Five Tips to Stay Healthy as You Age
Times have changed. Aging is different now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Today, there are more people living longer and healthier than at any other time in history.
“Aging is NOT an inevitable decline and deterioration,” says Lewis Lipsitz, MD, Chief of the Division of Gerontology at BIDMC. “In fact, with appropriate geriatric care, attentive to the medical, psychological, social, and personal challenges that everyone faces as they grow older, most people can enjoy an advanced age with good health and independent function.”
1. Kick the bad habits and stick with the good ones
This may seem like common sense, but the healthier choices we make, the healthier we’re likely to be.
Quit smoking. Did you know that ingredients found in nail polish remover, hair dye, rat poison and lighter fluid are found in cigarettes? And that’s just a short list — there’s more! If you smoke — quit. Your physician can point you toward online or community resources that can help.
Pile on the salads and fruit. As you get older, digestion and metabolism slow down. Make sure to get enough fiber — found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains — in your diet. If you need help with grocery shopping or cooking nutritious meals, talk to a family member or your doctor. Many communities also have programs that provide healthy meals to seniors.
Drink lots of water. You’ve heard this before — staying hydrated is very important. Dehydration can cause headaches and dizziness, among other things. Try setting a timer to remind yourself to grab a glass of water.
Get plenty of Zzzs. As tempting as it is to watch TV right up until bedtime, it might disrupt your sleep. Many older adults do not get enough sleep. Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) and excessive daytime sleepiness are common problems. Enlarged prostate, which affects as many as 90 percent of men in their 70s and 80s, can cause frequent nighttime urination that disrupts sleep.
Anthony Zizza, MD, a physician in the Senior Health Clinic, offers these helpful tips for a good night’s rest:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet, and it’s not too warm.
- Go to bed when you feel tired and get up at the same time each day.
- Turn off the TV at least one hour before going to bed.
- Wind down before bed by taking a bath or listening to soft music.
2. Stay connected
A lot of things change with age. Your social circle may get smaller, you may not be able to drive anymore, health issues can arise or you may be concerned about your financial security. All of these things can cause stress, which has an enormous impact on your quality of life. If you can, visit your local senior center. Spend time with at least one person — a family member, friend or neighbor — every day. Pick up a hobby from childhood that you gave up. Volunteer in your community.
“Try to maintain a busy social life if your health and circumstances allow,” advises Senior Health social worker Leo Newhouse, LICSW. “Talk with your health care provider and family and make a plan to stay active. As you get older, it will help you continue to feel independent, fulfilled and gratified.”
3. Get moving
“Staying active can boost energy levels, help maintain strength and flexibility, improve mental function, reduce your risk for health problems, and even help relieve chronic pain,” says Suzanne Salamon, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of Gerontology at BIDMC and a physician in the Senior Health Clinic. “But, be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.”
Find an activity you enjoy and begin slowly. Try to incorporate activities that increase your breathing and heart rate, as well as lifting small weights, stretching, and balance exercises into your fitness program. Good choices include walking, swimming, biking, gardening, tai chi, chair yoga and exercise classes designed for seniors.
4. Stay safe
Safety is a serious issue for many older people — especially those who are living alone and experiencing varying degrees of physical and/or mental decline. In addition to falls and choking hazards, concerns include:
Driving. Giving up driving means giving up part of your independence. You may be unwilling to stop driving, even though continuing to drive can pose a safety risk for yourself and for others. BIDMC offers a driving assessment called DriveWise, for people who have experienced neurological, psychological and/or physical impairments.
Fire/smoke safety. That forgotten pot on the stove. The candle that burned all night. Memory lapses, which are more common in older adults, increase the risk for household fires. It’s important to have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. If you need help inspecting your detectors, call your local fire department.
Extremely hot or cold weather. Older adults are at increased risk for health problems caused by hot or cold temperatures, especially when the cooling or heating systems in their homes aren’t functioning properly.
With rising energy costs, it can be hard to keep up with home energy bills. Many states, counties and cities provide programs that assist older adults with winter heating costs. Boston’s Area Agencies on Aging is a good source of information about locally available community programs (many cities and towns have similar programs).
Crime. Older adults are at increased risk for certain types of crime, including burglary and fraud — identity theft, fake check and wire transfer scams, investment and credit card fraud and fake online charity solicitations. If you ever receive a phone call or e-mail from organizations claiming to be the IRS, the government or a bank asking for your personal information, including bank or credit card information, end communication immediately.
Unfortunately, many also are at risk for another type of crime that takes place in their home, in the home of a family member, or in a living facility or nursing home and is committed by people responsible for their care: elder abuse. This type of crime can be physical, emotional and psychological, or sexual. It may involve neglect, abandonment or financial exploitation. Never accept this kind of treatment from anyone. If you are experiencing elder abuse, please call your local police department.
5. See your health care provider regularly
Knee problems, high blood pressure, diabetes … some studies show that the average 75-year-old has three chronic medical problems, ranging from minor to serious. If you have concerns or questions about your health, talk to your health care provider. You may find it helpful to have a trusted family member or friend accompany you to your medical appointments.
One of the ways to stay healthy as you age is to seek the care of a geriatric physician, also called a geriatrician. Geriatric physicians are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and disability in older adults. They are specially trained in the aging process and provide comprehensive health care. BIDMC’s Senior Health Clinic offers a full team of 11 geriatricians, a social worker and two nurse practitioners who understand the physical, mental and emotional challenges of aging, and work together with patients, family and caregivers to ensure a higher quality of life.
Please contact your primary care physician or geriatric care provider if you are experiencing any of the physical or emotional issues described above. They are here to help.