For our first column, some tips on how to successfully age have been outlined. Before you dive in, consider that the following are suggestions of habits we can form now—habits that we probably already know we should be doing. So be thinking of how you can incorporate these concepts into your life to assure it remains a healthy, long and fulfilling one.
Healthy aging requires not only a physical and intellectual program but a mental and spiritual exercise plan as well.
Develop a healthy attitude.
People are never too old to start taking care of their body or their minds. Individuals living over age 65 or 75 have a good chance of living another 10 plus years. Research has shown us the fastest growing segment of the population are those age 85 years of age and over. Exercise, nutrition, and good health can make the difference between another good decade and a decade of disability.
At least 30 minutes of walking per day can reduce the risk of hospitalization for heart disease by up to one-third. The four hours of exercise per week does not require any special equipment but a bit of perseverance to make it happen—just plain ole’ walking. Exercise may also protect against osteoporosis (softening of the bones), falls, and other injuries due to the aging process. Regular exercise helps an older adult feel healthy because of the chemicals that are released in the brain, as well as stretching the muscles and joints that will alleviate painful arthritis and other such ailments.
Flex your mind.
The brain needs care just like the body. New scientific research shows that we can improve the health and function of our brains with the right mental workouts. For many it may be working on crossword puzzles, reading, or listening to books on tape (if it is difficult for you to read), or perhaps journaling, or working on a computer. These activities can produce clearer and quicker thinking, improved memory for names, numbers, and directions, etc. There are also many “brain games” that can be used to stimulate your memory known as “brain teasers.” Active minds stay healthy and mental activity may reduce your risk for Dementia. Don’t be afraid to learn new things and to challenge yourself throughout life. Do something new each day!
Maintain social contacts.
Loneliness can be toxic for seniors. Isolated, older individuals have higher rates of health problems and disability. Remaining mentally active and socially connected may also provide some protection against cerebral decline and short term memory loss. A network of friends will stimulate both your brain and your soul.
Stay psychologically fit.
Depression is a common problem as we grow older, but individuals with untreated depression tend to have higher rates of heart attacks, death from heart attack, stroke and disability from strokes. Depression may also hasten the onset of memory loss. A biological brain disorder, depression is not a normal part of growing older. Most depressed persons respond to basic medications, so if you or someone you know suffers with depression they should seek out the care of a physician immediately.
Many seniors have an attitude that “it doesn’t make any difference, the harm is done.” People can and will feel better and avoid smoking-related health problems by quitting cigarettes at any age. If you can’t quit, then try to cut back.
Obesity in older persons will increase health problems and hamper one’s ability to exercise. It will also increase blood sugars and the tendency towards diabetes. Chronic obesity in middle age is now being studied closely and has been shown to increase the risk of dementia in later life.
Research shows that Medicare spends more money on alcohol-related diseases than on victims of a heart attack. Alcohol damages the heart, liver, muscles, and nerves, and falls are also a major factor with drinking. Alcohol consumption should be limited to one ounce per day. Seniors should not drink alcohol when they are taking anti-anxiety medication, or if they have Alzheimer’s disease.
Understand your medications.
Older adults often receive many different types of medications and visit more than one physician, with each treating you for different diseases. Treatments and/or medications may interact or over-lap. If you do not understand your medications or are hesitant to talk to your physician, ask a family member or friend to accompany you to your next appointment. Or ask your local pharmacist.
Watch your diet.
All of us can develop nutritional or vitamin deficiencies that produce illness; As we age, calcium supplementation is important to maintain bone strength. Eat a balanced diet and take an all-purpose vitamin to supplement it.
Find a doctor that you trust.
Find a primary care physician, or specialist (gerontologist) who will spend the necessary time it takes discussing your specific health issues with you.
Be organized when you make your visit, and write down questions you need answered. Having a well trained physician won’t help you if you don’t heed his or her advice. All of us need to do our part to stay happy and healthy during the aging process.
We have begun to see the projected explosion in numbers of the older population and their increasing longevity, making it necessary to address the gaps in information, training, and practices. We hope you will join us next time for another segment of senior moments!
Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is the co-founder and owner with her husband Richard Robinson of Sanitasole Senior Health Services 218 So Barfield Dr. Paula has been working in the healthcare industry and been a permanent resident of Marco Island for more than 30 years. She is VP of Clinical Services and, with Jason Mark Young, MS, Director of Activities and Mental Health at Sanitasole will be discussing critical issues facing seniors and those who care for them. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or visit www.sanitasole.net for more information.