Attitude Matters: How Optimism Can Add to the Life of Elder Loved Ones

Attitude Matters: How Optimism Can Add to the Life of Elder Loved Ones

Can our attitude impact the way we age?

More to the point, can our attitude affect our lifestyle which will determine how well we age?

The 2014 United States of Aging Survey recently found that Americans 60 and older report they are more motivated than in the past two years to improve their health by exercising regularly and setting health goals.

What is leading to this change in health behavior? Does it point to an increase in optimism?

In short, yes, attitude matters!

Annual Aging Survey Results

The United States of Aging Survey is conducted annually by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging, United Healthcare and USA TODAY. The report surveyed 1,000 adults 60 and older and a comparison group of 1,027, ages 18-59 for a total of 3,279 people via telephone. The data was then weighted to US Census Bureau demographic statistics based on age, gender, marital status and race.

This aging survey was the third consecutive study completed, therefore the data and results can be compared to prior years to perhaps find deeper insights. The survey covered a wide range of questions related to health, finances and community support. It reveals how seniors are planning for the future as well as how communities can better assist successful aging among their older citizens.

According to the survey, more seniors are making health goals a priority. Here are other results.

  1. 37% report they are exercising daily, compared to 26% last year
  2. 53% set health goals, compared to 47% last year
  3. Top three health goals were eating healthier (37 percent), losing weight (30 percent) and being more physically active (24 percent)
  4. 4 out of 10 seniors report that they are the driving force behind lifestyle changes, 26% say their spouse is the motivator and 15% report that their children are influencers
  5. 69% of those surveyed reported it was easy to pay their monthly bills
  6. 49% expressed concern that they may not have enough money (savings and earnings) to last their remaining lifetime, which is lower than the prior year by 4%
  7. Seniors felt that these were the primary reasons for optimism: faith or spirituality (25%), loving family (15%), and keeping a positive attitude (14%); also important were having a happy marriage or relationship, taking care of their health, and staying mentally and physically active; these areas all ranked higher than financial security
  8. 54% of seniors felt that their communities were supporting the senior population but only 48% of younger seniors (60-64) felt that was the case
  9. Seniors voiced their community needs as home maintenance, transportation, and long term care but feel these are not currently being fulfilled by their community
  10. 3 out of 4, or 77%, desire to stay in their current homes the remainder of their lives so may need home maintenance assistance
  11. Top three areas of concern for these seniors were inability to care for themselves, losing their memory and being a burden but feel prepared for changes in their health as they age
  12. 58% report that they have discussed end of life care with their loved ones, 53% report executing advance directives, and 50% have shared these with their loved ones; however, 1 out of 10 in the study do not want to plan for end of life care

Conclusions Drawn from the Survey Results

According to the survey, seniors who exercise regularly indicate that their lives were better than those who do not exercise. Those seniors who set health goals are more likely to feel that they can have a better quality of life due to improving their health.

Another conclusion of the survey is that seniors, those over 60 in this case, are taking charge of how they age and choosing to take steps to make healthy aging a reality. Living independently is a common goal and one that needs specific action steps to achieve.

Seniors interviewed report that financial confidence is increasing this year but they feel their personal happiness will be found elsewhere.

The researchers state that this was the first year since the survey’s inception that seniors felt that their life was better than normal in the past year, as opposed to worse than normal.

Optimism which lead to positive changes in actions such as physical activity or improved nutrition can result in more successful aging.

Setting Health Goals with Your Senior Loved One

Feeling prepared for the future and taking positive steps to improve health and mental well-being by those over 60 can have lasting effects on the quality of their lives as they age.

Communities can help support aging and provide necessary resources to help all our seniors meet their health goals.

Caregivers can also facilitate healthy changes in senior loved ones.

  • Visit the doctor or other healthcare professional to fully understand your seniors current health status. Where are they medically, what are their challenges and what plans or treatments are needed to improve or manage their current health? It is hard to make an action plan when you don’t know what problems need to be addressed.
  • Once you have an idea of the health problems and have a priority list of which to tackle first, it is time to learn more about it. Does your senior need to attend a class for diabetes self-management, get a blood pressure cuff for home use, or join a gym?
  • When you have been armed with the knowledge you need to create a plan, get to it! Get out paper and pencil or turn on the computer and jot down the goals. Getting it documented will make it real and something that is compelling to accomplish and not just “I will do it tomorrow” but really never get around to doing anything. Make columns for (1) goal, (2) how it is to be measured, such as weight or blood sugar, (3) time frame (4) how it will be accomplished, and (5) who will help. Include any special things needed to accomplish it, such as a walking buddy or cooking class. Be sure there is room on the chart to track progress and check in often to be sure progress is made toward the goals.
  • Brainstorm with your senior about how they would like to achieve the goals. Do they want to walk every day or would they rather swim or dance? Who will transport them to activities if they can’t get there themselves? Do they want to do a supermarket tour to learn how to select healthy foods from the grocery shelves? Do they want to try a new treatment or medication or stop something they do now?
  • Encourage them to stay on track. Are they doing what their action plan says? Do they need help updating it or finding ways around new obstacles? Do they need different motivation or inspiration?
  • Follow-up with the doctor or other healthcare team members to track progress and see results. Are their blood sugars in better control, has their balance improved, or can they reduce medication dosage since they are controlling their blood pressure better?
  • When goals are met it will be time to tackle some new goals. There will always be something to work toward or something new will happen that requires a strategy.

Avoid regrets of health not preserved, money not saved (or spent), families not loved, independence not maintained or a life not lived. Working slowly to meet important life goals will benefit your senior loved one and you, as their family caregiver, as the years go by.

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