Growing older doesn’t have to mean seniors automatically have to live with poor health. Does our physical ability decline in our later years? It certainly can and commonly does. And yes, our risk of some diseases can increase as we get older. However, there are many things that seniors can do to ward off more serious conditions and enjoy both better health and a more fulfilling daily life.
1. Stay connected
One of the most important things seniors can do for their health is to stay connected within their communities. That could mean staying close to family, enjoying friendships with neighbours, or nurturing ties within a faith community. Connections and the bonds of community can help prevent social isolation and they can encourage seniors to keep up with healthy habits like getting out of the house, helping others, and managing stress.
2. Healthy eating
Nutrition becomes very important as seniors age because while their activity levels may be lower (and necessary calories also fewer), they still require all the nutrients they did when they were younger. It becomes even more important to eat well, paying attention to balanced meals, and adding in healthy options where possible. These choices not only help energy levels stay level, but can help reduce risk of some diseases.
3. Stay active
Movement is an important part of how our bodies stay strong and limber, and it’s possible to keep moving well into our senior years. While the activities we choose may change or how we approach them may need to evolve, staying active remains important as we age. There will be a wide range of ability and what is considered wise and safe, certainly, but everyone can find something they can do to keep moving. For some it may mean a daily walk outside, for others it may mean walking indoors where surfaces are level and safer. It could mean getting outside to spend time in the garden, or joining a gentle stretching or movement class at a local gym or community centre.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
Eating well and staying active have a wide range of benefits for us physically and mentally, but they work in combination to achieve something most health practitioners will advise over the course of your lifetime: maintaining a healthy weight for your height and body type. Is there a wide range of what’s healthy? Certainly. But staying within that range can ensure your body is working how it’s supposed to, and that you are able to pursue the things that will keep you feeling younger and more able. Extra weight can cause problems with joints or make movement difficult, and can exacerbate some health conditions. Keeping a reasonably healthy weight for your frame can help you enjoy life more fully.
5. Keep learning
Our brains work best when we use them! Challenging our minds in new ways even as we age helps keep cognitive skills and memory at their best. Learn new music, work on puzzles, or learn how to cook something new if you usually stick to old favourites. If you have always had a curiosity for languages or a certain subject, don’t let age stop you from pursuing a passion or widening your knowledge. Stop by the library and pick up a few new books on your favourite topics. Take a computer class at your community centre so you can use technology to stay in touch with friends and family via email, social media, and try out new applications.
6. Prevent falls
One fall can change everything for a senior, so preventing them is always top of mind when keeping seniors healthy. How can you prevent falls? Ensure seniors wear comfortable footwear that offers a non slip sole, from outdoor shoes to indoor to slippers. Walk through the senior’s home and remove loose rugs, tripping hazards like dangling cords, and small pieces of furniture placed where they could easily be tripped over. You can also have a safety assessment done to flag areas of concern. Ensure the home has good lighting and vision stays healthy with prescriptions up to date – if a senior can’t see well, they are more likely to stumble or lose balance. Routines like walking a pet may have to evolve over time, or be enjoyed when sidewalks are dry, but limited when ice and snow make sidewalks treacherous.
7. Keep up with checkups and medical appointments
Both seniors with health concerns and those who feel well need regular checkups with a family doctor. Regular appointments can ensure ongoing conditions are managed, new risks are flagged early, and any changes in physical condition noted and tracked. A doctor may have new relief options for chronic conditions, or may want to address changes with new treatment. A senior who feels healthy could have unseen risk factors that, left unchecked, could develop into more serious concerns.
8. Manage medications
Many seniors are taking at least one medication, while some may be prescribed multiple drugs to manage ongoing conditions. Managing these medications is an important step to keeping seniors healthy and reducing health risks or negative interactions. A full list of prescriptions and current dose should be kept by the doctor, the senior, and ideally any caregivers or close family members. This list should be shared with any doctor seeing a senior, to ensure new medication is not prescribed without a review of existing prescriptions. Ask your pharmacy about ways to make taking medication easier and more safe. They may be able to use large print on labels, or provide blister packs with morning and evening doses clearly labelled. If you care for a senior, keep an eye out for expired prescriptions or instructions that go ignored and flag these for their family doctor.
9. Get plenty of good quality sleep
Sleep is important to us all, but getting a good quality rest in our later years can prove challenging. What keeps it from happening? Caffeine, poor diet or eating a large meal before bedtime, not moving enough during the day to be tired at night are some culprits. Sleep helps our bodies stay healthy, bolsters our immune systems, and gives us energy for the next day. Try limiting caffeine, or stopping consumption after mid-morning, and eat well during the day so dinner isn’t providing most of the food and calories. Seniors who get up and get doing things during the day, whatever their capability, will find themselves more naturally tired come nightfall and find sleep easier to find.
10. Accept help
It’s not only important to for seniors to stay connected in their communities, but to feel like they can ask for support when needed. Asking for help isn’t giving up independence, but in fact it can allow seniors to stay independent longer. A senior who can accept help from family members and neighbours, or visits from a caregiver service is more likely to be able to stay in their home or live alone longer. If these supports and offers of help are unavailable or refused, it can be more difficult to manage daily life alone.
Life changes as we age, and accepting these changes gracefully is not always easy. However, those who accept small changes over time are more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle into their senior years. It is absolutely possible to stay active and enjoy life as a senior, but it’s more likely to happen when we allow our routines to evolve over time. Being mindful of healthy habits, reducing what risks we can, and keeping our lives full of people and activities we enjoy can ensure we stay as healthy as possible, as long as possible.
Have questions or feedback on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team