Seniors experience many changes as they age, and they may need to alter their lifestyles to remain healthy: dietary changes, dental check-ups, medications, physicals — the list goes on. Not to mention, a caregiver’s health may suffer in the midst of putting a senior’s health first. It’s beneficial to be aware of a senior’s health requirements, especially those with chronic illnesses or other serious health issues who need assisted living.
People who had good, healthy habits when they were younger tend to become healthy seniors, but it’s never too late to start leading a healthy lifestyle. Good health habits make a difference even to seniors who are prone to illness or have not made their health a priority in the past.
There are many health secrets for seniors to apply to their lives. Consider helping your aging loved one incorporate these 10 geriatric care tips to help improve their overall health and wellness.
1. Eat healthily
Maintaining a healthy diet as you age is essential for living well. The digestive system slows down with age, so it becomes necessary to incorporate important vitamins and high-fiber foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — into your loved one’s diet. Not only does adding fiber help seniors with maintaining a healthy diet, but it also can lower the risk of major health problems like stroke and heart disease.
Another health secret for seniors is to stay hydrated. Because they tend to generally feel less thirsty as they age, seniors are prone to dehydration. Make sure your loved one drinks plenty of water to stay energized and to avoid constipation and urinary tract infections.
Lack of appetite is a common cause of poor senior nutrition. It’s important to first address the causes of appetite decline in older people, according to research from the National Institute of Health Research. There can be many causes, but researchers concluded that simply improving the “mealtime ambiance” and “enhancing the flavor of food” can work wonders for a senior’s appetite.
Along with trying these tips to stimulate appetite in the elderly, you can really help support healthy eating habits by:
Encouraging shared mealtimes with friends and family
Offering visually appealing food
Suggesting a regular schedule for meals, snacks, and drinks
2. Focus on prevention
Many preventive care visits — including health screenings for cholesterol levels, colon cancer, heart problems, and more — can prevent seniors from missing a serious diagnosis. Current guidelines suggest that women over the age of 45 should schedule mammography screening for breast cancer annually, and men over age 50 should consider regularly testing for prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Seniors can also receive regular vaccinations to help prevent influenza and pneumonia.
3. Stay informed on medication management
If your loved one takes any medication, it’s important to review each prescription with their physician on a regular basis. Consider possible drug interactions and take note of any new symptoms or side effects — such as allergic reactions, drowsiness, or loss of appetite — your elderly loved one shows after changing or starting medications.
4. Get some sleep
Frequent waking and insomnia are common among seniors. But, it’s important to maintain a regular sleep schedule to maintain health. “Sleep hygiene” refers to a set of healthy sleep habits that can improve one’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Simply waking up and going to bed at the same time can help seniors’ internal clock sync to their daily schedule. Avoid taking naps during the day, and stay away from alcohol or caffeine in the evening. It may also help to turn the lights down in the evening to spur drowsiness. And, always make sure your loved one’s bedroom is comfortable, cool, and quiet.
5. Remember cognitive health
Staying mentally active and learning new skills may even lead to improved thinking ability, according to the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health. Seniors should keep their minds sharp through various brain games and other engaging activities: Completing crossword puzzles, reading, writing, and trying new hobbies can stimulate seniors’ minds and help them engage with their surrounding environment to ward off cognitive decline.
6. Screen for vision changes
Most people notice a change in their vision by age 50. Seniors who wear glasses should have their prescription checked every year for changes, and they should have their eyes screened for issues such as glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Having the right pair of glasses can also reduce a senior’s chance of falling.
According to the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, isolation and lack of socialization among seniors leads to low self-esteem, difficulty coping, and higher levels of stress hormones that could cause additional issues. Inflammation is common in stress-related diseases and can be triggered by the release of stress hormones. Research in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience concludes that persistent inflammation over time can lead to serious health outcomes, including:
Neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
There are many opportunities for seniors to stay connected and social, from attending the local senior center to volunteering in the surrounding community. Time spent with family and grandchildren can always help seniors combat loneliness, especially if they have mobility issues that keep them from getting around. Such visits leave seniors feeling more positive, and that’s the best medicine of all.
8. Stay physically active
Exercise is important in all stages of life, but especially for seniors. Staying physically active may help seniors maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic health problems, according to the National Institute of Health. Regular exercise can also make it easier for seniors to complete activities of daily living, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Along with alleviating depression, physical activity can improve seniors’ energy levels, memory, and sleep. But what are the best exercises for seniors? Healthy seniors should focus on incorporating a combination of aerobic, balance, strength training, and other low-impact exercises. Be sure to talk with a health care professional to find out what type of exercise program best suits a senior’s needs.
9. Take advantage of free physicals
Seniors newly enrolled in Medicare can access a free Initial Preventive Physical Examination. After having Medicare Part B for a year, seniors also receive a free annual “Wellness” visit every 12 months.
10. Visit the dentist every 6 months
The risk for cavities goes up with age. Furthermore, oral health is directly related to overall health: Many mouth infections can be linked to serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The American Dental Association outlines the various concerns seniors over 60 should have regarding their oral health. Lastly, in addition to brushing and flossing daily, seniors should regularly see their local dentist to maintain healthy teeth and gums.