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Taking Charge and Aging Well!

Amanda Lambert - February 27, 2019 02:07 PM

Take the story of two women the same age: 79.

One, Mary, has diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. Mary fell recently and broke her hip. She required surgery and rehab. Mary never recovered her previous level of functioning after her fall. She becomes more isolated since she can’t get out as easily as she once did.

Judy, also 79, is vibrant and active. She attends exercise class at the senior center, makes sure that she eats a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables. Judy keeps careful records of the few medications she takes and makes sure to get her preventative healthcare taken care of.

Judy could have a fall as well. But she is likely to recover more quickly due to her fitness level and the fact that she has already established good, healthy habits.

All of us are aging. We just happen to be a different places along the continuum. Attitudes about aging are changing in profound and significant ways. Rather than viewing aging through the lens of disability, aging is being viewed more and more as a time of growth and health. But aging well doesn’t happen magically. It takes a mental shift in attitude and then a focused effort to take charge of the aging process. Let’s get going!

Disabilities Associated with Aging

Chronic illness and disability are not inevitable consequences of aging. And yet, that’s how we think of aging. Here are some of the common afflictions associated with aging:

·       Hearing loss

·       Difficulty with walking and balance

·       Loss of muscle mass

·       Diabetes

·       Heart Disease and other heart problems

·       Memory impairment

·       Problems managing activities of daily living. For example, bathing, cooking, cleaning, driving and managing finances.

Attitudes About Aging

Let’s face it. We are an ageist society. Ageism is defined as discrimination or prejudice based on one’s age alone. We can harbor our own ageist attitudes that are reinforced by the media. The problem with stereotyping aging people is that it is limiting. It defines people and boxes them into preconceived notions of the path of aging based on the disabilities listed above.

 

Aging people aren’t going to take it anymore! They are redefining what it means to age by taking control and forging their own path.

How People Are Aging Well

More and more research proves that disabilities are not an inevitable part of aging. Every day there are articles about people who are defying our conventional notions by doing the following:

Activity

Older people are getting active. Very active. They are going to the gym, swimming, walking, playing tennis and pickleball, running, biking, taking Tai Chi and Yoga. Activity helps to ward off illness and has been shown to reduce or even prevent dementia. It helps people sleep, improves energy and reduces falls.

Nutrition

Dietary recommendations seem to change daily. But one thing remains constant: eat more fresh vegetables and fruit. And stay hydrated. The Mediterranean diet is a good model to follow. Processed foods and sugar have been linked to dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac disease.

Purpose

Many people are opting to keep working late into life. For those that have retired, they are staying mentally and socially active by volunteering. The important point is to stay socially engaged, in whatever way you decide.

Healthcare

People who age well take charge of their healthcare. They are advocates for their own needs and make informed choices about their healthcare. If a physician prescribes a medication, they ask questions about the necessity of the medication or alternatives. They get yearly preventative screenings for prostate, breast cancer, colon screenings, skin, eye exams and hearing.

What You Can Do

Start where you are. This means that although you probably feel you have a lot of work to do, resist the urge to hasten the process. That may lead to injury. Take a proactive, take charge approach. Check with your physician before you start.  Some suggestions:

Start with Small Achievable Goals.

Take things one bite at a time. Write goals and keep track of the progress you are making. This will motivate you! If possible, involve someone else in your efforts to keep you accountable.

Be Creative

Before you increase your activity level check with your physician. Consider a home video or class at the senior center. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer. Find a walking group. Park at a distance from your destination. This will add steps to your day.

Pay Close Attention to Your Diet

Eat more vegetables and less processed foods. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Bad dietary habits are hard to break, so consider one or two foods you are willing to give up and then replace with something healthy. And, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Keep up to Date on Preventative Healthcare

Yearly exams are important to identify problems before they get worse. These include, but are not limited to: eyesight exams, hearing, prostate, dermatology, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

Find Ways to Increase Your Social Engagement

Whether it is volunteer work or the local senior center, social engagement is critical to mental health. If transportation is an issue, consider hiring a home care company to transport you.  There are also vibrant on-line communities to connect with.

Health is a personal responsibility. Regardless of your disability or condition, it is never too late to improve your health. Aging well is not only possible, but critical to long term happiness and stability. Start now, and you will not regret it!

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of, Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing, and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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