Successful Aging – 10 Proactive Steps
One of the questions I am asked most often is, “How can I age successfully and retain my independence?” Although “success” is a relative term, everyone wants to attain optimum aging regardless of income, socioeconomic status, or limitations. Is successful aging possible regardless of your circumstances? YES! While there is no magic formula for retaining optimum health, strategies begin with living healthy and taking responsibility for making wise decisions about eating, lifestyle, social activity, and physical activity.
The Spring 2018 edition of AFA Care Quarterly included “10 Steps for Healthy Aging,” a strategy for retaining a healthy mind and body:
1. Eat well – Although the article included guidance on fruits, meats, and vegetables, I recommend that all people age 65+ [unless directed otherwise by a physician] follow the eating guidelines detailed in the Tufts Food Pyramid. Eating well means maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding frailty, overweight, or obesity. Eating well includes staying hydrated with at least 8 cups [64 oz.] of water daily. Vital organs including the brain cannot work effectively when the body is dehydrated and dehydration in older adults mimics dementia. http://globalag.igc.org/health/us/2007/pyramid.pdf
2. Stay active- Walking, aerobics, and weight training are included on the AFA list. I also recommend Silver Sneakers and Sit and Be Fit, as both programs include low-impact activity for people with physical challenges and limitations.
3. Learn new things – Research shows that people who retain their curiosity throughout life and engage in new activities give their brains a good workout. Remember that language is also needed to keep the brain working!
4. Get enough sleep – Sleep deprivation mimics dementia, a condition known as psudodementia and may lead to memory problems, falls, and driving accidents. Daytime napping is the number one cause of insomnia.
5. Take your medication – No one likes taking medication but the average older adult takes five prescription medications daily. Please take your medications as prescribed and speak with your primary care physician before taking over-the-counter products.
6. Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption – Cigarette smoking causes disease consequences including lung cancer, but COPD, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions. Studies show that second-hand smoke impacts the health of others around you. Alcohol may have protective factors but studies are contradictory. Best to limit alcohol to moderate consumption.
7. Social connectedness – Social isolation not only impairs cognitive health, but language is needed to keep the brain firing. Retain your network of friends and stay in touch. Talk to people and engage in conversation.
8. Check your blood pressure – I recommend keeping a log and check it around the same time every day. If your physician has prescribed medication for HBP, take it! I have encountered too many older adults who quit taking it due to negative side effects and some of them had strokes as a result. The negative side effects typically diminish over time.
9. Get your checkups – This includes being proactive and getting annual vaccines for flu and pneumonia. Health screenings and diagnostic tests are now covered by Medicare. Examples are PSA testing, mammograms, pap tests, sugar levels, and colonoscopies. Here is a link to Medicare.gov showing types of preventive screenings and services. https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-and-screening-services.html
10. Get a memory screening – This is also covered now by Medicare. If your primary care physician does not offer it, then ask for it. These are typically administered by a social worker or case manager trained in interpreting the results. I have administered hundreds of cognitive screenings and these are private, non-invasive assessments. They are NOT “tests” for Alzheimer’s Disease. As my readers know, AD cannot be diagnosed by the family physician. The diagnosis is a result of brain imaging and other tests administered by specialists. The overwhelming majority of older adults do NOT have AD.
I recommend accessing or subscribing to the AFA Quarterly, published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Their website is www.alzfdn.org.