Top Ten Tips for Aging Well

“All too often I hear people say that ‘Getting sick is just a part of growing old. Or that ‘There’s nothing my mom can do about her memory, because dementia is a normal part of aging.’  Or, ‘There’s no need to go to a doctor.  Pain is normal for someone my age.’  Aging is not synonymous with poor health and disease.  There are normal age-related changes in physical, cognitive, and emotional function, some of which increase risk for the development of specific diseases or illnesses.  However, certain diagnoses, such as dementia syndromes, diabetes, chronic pain, hypertension, and depression, are not a part of normal aging.  Thus, there is much one can do to protect health throughout senior adult years, while also preventing increased risk for and onset of disease,” states Gillian Woods, Ph.D.

It is never too late to focus on health & wellness by making lifestyle changes.  Especially with the growing senior population due to the Baby Boomers, it is imperative to protect the senior population’s health and to keep older adults as independent as possible for as long as possible.  At the Pat Walker Center for Seniors – Senior Health Clinic, our mission is to promote healthy aging by keeping older adults well, active, and independent for as long as possible.  While geriatric healthcare specialists provide interdisciplinary services focused on treating the complex care needs of the senior population, it is imperative within senior healthcare to address preventative, wellness-based practices to ensure seniors’ health. 
The most important things you can do to ensure healthy aging and independence are to

  • Acquire recommended health screenings, annual checkups, and review of medications,
  • Educate yourself about what healthy aging means for you,
  • Lead a healthy and active lifestyle, both physically and cognitively, and
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

The Top Ten Tips for Aging Well, published by the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging, is in accordance with our mission.  Included with each summary are recommendations for Washington Regional services, as well as helpful topic-related websites, recommended by Gillian Woods, Ph.D.

Top Ten Tips for Aging Well
From the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging, www.healthinaging.org

  1. Eat a rainbow.  Fewer calories are needed with increasing age, so choose nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. The wider variety of colors, the more likely you will be to ingest a variety of nutrients.  Each week, eat 2 servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  Limit red meat and whole-fat dairy products. Eat whole grains.  All of these foods are heart and brain healthy. (To further understand dietary guidelines for seniors, visit www.MyPyramid.gov.)
  2. Sidestep falls.  Walking as little as 30 minutes, 3 times a week can maintain physical and mental fitness, strengthen bones, improve mood, and lower the risk of falls. Falls are a leading cause of fractures, other injuries, and death among seniors.  Biking, dancing, and jogging are also good exercises to strengthen bones.  Further, be sure your diet and supplements allow for enough calcium and vitamin D daily.  (If you have questions about physical fitness or exercise recommendations, contact the Center for Exercise at 479-463-3488 or visit http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exerciseforolderadults/toc.html.)
  3. Toast with a smaller glass.  Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol daily may lower risks for diseases such as heart disease; however, what constitutes “moderate” changes with age.  Healthy amounts of alcohol for men include 1 drink daily, while for women it is ½ drink daily (i.e., 1 oz. hard liquor, 6 oz. wine, or 12 oz. beer.)  Be mindful of how alcohol can interact with certain medications.
  4. Know the low-down on sleep in later life.  Older adults do not need less sleep than younger adults.  Most people need 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night.  See your healthcare professional if you are sleeping an adequate amount of hours nightly yet are still feeling fatigued during the day.  (For more information about sleep disorders or for assessments and treatment, contact the Sleep Disorders Center at 479-463-2777.)
  5. Flatten your opponent, sharpen your mind.  Conquering opponents in games, engaging in a discussion club, learning new skills, or connecting with others through social dialogue can help keep your brain sharp.  (For information about the Cognitive Training Center at Washington Regional, or for recommended websites, books, and area clubs that can exercise your brain, please contact Gillian Woods, Ph.D., 479-463-4419.)
  6. Enjoy safe sex.  Research shows that older adults are more sexually active, although unfortunately there also is an increased incidence of sexually transmitted infections.  Use protective methods to reduce your risk of infection, such as condoms and lubricants that will prevent skin tears.  (For more information about sexual health, visit http://www.sexhealth.org/sexaging/tips.shtml.)
  7. Get a medication check.  Ask your healthcare provider to review your medications periodically.  With increasing age and an increased number of medications, there are more potential side effects and interaction effects.  Give your doctor a list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and supplements, the dosages and how often you take them.
  8. Speak up when you feel down or anxious.  Approximately 1 in 5 seniors experiences depression or anxiety.  Lingering sadness, sleep or appetite changes, loss of pleasure from previously enjoyed activities, constant worry, irritability, or withdrawal from socialization are all indicators that you might need help.  Share any mood concerns with your healthcare provider.  (For more information, visit www.nimh.nih.gov.)
  9. Get your shots.  Important vaccinations for seniors include those that protect against pneumonia, tetanus/diphtheria, shingles, and the flu.  (For a list of recommended shots and health screens for people age 50+, visit http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/men50.pdf for men and http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/women50.pdf for women.)
  10. Find the right healthcare professional and make the most of your visits.  Visit your healthcare provider regularly, at least annually and more frequently if there are any changes in your health.  Answer questions honestly, and share anything of concern about your physical, emotional, social, or cognitive health.  If you have multiple health problems, visit with a geriatrician, a physician with advanced training to work with older adults.  For more information about outpatient geriatric care, educational events, or supportive resources, contact the Pat Walker Center for Seniors at 479-463-4444.)

Recommended Reading
Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin recently published The Longevity Project, an exploration of keys to living a long, healthy life.  The initial research conducted by Dr. Lewis Terman, began in 1921 and utilized just over 1,500 participants.  This research was continued by others and spanned over 8 decades.  The book debunks commonly held inaccurate beliefs about aging, while shedding light on the combination of factors that appear to ensure long, healthy lives based on the Longevity Project results.

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