Three great lifestyle choices for seniors and family caregivers
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to all our friends and families! This is a great time to take stock of our plans for 2015. Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? There is no shortage of research on aging and caregiving—findings that can provide motivation for making lifestyle choices to improve the health and well-being of elders and the loved ones who care for them. Here are three resolutions that might be on the list of seniors and family caregivers alike.
Resolution #1: Make time for exercise.
Research continues to confirm that physical activity is the top factor for healthy aging. A startling University of California San Diego study showed that spending most of the day sitting harms the heart—even for people who exercise regularly. Resolve to be more active, even in small ways. Exercise doesn’t have to be in one solid block; fifteen minutes here and there can be just as beneficial.
For seniors: Geriatrics researchers tell us that even frail seniors can benefit from increased activity. Talk to the healthcare provider about an exercise program that is appropriate for your health condition. Look into senior fitness classes, or perhaps a set of home exercises that includes aerobic, flexibility and strengthening activities.
For family caregivers: Busy family caregivers find that exercise drops to the bottom of their to-do list—or off the list entirely. But these people who do so much for their loved ones should remember that inactivity raises the risk of heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise is a top way to overcome stress and improve overall health. If you are having trouble scheduling a workout, it might be time to ask other family members and friends to help.
Resolution #2: Spend more time with others.
We used to think of socializing as just a way to pass the time, but research over the past few years has overwhelmingly demonstrated that spending time with others protects the brain, heart, our emotional well-being, and even our immune system.
For seniors: Older adults can be at greater risk of isolation and loneliness. Leading expert Dr. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says, “Chronic loneliness belongs among other health risks, such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.” Sensory and mobility impairment, giving up the car keys and losing friends who have passed away or moved all make socializing more of a challenge—but it’s worth the effort to find opportunities to be around other people.
For caregivers: Many caregivers, too, experience loneliness. Even as they are spending a lot of time in the company of their loved one, they miss socializing with friends. Their busy schedule, fatigue, and in some cases, fair-weather friends who stop calling, can leave them feeling isolated and depressed. This year, resolve to make a lunch date with old friends and, in addition, make some new friends. Have you tried a support group? Sharing your thoughts and suggestions with others is a great stress-buster and many long-lasting friendships have begun in this context. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, can also be a good way to stay in touch with old friends and meet new ones. These sites are not as good as “real life” friends, but for many, they offer company and stimulation.
Resolution #3: Think about your alcohol use.
Do you sometimes have a bit too much champagne on New Year’s Eve and wake up on January 1 with a headache and other symptoms of a hangover? If so, you are not alone. If this was a one-time indulgence, remember to cut back on those toasts next year. But if you drink more than you should on a regular basis, consider that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has named alcohol abuse by people over 65 as one of the fastest-growing health problems in the U.S.!
For seniors: While there may be some health benefits from consuming a small or moderate amount of alcohol, drinking too much negates those benefits and worsens many health conditions. It damages the liver and can lead to malnutrition and fall injuries. And when seniors mix alcohol with prescription drugs, the combination can be deadly. If you are worried about a loved one’s drinking, encourage him or her to talk to their healthcare provider about counseling or a support group that is geared toward the needs of older adults.
For caregivers: Caring for a person with a substance abuse problem can quickly become your problem. But remember that you can’t force another person to deal with a drinking problem. Your loved one may be defensive or in denial and may try to conceal the problem. If the conversation isn’t going well, talk to a counselor or specialist. Join a support group for families of people with alcohol dependency. And take care of yourself. (Of course, if you are experiencing drinking problems of your own, now is a good time to get help.)
Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014
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