Healthy Aging – Not Daunting Anymore!

April 30, 2014

People in the US are living longer than ever before and are living active and healthy lives. Our mind, like our body benefits from our physical health with low blood pressure, low cholesterol levels, nourishing food, healthy weight and physical activity. As we grow older, we experience a number of life changes including career declination and retirement, children leaving home, the loss of the loved ones and other physical changes.

But the key part is how do we handle these changes and stay healthy? Well, by eating a balanced diet with good nutrition, keeping our mind and body active, avoiding smoking, getting regular medical checkups and seeking medical treatment when necessary, staying connected with friends and family, being socially active and practicing safety habits to avoid accidents and prevent falls.

Healthy Aging Senior Care ResourcesHealthy aging also focuses on continuously reinventing yourself even after you are 70 or 80 years old. During old age we go through several mental and physical changes, and our cognitive capabilities such as our vocabulary, diction, reasoning, memory and perceptual speed also decline. Changes that our friends and loved ones might see during this time are:

Mental changes

In old age people may not be able to see and hear as well as they did when they were in their 20s, they tend to forget recent events or details, their brain loses its weight, the network of its nerves and the blood flow also begins to decrease. But slowly the brain starts getting used to these changes and grows new patterns of nerve endings. There are certain changes in our mental abilities as we age but much remains intact and so does our mental flexibility. Activities that stimulate our minds, like crossword puzzles, reading, writing and learning new things help to keep our brains healthy. These activities also help us grow intellectually and emotionally.

Physical changes

Being physically active has numerous benefits. It helps prevent the bone density loss, maintains balance and wards away illnesses like heart disease, stroke and certain kind of cancers.  For some people illness and disability can also lead to mental illness. For example those who live with diabetes, heart disease or cancer can also suffer from depression. As such those who are physically active can maintain and improve memory and mental ability, can prevent dementia, improve their energy levels and make them happy and thereby prevent and alleviate depression. Any sort of physical activity like walking, running, swimming or dancing helps to decrease the blood pressure, blood cholesterol and strengthen the heart and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain.

Keeping the blood pressure and cholesterol level down

Blood pressure below 120/80 mmHg is considered healthy and helps reduce the risk of stroke that can lead to dementia or the Alzheimer’s disease. High blood pressure damages blood vessels that increase one’s risk of stroke, kidney failure, heart disease or heart attack. Nearly two-third of adults over age 65 have high blood pressure. In order to maintain a healthy level of blood pressure, the elderly have to keep their weight down, not smoke and try to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, along with limiting salt, caffeine and alcohol.

Similarly high cholesterol level poses a dangerous risk for heart disease and dementia in the elderly.  An excess of cholesterol in the blood can build up on the walls of the arteries.  This causes them to harden or narrow that can lead to blocking of the blood flow. The cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL is considered healthy. Heredity, age and gender can affect the cholesterol levels. It rises with age and women’s levels tend to rise after they have reached the stage of menopause. The cholesterol levels can improve by following a healthy and increasing physical activities.

Eating healthy – Vegetables can help us stay strong and healthy and also provide the nutrition necessary for a healthy brain. It starts with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat dairy products.  Following are the dietary recommendations for a healthy brain during old age:

  • Folate is a vitamin B found in spinach and asparagus. It is necessary for the health of our cells and helps to prevent anemia and changes to DNA that could lead to cancer. Some of the good sources of folate and folic acid are breakfast cereals, dark-green leafy vegetables, asparagus, strawberries, beans and beef liver.
  • The vitamins E and C can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.  Also these vitamins help in boosting the mental ability and prevent dementia. The dietary recommendation of Vitamin E in adults is 15 mg on a daily basis from foods like almonds, vegetable oils, seed, spinach and other dark-green leafy vegetables. On the other hand, vitamin C is found in fruits like oranges, grapefruits, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bell peppers, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, and spinach and turnip greens.

Monitor your medication use

The elderly should make sure to read the medication labels and follow on their physician’s instructions. Conditions like memory loss; some forms of dementia and other problems of the brain can be due to the harmful drug combinations.

Drinking in moderation

Elderly should stay away from drinking if they are not used to it. But if they are and do not have a drinking problem then they should limit themselves to one or two drinks everyday.

Giving up smoking

Smoking significantly increases the chances of having a stroke and developing lung and other cancers like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart attacks and peripheral vascular disease.  In case you are a smoker, you should quit even before any serious medical condition arises.

Maintaining a healthy weight

People who are obese or overweight are at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis-related disabilities and some kinds of cancers. Even being underweight also has some risk of poor memory and decreased immunity. Irrespective of their weight, the elderly should have a healthy diet and regular exercise for improvement of overall health.

Oral health

The recent studies have linked chronic inflammation caused by gum disease to a number of health problems including Alzheimer’s disease and the heart disease. Therefore oral and dental health concerns in the elderly should be the primary concern of the doctors.

Keeping mentally fit

Just as we exercise to keep our bodies working, we should also exercise our brains for mental agility. By engaging in mentally stimulating activities, we can maintain our brain functions as we age.  Some ways to keep ourselves mentally fit are by either solving a puzzle, learning a new musical instrument, reading a challenging book, playing a board or card game, attending a lecture or play, or writing a short story et al.

Reducing stress

Stress can wear our bodies down and increase the risk of blood pressure and heart disease, our thinking, our moods and also our ability to remember.  The hormones that our body releases during stressful times can shrink our brain affecting memory and learning.  Stress can lead to depression and anxiety.

Protecting your brain

The history of an elderly’s head injury or loss of consciousness can affect the health of his or her brain.  Falls happen to be one of the leading causes of their brain injury.  To avoid falls, one should exercise regularly to improve balance, clear their home of hazards like clutter on floor, make sure of having proper lighting, wearing the seatbelt in their car, letting someone else drive the car in the night or on a bad weather day, wearing a helmet when they are riding a bike, wearing proper shoes with good support, staying in the well-lit areas.

Staying socially and spiritually connected

Studies have shown that the elderly who are engaged with family and community groups take longer to show the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease than those who are socially isolated.  So it is important for the elderly to stay connected and interact with the world around them and find comfort or support from their beliefs and their community.  This connection can relieve dementia and may also guard them against depression.

The importance of the healthy aging behaviors is not a luxury anymore but has become the need of the day.  Therefore, the healthcare professionals are preparing themselves to achieve the daunting goal for the wave of older baby boomers. Although they do not seem to have a single protocol to achieve this goal but to a certain extent, the way in which we age depends on our behaviors and the habits that we have held for years, we can still control our health with diet and exercise.

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