making lifestyle changes for health so caregivers should be considering what is needed and encouraging their senior loved ones to do the same!
Here are a few things that have been shown to improve our health and be more successful as we age:
- Get active! Physical activity is a necessary part of health at any age. You are never too old to start moving and is even more important for physical, emotional, and brain health as our seniors get older. Exercise has beneficial effects on muscles, heart, lungs, blood pressure, and bone loss. It doesn’t have to hurt, be boring or cost money to get moving. Find something you love and get active.
- Protect your heart! Because heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, we should reduce our risks by not smoking, eating right, reducing your stress (or your response to your stress), and staying physically active. Knowing your numbers and keeping your blood pressure in control will help you protect your heart.
- Cancer prevention! Aging does not mean an automatic cancer diagnosis, though it is the second leading cause of death in older people. If you or your loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, even many older people can beat it if found early and treated. Eating healthy is a key component to cancer prevention and should not be overlooked.
- Keep clear eyes! More than half of those over 80 years old have cataracts or a clouding of the eye’s lens. It can be corrected with implantation of artificial lenses. It is very important to get a dilated eye exam every year to find any problems early and correct them.
- Avoid sadness! Depression in our later years is serious and can lead to trouble sleeping or eating, which will negatively impact our health. Any concern should be expressed to your senior’s doctor as it is easily treated once the cause is uncovered. Depression is sometimes caused by medicine or stress as well as life changes.
- Get enough sleep! Sleeping patterns change as we age but being unable to sleep is not a normal part of aging. There are many non-pharmacological interventions we can do to help our seniors get a better, more restful night’s sleep and we should put time into this improvement for their health.
- Keep your brain strong! Memory loss, especially short term memory, is a concern for most people. Dementia is a permanent change in the brain leading to impairment. Sometimes confusion and forgetfulness can be temporary and caused by a variety of factors including injury, fever, medicine, and poor eating or drinking. Several of these medical conditions, when identified and treated, can lead to improvement in memory.
- Reduce unnecessary medications! Multiple medication use by people over 65 years is common, with 80% taking more than one medicine due to chronic medical issues. Take each according to the directions and keep a current list handy so your doctor can be sure it is still appropriate.
- Active and safe sex life! Aging does not mean an end to your sexual activity. Most older people have an active sex life. Sometimes a slowed response may be present and is normal. If you or your senior has a concern, talk to your doctor to be sure there is no underlying medical problem.
- Maintain a healthy weight! Weight gain in older adults occurs as physical activity decreases. It is important to eat a variety of foods but in the absence of exercise, fewer calories are needed to avoid weight gain.
- Treat incontinence! Incontinence is a symptom of another problem, such as infection or injury, and not a symptom of aging. There are things your senior and their doctor can do to reduce incontinence, including things like specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles or reviewing your medication list.
- Stimulate your brain! You can still learn at any age. Keeping the mind active will improve your ability to age healthfully. Seniors who are fully engaged in learning new skills, staying socially active and being mentally stimulated can prevent cognitive changes that reduce their quality of life.
We can all practice a healthy lifestyle to make the best of our golden years and age in place as long as possible and you can help your parents.
Remember, less than 4% of people over the age of 65 live in nursing homes. You and your family can be part of the 96% instead of the 4%!