Simply living longer isn't enough. What your clients really want is to live longer while staying healthy enough to continue doing the things they love. Although having good genes certainly helps, a growing body of research suggests that how well people age depends largely on them and what they do. Fortunately, research also finds that it's never too late to make changes that can help clients live a longer and healthier life.
Here, from the American Geriatrics Society's Foundation for Health in Aging, are top tips for living longer and better.
Eat a rainbow. People need fewer calories when you get older, so choose nutrient-rich foods such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Eat a range of colors; the more varied, the wider the range of nutrients you're likely to get. Shoot for two servings of salmon, sardines, brook trout or other fish rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids a week. Limit red meat and whole-fat dairy products. And choose whole grains over the refined stuff.
Sidestep falls. Walking as few as 30 minutes, three times a week can help clients stay physically fit and mentally sharp, strengthen bones, lift spirits—and lower the risk of falls. That's important because falls are a leading cause of fractures, other serious injuries, and death among older adults. Bicycling, dancing and jogging are also good weight-bearing exercises that can help strengthen bones. In addition to exercising, advise clients to get plenty of bone-healthy calcium and vitamin D daily.
Toast with a smaller glass. Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may lower the risks of heart disease and some other illnesses. But what's "moderate" changes with age. It means just one drink per day for older men and ½ a drink daily for older women. (A "drink" is 1 ounce of hard liquor, 6 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.) Since alcohol can interact with certain drugs, ask your health care professional whether any alcohol is safe for you.
Know the low-down on sleep in later life. Contrary to popular belief, older people don't need less sleep than younger adults. Most need at least seven or eight hours of shut-eye a night. If you're getting that much and are still sleepy during the day, see your health care professional. You may have a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing briefly, but repeatedly, while sleeping. Among other things, untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Flatten your (virtual) opponent, sharpen your mind. Conquering your adversary in a complex computer game, joining a discussion club, learning a new language, and engaging in social give-and-take with other people can all help keep the brain sharp, studies suggest.
Get a medications check. When clients visit their health care professional, advise them to bring either all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs and supplements they take, or a complete list that notes the names of each, the doses they take, and how often they take them. Ask your health care provider to review everything you brought or put on your list. He or she should make sure they're safe for to take, and that they don't interact in harmful ways. The older a person is, and the more medicines they take, the more likely they are to experience medication side effects, even from drugs bought over-the-counter.
Speak up when you feel down or anxious. Roughly one in five older adults suffers from depression or anxiety. Lingering sadness, tiredness, loss of appetite or pleasure from things you once enjoyed, difficultly sleeping, worry, irritability, and wanting to be alone much of the time can all be signs that you need help. Tell your health care professional right away. There are many good treatments for these problems.
Get your shots. They're not just for kids! Must-have vaccines for seniors include those that protect against pneumonia, tetanus/diphtheria, shingles and the flu, which kills thousands of older adults in the United States every year.
Find the right health care professional and make the most of your visits. See a health care professional regularly, answer his or her questions frankly, advise clients to ask any questions they have, and follow the doctor's advice. If they have multiple, chronic health problems, the best bet may be to see a geriatrician--a physician with advanced training to care for the most complex patients. The AGS' Foundation for Health in Aging can help you find one; visit www.healthinaging.org.