Growing older is a privilege, but let’s face it—aging definitely brings about changes in our bodies and minds.
As a Care Coordinator at Deaconess Primary Care for Seniors, I’ve helped thousands of seniors and their families navigate the process of getting older, and all the complications that can come with life in our 60s, 70s and beyond. In this role, I’ve also learned that there are many things that we can all do as we age, to help ourselves age better, and to be healthier and happier.
Improving mental clarity
“Senior moments” seem to just be part of the aging process, and occasional forgetfulness happens to everyone. But there are things you can do to improve mental clarity and keep your mind sharp. They all involve challenging your brain. The expression “use it or lose it” definitely applies here.
- Crossword, Sudoku or other puzzles all help keep our minds sharp.
- If you’ve always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, pick up a foreign language, or gain some computer skills, now is a great time to start. Learning new things challenges our minds in very positive ways.
- Read! Read the newspaper, non-fiction books that teach you something, fiction books that “take you away” to a new place, magazines that fascinate you—just read. During brain scans of people reading, their minds light up with activity, but when the same brains are scanned while watching most television shows, the brain is far less active.
- Travel! While a long trip to Europe exploring museums, scenery and thousand-year-old cathedrals would be wonderful for your mind, even day and weekend trips to new places can challenge your mind and help you keep a fresh outlook.
The more we use all areas of our brains, the better our brains will function overall.
Keeping our bodies fit
Fitness in our later years isn’t necessarily about looking fabulous in a bathing suit (although if that’s your goal, more power to you!) Keeping our bodies strong, agile and flexible can make a big difference in not only how we feel, but ultimately how we get to live
Keeping up—or keeping ahead!—of our daily lives brings satisfaction and pleasure.
- Go for a daily walk! If you’re not in a walking routine, start with just a few minutes and work your way up to at least a half hour of brisk walking a day. You’ll be amazed by how much better you feel! You’ll also improve your heart health, reduce your risk of many cancers, and be able to keep up with travel companions. Lace up some good shoes and get moving.
- Get in the water. Swimming is excellent cardiovascular exercise, and is less impact if you have painful joints. Water aerobics offers these same benefits, and classes with friends can be a fun and different way to spend time together. Here locally, USI pool, the YMCA and other gyms with pools offer various types of aqua classes.
Being strong keeps our bodies in better alignment, helps us manage our daily lives more easily, and even helps us lift important things like groceries, luggage and especially grandkids!
- Lifting weights doesn’t mean turning into a muscle-bound beefcake. But lifting light-to-moderate weights helps build muscle mass, strengthen bones and helps our bodies become leaner and more fit. It also raises our metabolism, helping us burn more calories.
- If you don’t like the idea of weight lifting, you can use resistance bands, or even your own body weight. The oldies-but-goodies of pushups (modified, or against the wall), leg lifts, arm raises, squats, etc. can all build stronger muscles.
Balance and Flexibility
Being steady on your feet is critical throughout life, and in senior years, can significantly help reduce the risk of life-changing falls.
- Tai chi is an ancient type of martial art (no, you won’t be kicking and punching people) that involves moving the body in slow, flowing movements that build strength and balance.
- Yoga is wonderful for all aspects of fitness. It helps you be stronger and more flexible, improves balance, and is even related to improved mental function and reduced risk of depression.
Nutrition for Seniors
I often see changes in the quality of nutrition among seniors. Because there may not be others to cook for anymore, preparing nutritious meals may not be the priority it once was. But being sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein and whole grains, helps our bodies function at peak performance.
Here are some key points:
- Vitamins and minerals come from a diet filled with variety and color. Different colors of fruits and vegetables give us different nutrition. A baked sweet potato with a bowl of lower-sodium vegetable soup is a fantastic lunch. Frozen blueberries microwaved in a bowl of oatmeal is a great breakfast. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be good!
- Fish has had the reputation of being brain food—and for good reason! The omega 3 fatty acids found in fish helps our brains function well and can improve mental well-being. But the best fish to eat is broiled or grilled, or even eating tuna right out of the can; battering and deep-frying fish cancels out all the other benefits.
- Keep the fiber coming. Getting plenty of fiber in our diet helps us stay, ahem, “regular,” and helps clean out cholesterol and fatty deposits in our arteries, keeping the blood flowing through our bodies.
- Reduce the “white stuff.” Refined white flour, sugars, white rice and other “white stuff” raises our blood sugar, creates inflammation in our bodies, and can accelerate the aging process. Less sugar and more whole grains will improve how you feel and function.
If adequate nutrition is an issue for a senior you know, who may be disabled or homebound, learn more about Meals on Wheels, which is a hot, nutritious lunch delivered on weekdays. There is also the added benefit of a friendly “check-in” at delivery. For more information, visit http://mealsonwheelsofevansville.org
Follow the Doctor’s Orders
Your doctor and his/her staff are your best partners in aging well.
- Take your medications, as prescribed, on time. If you’re having trouble affording your medications, there are programs that can help. Ask your doctor for more information. If you’re a patient of Deaconess, the Medication Assistance Program can be a wonderful resource.
- Control your diabetes or other chronic health issues. Manage your blood sugar, watch your blood pressure, do your breathing treatments, etc. Not keeping these issues under control can lead to health disasters that can dramatically change how you spend the last years of your life.
- If you’re supposed to be exercising or participating in physical therapy, do it. If your body doesn’t move, it will lose the ability to move. People have ended up bedridden or in wheelchairs because they simply stopped moving, and then found that they couldn’t move.
- Get immunized. There are several vaccines that are recommended for seniors. Talk with your doctor about shingles and pneumonia vaccines, and don’t forget to get your annual flu shot!
There are many resources available for seniors—and those who love them--who are looking for ways to live longer and better lives.
SWIRCA & More – Southwestern Indiana Regional Council on Aging. Classes, recreation, socialization, as well as senior case workers who coordinate critical services. http://www.swirca.org/
SWIRCA’s website also includes the Senior Resource Guide of Southern Indiana, co-presented by SWIRCA and USI. You can find a variety of services in an easy-to-use searchable database. http://resources.swirca.org/
National Institute of Health – Healthy Aging
CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Healthy Aging This is the CDC’s Healthy Aging Program and The Healthy Brain Initiative to promote independence and well-being.
Finally, for more information about my role as Care Coordinator at Deaconess Primary Care for Seniors, and how I and my colleagues may be able to help you and your family, please visit our page at www.deaconess.com/seniors We help seniors—and those who love them—navigate health, financial, government and legal issues related to aging.