How to Stay Physically, Emotionally, Cognitively, and Socially Healthy After 65
March 16, 2020
Healthy aging is a familiar phrase in communities of elder adults and caregivers, conjuring up an image of growing old with minimum discomfort and the most enjoyment possible. A specialist in geriatric care, however, might offer a more nuanced picture given the medical realities of health after 65.
Below, find guidance on each area of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social health for older adults — as well as their nursing providers, caregivers, and families — from professionals who work directly with geriatric populations.
How to Promote Physical Health in Older Adults
The human body changes significantly with age and over time. Older adults may begin to notice their skin thinning as they lose muscle tone, creating a drooping appearance, according to the Mount Sinai Health Library. Fat tissue often starts to build up, particularly around the internal organs at the center of the body. Hair grays, due to the follicles making less melanin, and nails become more brittle and yellow.
Beyond these natural aging processes, older adults likely have a variety of physical health concerns to address. As adult and geriatric nurse practitioner Teresa Cating, DNP, MSN, RN, AG-N, NP-C, put the matter in Home Healthcare Now, “As practitioners, we are faced with a list of diagnoses such as chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, hypertension, anemia, cancer, Parkinson disease, and chronic urinary tract infections… and that may be all from the same patient!” Chronic pain and a history of falling may also factor into older adults’ health and well-being.
While natural aging processes cannot be stopped, older adults can take proactive measures to support their physical health and improve their chances of recovering from falls and illnesses.
3 Tips for Seniors to Stay Physically Healthy
1. DO STRENGTH EXERCISES FOR OLDER ADULTS
Oscar Martinez, certified personal trainer and fitness advisor at the Elvira Cisneros Senior Center, part of the WellMed Charitable Foundation, counsels clients to target three areas: the back, rotator cuffs, and legs. The following strength exercises for older adults can help; consult with a fitness instructor for guidance on repetitions and weight based on your fitness level and goals.
“We don’t lose our concern about mental disorders once people get older,” said Peggy Plunkett, MSN, APRN, MPHCNS-BC, a clinical nurse specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in a presentation to registered nurses.
Furthermore, the chance of depression increases as individuals develop more chronic illnesses, said Plunkett.
Sometimes symptoms can overlap or be mistaken for each other, further complicating treatment.
“Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean they also can’t be depressed as well,” said Veronica Rivera, geriatric specialist at the Martha Stewart Center for Living and assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Seeing a provider is important for teasing apart these symptoms and addressing concerns. Practicing habits of people who age well can also support older adults’ emotional well-being.
• Volunteer with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to support local elections. • Reach out to nearby colleges and universities to “adopt” a student. • Sign up for an art class at a local gallery.
Activities like these can build an individual’s “cognitive reserve.” Having a cognitive reserve can support an individual’s mental functioning by compensating for brain changes related to aging or disease.
However, said Rivera, “There’s no real evidence on which exercises would help for cognitive health.” She advises older adults that any activity they find stimulating and enjoyable can benefit their cognitive health.
3 Tips for Seniors to Stay Cognitively Healthy
1. TRY SUDOKU — OR ANY OTHER STIMULATING ACTIVITY
Keep playing Sudoku if you enjoy it, said Rivera. But know that puzzles and “brain games” are not the only way to keep the mind engaged. Read the newspaper and magazines, write emails, engage with communities on Facebook, or fill a notebook with old memories.
2. LEARN A NEW SKILL OR ACTIVITY
Take on something new that aligns with your interests. Local colleges and universities may allow community members to audit courses. Some gyms offer specialized classes for senior citizens at discounted rates. Many communities have senior centers that host lectures, hold classes, and plan activities.
3. INVEST IN STRESS REDUCTION, IF POSSIBLE
Talking with a mental health counselor can support your overall cognitive health — even if you do not have a specific psychiatric diagnosis. Ask your primary care provider for a referral and consider scheduling a wellness visit to help with stress management.
Optimizing Social Health in Old Age
Older adults may struggle to find opportunities to engage socially for various reasons. Their ability to drive may be diminished, so they can no longer transport themselves to gatherings they once enjoyed. They may have lost a spouse or partner who managed their social calendar. Or, an older adult may simply be out of the habit of making new friends.
Adriana Torres, supervisor at the Elvira Cisneros Senior Community Center in San Antonio, Texas, has observed many older adults in her community dealing with loneliness when they first come to the center.
“They say, ‘Well, my spouse just passed away, and I’m just at home, and the kids are gone. All my friends have died,’ and they’re just really depressed,” she said.
Isolation, lack of social support, and loneliness can make managing mental and physical conditions even more challenging for individuals. Actively engaging in the community in spite of these barriers can improve older adults’ well-being and satisfaction with life.
3 Tips for Seniors to Stay Socially Healthy
1. FIND A SOCIAL ORGANIZATION SPECIFICALLY FOR OLDER ADULTS
Many towns and cities invest in senior centers that offer social activities and companionship for older adults. Reminding yourself that many people in these communities are also seeking friends can help ease anxiety about starting conversations.
Exercising in groups led by an instructor is an opportunity to both engage with others and improve your physical health. Look into SilverSneakers, a fitness program included in many Medicare plans that connects older adults with gyms and fitness centers in their communities.
Please note that this article is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care provider before following any of the information provided.