HMatW Newsletter


May 2012 Community Health Charities Newsletter

Your Golden Years Really Can Be Golden: Tips for Successful Senior Living

Community Health Charities and several member charities – including the American Diabetes Association, Arthritis Foundation, Mental Health America and Research to Prevent Blindness – join the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in celebrating May as Older Americans Month. The older population, which is defined as persons 65 years or older, numbered 39.6 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). This population represents 12.9 percent of the U.S. population, or about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million older persons, representing 19 percent of the population.

As large numbers of baby-boomers continue to reach retirement age, many communities have increased their efforts to provide meaningful opportunities for older adults—many of whom remain physically and socially active through their 80s and beyond. Current trends show that people over age 60 account for an ever-growing percentage of participants in community service positions, faith-based organizations and online social networking, as well as arts and recreational groups. Lifelong participation in social, creative and physical activities has proven health benefits, including retaining mobility, muscle mass and cognitive abilities.

Age is Just a Number!

Research shows that how you perceive aging can actually affect how long you will live. In a study of 660 people, those with more positive perceptions of their own aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer. This effect also remained after other factors such as age, gender, income, loneliness and health status were controlled.

Another research study published in Psychology and Aging shows that while genetics and overall physical health play a part in how people age, positive thinking can also play an important role. The study also showed how a positive attitude compares to other health factors that are considered longevity boosters. Based on mortality (and not quality of life), each of these factors is believed to add:

Low blood pressure: 4 years
Low cholesterol readings: 4 years
Healthy weight: 1-3 years
Not smoking: 14 years
Regular exercise: 1-3 years

Regular Exercise Helps Delay Dementia and Fight Chronic Disease

Many experts now believe you can prevent or at least delay dementia — even if you have a genetic predisposition. Reducing Alzheimer's risk factors like obesity, diabetes, smoking and low physical activity by just 25 percent could prevent up to half a million cases of the disease in the United States, according to a recent analysis from the University of California in San Francisco.

“If you do only one thing to keep your brain young, exercise," says Art Kramer, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Illinois. Higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared with low activity levels, and physically-active people tend to maintain better cognition and memory than inactive people. "They also have substantially lower rates of different forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease," Kramer says. Working out helps your hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in memory formation. As you age, your hippocampus shrinks, leading to memory loss. Research suggests that exercise can actually reverse this process.

In addition to keeping your “brain young,” several U.S. and international studies find that exercise can help chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension. A 2008 study by the University of North Carolina found that sedentary individuals with arthritis who exercised just twice a week for one hour experienced significant declines in pain and fatigue and improved their ability to manage their arthritis. Doreen M. Stiskal, PhD, Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at Seton Hall University, agrees. “Most people with arthritis don’t exercise because they’re in pain – not realizing that exercise is a powerful and effective pain reliever. It eases inflammation, improves energy and promotes the flow of feel-good pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins.”

As with all exercise programs, check with  your doctor, set modest goals to start, know what to wear, get set and go! You can test your knowledge about the benefits of exercise here: Health Benefits and Benefits for Everyday Life.

The Senior Body: What’s Happening and What You Can Do about It

As you get older, there is a natural progression of changes in your body. The Mayo Clinic provides numerous tips to address those changes to have a successful senior lifestyle.  

Your cardiovascular system – What’s happening. Over time, your heart muscle becomes less efficient, working harder to pump the same amount of blood through your body. In addition, your blood vessels lose some of their elasticity and hardened fatty deposits may form on the inner walls of your arteries (atherosclerosis). These changes make your arteries stiffer, causing your heart to work even harder to pump blood through them. This can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension) and other cardiovascular problems. What you can do about it. To promote heart health, include physical activity in your daily routine. Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit.

Your bones, joints and muscles – What’s happenin. With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, which weakens them and makes them more susceptible to fracture. You might even become a bit shorter. Muscles generally lose strength and flexibility, and you may become less coordinated or have trouble balancing. What you can do about it. Include plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Build bone density with weight-bearing activities, such as walking.

Your digestive system – What’s happening. Constipation is more common in older adults. Many factors can contribute to constipation, including a low-fiber diet, not drinking enough fluids and lack of exercise. Various medications, including diuretics and iron supplements, may contribute to constipation. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, may increase the risk of constipation as well.

Your teeth – What’s happening. Your mouth may begin to feel drier and your gums may pull back (recede) from your teeth. With less saliva to wash away bacteria, your teeth and gums become slightly more vulnerable to decay and infection. Your teeth also may darken slightly and become more brittle and easier to break. What you can do about it. Brush your teeth twice a day and clean between your teeth, using regular dental floss or an interdental cleaner, once a day.

Your eyes and ears - What's happening. With age, the eyes are less able to produce tears, the retinas thin and the lenses gradually become less clear. Focusing on objects that are up close may become more difficult. You may become more sensitive to glare and have trouble adapting to different levels of light. Your hearing may dim somewhat as well. You may have difficulty hearing high frequencies or following a conversation in a crowded room. What you can do about it. Schedule regular vision and hearing exams — then follow your doctor's advice about glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other corrective devices. To prevent further damage, wear sunglasses when you're outdoors and use earplugs when you're around loud machinery or other loud noises.

Night Driving and Vision Problems 

Many seniors start to experience problems driving at night. Being nearsightedfarsighted or astigmatic (having an irregular curve in the cornea that causes blurriness) are the main reasons for seeing glare or halos at night, especially around headlights and traffic signals. Anyone with these symptoms should get their prescription checked. If new glasses don't help, make sure the lens is aligned with the visual center of the eye to reduce distortion. A posterior subcapsular cataract can cause a loss in night vision or bothersome nighttime glare. It's more common in diabetics, people who've been on steroids and those who have experienced eye trauma. If you can't see well at night, be sure to ask your doctor to rule out this type of cataract.

An abrupt decline in vision could be associated with several conditions, including macular degeneration (a disorder in which central vision is damaged), a vitreous hemorrhage (sometimes from an aneurysm in the eye, often associated with diabetes) or a retinal detachment. For additional information on age-related vision problems, please visit Research to Prevent Blindness at A basic screening test for macular degeneration is also available here: Test for Macular Degeneration.

Preventing Falls

More than one-third of people age 65 and older fall each year, and those who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These falls can result in serious injuries and even death. In fact, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for senior citizens. Yet many falls can be prevented through a number of steps including regular eye care.  Most falls can be prevented and you have the power to reduce your risk.

Exercising, managing your medications, having your vision checked and making your living environment safer are all steps that you can take to prevent a fall. Many people think, "It won't happen to me." But the truth is that 1 in 3 older adults – about 12 million people – fall in the United States every year.. More than half of all falls take place at home, so be sure to inspect your home for fall risks. Fix simple but serious hazards such as clutter, throw rugs and poor lighting. Make simple home modifications, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom, a second handrail on stairs and non-slip paint on outdoor steps. Medications affect people in many different ways and can sometimes make you dizzy or sleepy, so be careful when starting a new medication and talk to your health care provider about potential side effects or interactions of your medications.

Healthy Eating

For seniors, the benefits of healthy eating include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times and better management of chronic health problems. As we age, eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.

Fortunately, healthy eating at any age doesn’t have to be about dieting and sacrifice. Eating well as a senior is a lifestyle that embraces fresh, colorful food, creativity in the kitchen and eating with friends. You are the boss when it comes to food choices, and by making healthy choices you can supercharge your life and experience the joy of eating well and aging well.

Older adults can feel better immediately and stay healthy for the future by choosing healthy foods. A balanced diet and physical activity contribute to a higher quality of life and enhanced independence as you age.

Some suggestions:

  • Focus on whole fruits rather than juices for more fiber and vitamins, and aim for around 1 ½ to 2 servings each day.
  • Aging bone health depends on adequate calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Seniors need 1,200 mg of calcium a day through servings of milk, yogurt or cheese. Non-dairy sources include tofu, broccoli, almonds and kale. We get most of our vitamin D intake – which is essential to absorbing calcium – through sun exposure and certain foods (fatty fish, egg yolk and fortified milk). With age, our skin is less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D, so consult your doctor about supplementing with fortified foods or a multivitamin.
  • Seniors need about .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Simply divide your body weight in half to know how many grams you need. A 130-pound woman will need around 65 grams of protein a day. A serving of tuna, for example, has about 40 grams of protein. Vary your sources with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese and seeds.
  • Seniors are prone to dehydration because their bodies lose some of the ability to regulate fluid levels and our sense of thirst is dulled as we age. Post a note in your kitchen reminding you to sip water every hour and with meals to avoid urinary tract infections, constipation and possibly confusion.

Let’s face it. There’s a reason why so many seniors have trouble eating nutritiously every day. It’s not always easy! The following tips will help you “speak the language” of good nutrition and help you feel in control.

  • Eating with company can be as important as vitamins. Think about it: a social atmosphere stimulates your mind and helps you enjoy meals.
  • Check with your doctor to see if your loss of appetite could be due to medication you're taking, and whether the dosage can be adjusted or changed.
  • If you have difficulty chewing, make chewing easier by drinking smoothies made with fresh fruit, yogurt and protein powder. Eat steamed veggies and soft food such as couscous, rice and yogurt. Consult your dentist to be sure there are no problems with your teeth.
  • If you have dry mouth, drink 8 -10 glasses of water each day. Take a drink of water after each bite of food, add sauces and salsas to foods to help moisten them, avoid commercial mouthwash and ask your doctor about artificial saliva products.

Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals to people who are homebound and/or disabled, or would otherwise be unable to maintain their dietary needs. The daily delivery generally consists of two meals: a nutritionally-balanced hot meal to eat at lunch time and a dinner, consisting of a cold sandwich and milk along with varying side dishes. Generally, Meals on Wheels is available to people who are not able to provide for themselves for whatever reason. Click here for a listing of Meals on Wheels locations.

Manage Your Diabetes Risk

As people get older, their risk for type 2 diabetes increases. In fact, in the United States, about one in four people over the age of 60 has diabetes. If you already have diabetes, you may find that you need to adjust how you manage your condition as the years go by. The American Diabetes Association offers a guide that provides information for adults 55 years and older to help manage diabetes over the long term, so you can avoid or delay complications and live a long, happy and active life. Review the guide here. If you don’t know if you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, take the American Diabetes Association’s Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test.

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you can enroll in a free  educational program entitled “Living With  Diabetes.” Over the next 12 months, the American Diabetes Association will provide you with five informational packets to help you manage and live with diabetes, three free copies of Diabetes Forecast magazine and other resources, including:

·       Information on what to eat

·       Delicious and healthy recipes

·       A monthly e-newsletter with new recipes

·       Tools to help manage your diabetes

·       Access to online community and local events

Depression Can Be Treated at Any Age

More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, many think depression is a normal part of the aging process, but it is not. As with depression at any age, it is important to accurately diagnose and treat depression.

Symptoms of clinical depression can be triggered by other chronic illnesses common in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Fortunately, clinical depression is a very treatable illness at any age.  More than 80 percent of all people with depression can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. Yet according to a Mental Health America survey on attitudes and beliefs about clinical depression:

  • Approximately 68 percent of adults age 65 and over know little or almost nothing about depression.
  • Only 38 percent of adults aged 65 and over believe that depression is a “health” problem.
  • If suffering from depression, older adults are more likely than any other group to “handle it themselves.” Only 42 percent would seek help from a health professional.

About 58 percent of people age 65 and older believe that it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older. There are no medications recommended specifically for the elderly to treat depression – this choice will be based on other medications the patient is taking, patient preference, other medical illnesses and past medication trials, if any. Possible side effects can be used to one's advantage.

The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis.  Coping with death is vital to your mental health, and it’s only natural to experience grief when a loved one dies. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve. There are many ways to cope effectively with your pain:

  • Seek out caring people. Find relatives and friends who can understand your feelings of loss. Join support groups with others who are experiencing similar losses.
  • Express your feelings. Tell others how you are feeling. It will help you to work through the grieving process.
  • Take care of your health. Maintain regular contact with your family physician and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
  • Accept that life is for the living. It takes effort to begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.
  • Postpone major life changes. Try to hold off on making any major changes, such as moving or remarrying. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss.
  • Be patient. It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life.
  • Seek outside help when necessary. If your grief seems like it is too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help.

There are many changes as one grows older, but by taking charge of your life, implementing the tips listed above and keeping a positive attitude, you can have a successful senior lifestyle..

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