Aging changes us physically, but it’s never too late to improve your health – body, mind and spirit. Good health in senior years involves myriad actions, including proactivity and learning.
Senior years can either be frail or resilient. Daily living and bad habits damage the body, but good choices reverse the wear. Those good choices touted by professionals and self-promoters remain the golden rule. Enjoying life at any age should not need deprivation. The proactive person should start with a frank discussion with his or her physician.
Learn about your body and take a proactive stance. Partner with your physician. If you have diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia or other diseases, learn about them.
Discussing weight with a physician can be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but a healthier weight delivers benefits. A normal body weight diminishes damage to joints, diabetes related blindness, decreases the chances of developing stroke and heart disease, insomnia and improves depression.
Nutrition, or under nutrition, is a big decider of senior health. A host of social, physical and psychological factors play into nutrition deficits: dental health, living alone, low income, medications, dementia and undiagnosed malabsorption diseases being a few. Meals should be a balance of vegetables, grains and adequate protein. Learn to eliminate salt in unexpected places. Drink adequate amounts of fluids. Hydration provides a multitude of benefits, including wrinkle reduction. Before adding shakes and nutritional supplements to the diet, seek doctor’s advice.
Exercise is essential for improving life, and possibly prolonging it. Experts recommend individuals exercise 30 minutes per day five times a week. The benefits include increased mobility, reduced falls and improved balance. Regular exercise can help lower hypertension and help prevent respiratory problems, joint pain and dementia progression. Exercise also alleviates depression and improves circulation and strength.
“I recommend the use of light weights to rebuild muscles, replace strength and improve balance lost due to inactivity, says Dr. Loring Barwick, a primary care physician at Oklahoma State University Medical Center. “The older a person gets, the more it hurts, but I also tell them to use it or lose it. Just keep moving your body, and the rest will follow.”
The mind is the part of our body perceiving reasons, feelings and intellect. Many adults fear the loss of their minds’ abilities. Dementia is the loss of memory, reason or judgment. Dementia’s causative origin lists numerous possibilities: stroke, accident, chemical imbalance, vascular problems, even a loss of self. Alzheimer’s dementia is a specific, irreversible dementia.
“There is no cure for Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Linda Hershey, a neurologist at OU Medical Center. “There are many new treatments on the horizon. I enrolled my first patient in a new international, multi-center clinical trial recently. Much of Alzheimer’s effects depends much on genetics. There are things research has shown to slow the process. Any patient I have with an early diagnosis, I encourage the Mediterranean diet. I recommend curtailing red meats, animal fat, olive oil and increasing eating grains, fruits and vegetables. Not an overall bad diet for any of us.”
Depression is the most common mental illness in seniors and results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is often found in older adults but contributes to dementia. Depression can occur due to chronic illness and pain, a big move, spousal loss, decreased sense of importance and medication. Being aware of signs and symptoms and contributing factors can expedite a diagnosis.
Those who suspect they may suffer from depression should talk to his or her physician. Ask questions of the doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional until satisfactory answers are received.
Taking care of an older parent or spouse, or being cared for as one, impacts many seniors.
“Some of my patients will not consider leaving their home or have anybody [come in] to help. This is a very dangerous situation,” says Barwick.
Dealing with the future takes planning and candid discussions with children, a spouse or potential caregiver regarding wishes. AARP-Oklahoma’s website provides a multitude of surveys, lists and websites that can help.
Some aging adults will rely on a spouse or child to become the primary caregiver. In Oklahoma 600,000 fall into this category. Oklahoma is the first state to give special consideration to caregivers. SB 1536, which was signed into law in 2014, gives persons – not just seniors – the ability to designate a caregiver.
“One reason [for the law] is to provide enough information so the patient will not need readmission to the hospital after release because of incorrect care. We’ve heard so many stories about how the caregivers did not understand the discharge summary,” says Craig Davis, assistant state director of AARP Oklahoma. “The bill does not surpass or replace home-health or professional health care, but provides another layer of care that often keeps people in their homes longer. All work to reduce the hospitalization costs and increase healing and peace of mind.”
There are many factors involved in maintaining health in the senior years. The most important is an indefinable zest for life, to live not only a long life, but pack as much life into the years lived. There are volumes of opportunities to maintain that enthusiasm: volunteer, teach, travel, become a mentor, build houses, take up a new hobby, join a discussion group, date again. Live, live, live: Living a long life involves living a fulfilled life.