There are many factors influencing the process of aging. Some, like genetics, are out of our control. But, there are plenty of healthy practices that can prevent disease and allow us to age well. As a primary care "House Call" physician who treats people in their homes, I have witnessed firsthand how senior patients can make simple and significant changes that help them live healthier and more fulfilling lives.—Laura Sander, MD, MPH, is a Northeast Regional Medical Director of Heal.
Establish Healthy Connections
Simply put: We need human connection to survive. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this need. According to the CDC, "Social isolation significantly increases a person's risk of premature death from all causes and poor social relationships is associated with about a 30% increase of heart disease and strokes." Staying connected with friends, family and community is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health.
If you're feeling isolated or lonely, try joining a local community center, club or house of worship, do volunteer work that gets you out of your home, and make it a habit to regularly pick up the phone or schedule a Zoom call with family and friends. It's also important to have health practitioners that you trust and can speak to openly about your health concerns or any issues affecting your well-being.
Be Proactive and Take Initiative
Prevention is the best medicine. You can take control of your health by staying up to date with your annual exams, required vaccinations, blood work, and screenings. Safety proofing your home is another good way to prevent health risks. Falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors and the vast majority of them happen in the home. Being a physician I work with my patients to eliminate safety hazards that can easily cause falls. Those include removing furniture and clutter that you can trip over and rugs that can slip, ensuring that the home is well-lit and installing stability bars in showers and near toilets.
Make Your Daily Habits Healthy Ones
You need fewer calories as you age but those you consume, count more. Make sure your diet includes fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts. If you have trouble getting to a supermarket, look into home delivery services or ask a neighbor or family member for a ride. You can also connect to local community resources, such as Meals on Wheels. In addition to eating well, daily physical activity without overexerting yourself is good for your mood and your health. Even a short walk a day can help you stay fit, strengthen your bones, and lift your spirits. It's also important to keep your mind active. Playing word games and doing puzzles, reading or listening to books, joining a discussion group and socializing are all good ways to help keep your mind sharp.
Do NOT Forget Your Medications
While almost all seniors take at least one prescription medication each day and over one-third take five or more, 50% of patients do not take their medication as prescribed. There are a number of reasons why including not receiving clear instructions about their use, not being able to read small print on drug labels or distinguish between different medications due to vision problems, not remembering to regularly take them, or not liking the side effects some medications cause. Not taking your medications or not taking them properly can lead to serious health problems which is why it's important to make sure you get all the information you need when the medication is prescribed either from your doctor or pharmacist.
As a doctor providing in-home care, one advantage for my patients is that I can help them manage their medications. I let my patients know that you can also ask that the bottle have a large print label which is easier to read. Pill boxes can keep your medications organized and written reminders or alarms can help you remember when to take them. If you're experiencing unpleasant side effects, talk to your doctor; there may be alternative drug they can prescribe. An advantage for both me and my patients is because I visit them in their homes, I can review all their medications to see where they are kept and observe how and when they are taken.
Do NOT Be Stubborn, Ask for Help
Asking for help can be difficult, but it is essential to request and accept assistance when you need it. Failing to communicate your needs and the challenges you face can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health. I encourage my patients to reach out to family members and friends for help, as well as utilize personal care services that can assist with cooking and cleaning, as well as other needs.