Everywhere we turn there are tips and ideas purported to help Americans age gracefully.
Many times we question (or should) the wisdom in the advice we read and hear.
Much of the information is harmless, some simply inaccurate, oftentimes sensational enough to sell a product. Some of it, unfortunately, is dangerous if followed.
But what really do we know about aging and things our seniors and us can do to make this experience more successful?
Everyday seems to bring a new strategy, pill or product to help us do just that.
How Does Your Senior Define Aging?
Everyone seems to conjure up images of someone who is aging or aged in a different way.
We probably no longer automatically picture an aging senior as a person lying in a nursing home bed or rocking on the front porch.
We know that aging today is totally different than it was at any time in the past.
We are healthier, more active, and retiring later than ever before.
Seniors love to travel, use technology, and keep learning new things.
The golden years are no longer synonymous with fading into the sunset — unless that’s what a senior chooses.
80 is the new 60 and centenarians are not uncommon!
What can we do to prevent dementia and other diseases related to aging from happening to us and spoiling our image of what our future will be?
Prevention Clinic at Cornell Medical Center
Dementia may be one of the most feared diseases associated with aging because the older we get the more likely we may be to be diagnosed with dementia. Our risk increases greatly with our age.
Because Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t just affect the person who has been diagnosed but, indeed, the entire family, protecting those at risk for dementia due to genetics is getting some help.
The Prevention Clinic (Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program at New York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center founded by Dr. Richard Isaacson) helps people with high familial risk get programs for prevention. Dr. Isaacson has many family members with dementia and understands the risks.
The clinic strives to help people determined to be at genetic risk reduce their levels of brain plaques using the latest treatments, cutting-edge prevention strategies and comprehensive education for the entire family. They focus on diet and lifestyle changes especially nutrition as well as strategies such as playing music to delay cognitive decline despite the identified risks.
Prevention will be the key, as onset of dementia occurs 20-30 years before symptoms are observable.
Even this program agrees that there is no 100% way to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease at this time. Their goal is to implement strategies that can reduce or delay the onset of dementia.
Evidenced-based Research from the CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) review of evidenced based research has resulted in a list of programs that could help your senior and all of us improve our aging health and wellness outcomes.
What is an evidenced-based program? One that has been based on scientific evidence and demonstrated to improve the health of older adults.
Enhance Fitness is exercises for seniors – strength training, aerobics, balance and stretching three times a week for one hour with a certified fitness instructor.
Results include increased physical and social functioning as well as decreased pain and depression in the seniors who attend.
Relieve Arthritis Pain
Arthritis Foundation Exercise program specially designed for seniors with arthritis (formerly called PACE).
This programs combines range of motion activities designed to improve flexibility and muscle strength.
A Matter of Balance combines cognitive retraining and skills training to change the behavior of those seniors who limit their personal activity due to their fear of falling and is provided by trained professionals from a variety of healthcare settings and facilities following the Facilitators Manual.
The National Council on Aging and the Administration on Aging are developing a “lay leader” program for use in the future in each state.
Healthy IDEAS is a depression self-management program designed to detect and reduce the severity of depressive symptoms in older adults with chronic conditions and functional limitations.
It includes screening and assessment, education, referral to appropriate health professionals, and behavioral activation.
Chronic Disease Management
Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (Better Choices, Better Health® Workshop) People with different chronic health problems attend the workshop together. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals with chronic diseases themselves.
The best part is the results. Participants showed significant improvements in exercise, cognitive symptom management, communication with physicians, self-reported general health, health distress, fatigue, disability, and social/role activities limitations. They also spent fewer days in the hospital.
Balance and Fitness
Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) is a strength, balance and fitness program for adults 65 and older. Performing exercises that improve strength, balance and fitness helps seniors stay active and reduce their chance of falling.
SAIL is offered 3 times a week in a one hour class. SAIL exercises can be done standing or sitting. The primary target is community-dwelling older adults (65+) with a history of falls.
Nutrition and Well-Being
The Congregate Nutrition Services section of the Older Americans Act authorizes meals and nutrition services in group (congregate) settings to keep older adults healthy and prevent the need for more costly medical interventions.
In addition to serving healthy meals, the program offers social engagement, information on healthy aging and meaningful volunteer roles, all of which contribute to an older individual’s overall health and well-being.
Walk With Ease (WWE) is a six-week program developed to encourage people with arthritis and other chronic diseases to get started walking and to stay motivated. This program can either be held in a group setting or can be self-directed.
Check with your state’s Office on Aging.
Find a Program Near You
We all want our loved ones to stay safe, healthy and happy as they age.
It is helpful to know that there are programs out there in our communities that have been proven to achieve results for their health.
If these programs are not currently available where you live, contact your local Administration on Aging.