Staying well as we age and helping our senior loved ones age successfully involves making improvements in lifestyles and modifying habits.
We know there are many things we can do to live healthier lives that we and our senior loved ones may not be doing right now, such as daily physical activity.
There are also new things we are learning about that can help us prevent the future diseases that could reduce quality of life for us and our seniors.
When we know what to change and the impacts of doing so, we may have the motivation needed to work on making those changes.
There is research being conducted every day and new findings published that can give us more insight into improving our health outcomes. We can also be part of that research when we take part in clinical trials that can make great strides in disease prevention with our help.
Prevention research focuses on identifying and assessing risks and developing interventions for preventing or reducing high-risk behaviors.
Prevention research also includes research studies to develop and evaluate disease prevention, health promotion recommendations, and public health programs.
The NIH definition of prevention research includes the following categories of research:
- Identification of modifiable risk and protective factors for diseases/disorders/injuries;
- Studies on assessment of risk, including genetic susceptibility;
- Development of methods for screening and identification for those at risk for onset or progression of asymptomatic diseases/disorders, or those at risk for adverse, high-risk behaviors/injuries;
- Development and evaluation of interventions to promote health for groups of individuals without recognized signs or symptoms of a disease;
- Putting effective prevention interventions into practice; and
- Measuring the effects of preventive interventions.
New Research Shows Benefit of Disease Prevention
Here is a recent compilation of research studies showing the positive benefits behaviors can have on our health.
All of these things are actionable, meaning we can change for the better. The risk factors of many diseases are modifiable with some level of effort on our parts.
- Seasonal flu vaccinations
The flu is often preventable when we all get flu shots. For seniors with weakened immune systems the flu can be deadly.
A recent research study showed that when we get our seasonal flu shot we are protected for six months. Getting our seniors their flu shots in the early fall will protect them through the peak of the flu season.
Last year’s flu season was a good indication of the beneficial effect that flu shots have on our immune systems, since the actual strains of flu were not included in the vaccine but most of us got a boost in immunity from the shot that helped our bodies weather the storm of illness.
It is important that family caregivers protect their senior loved ones by getting them vaccinated now, as well as getting their own vaccinations so they can remain healthy to care for them.
- Positive emotions and your health
An NIH funded study shows that having a positive outlook can improve health.
This study found you and your senior can improve health through your positive emotions, with a few adjustments, and by learning some new skills.
Because sometimes aging can bring on negative feelings of frustration, sadness and even depression, if we take steps to look on the sunny side we can reap rewards in our overall health.
We will still feel sad and even have negative emotions from time to time, which is only natural, but by adjusting our attitudes to be more positive we can fell better, not just mentally but physically as well.
By being more resilient and holding onto our positive emotions longer, researchers tell us that we will be able to enjoy those moments to a greater degree.
In this study researchers found that improving our mental outlook resulted in lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weights, better blood sugar levels, and longer life. Using brain imaging, they found that positivity triggered reward pathways in the brain while negative emotions trigger the fear pathway.
Yes, turning that frown upside down can have many benefits!
- Fall prevention
One in three Americans aged 65 and older falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in those over 65.
Recovery is often long and painful.
Most falls can be prevented. Fall prevention includes three key factors: balance training and physical activity; home modifications and safety; and medical management. All three areas need to be addressed in order to prevent most falls.
A recent study has found another factor that may benefit senior loved ones and prevent more falling. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. studied the effect of vitamin D supplementation in elders.
We know that ensuring adequate intakes of vitamin D can help keep bones and muscles strong but they found that those taking supplemental vitamin D had fewer falls.
They gave supplements to homebound seniors, who often have little sun exposure and inadequate nutritional intake. Those receiving the supplements had half as many falls as those getting the placebo.
While they did not establish direct cause and effect, it is interesting to learn that getting tested for adequate vitamin D levels and taking a supplement could improve strength, confidence and decrease falling for our senior loved ones especially since so many seniors have low serum vitamin D levels.
- Sleep, fatigue and cognition
We hear a lot about how long we should be sleeping. Most health wearables monitor our sleep patterns to be sure we are sleeping long enough and if our sleep is restful so that our bodies can recover from the stress of the previous day.
When did sleep become so critical?
A recent study explains one reason why sleep quality is important for our aging seniors and ourselves.
Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden found that memory loss and poor sleep quality are linked. They state that long term memory can be more easily accessed, especially during times of stress after a good night’s sleep but also that we form our long term memories during sleep.
It is during our sleep pattern that short term memories are moved into long term storage.
They found that inadequate sleep duration coupled with cognitive stress resulted in losing our memories.
Working on getting longer and more restful sleep is actionable as a memory loss prevention strategy.
We continue to add to our body of scientific knowledge with each new study that passes through clinical trials and is published.
Learning more but then actually doing something about the new information, changing some of our habits for the better, can improve our senior’s and our own well-being as we age.
No, we’re not saying it will be easy, but it could make a difference in our quality of life!