How to Age Well (Part Five – Live Well)

By Tara Parker-Pope

Live Well

Getting older is inevitable (and certainly better than the alternative). While you can’t control your age, you can slow the decline of aging with smart choices along the way. From the foods you eat and how you exercise to your friendships and retirement goals — it all has an effect on how fast or slow your body ages. Keep reading for simple ways to keep your body tuned up and your mind tuned in. And the good news is that it’s never too late to get started.

STAY OUT OF THE SUN

Most sun damage occurs in our youth, but it makes sense to cover up and avoid excessive sun exposure at any age. Other research shows that for light-skinned people, slathering on sunscreen really does prevent or at least delay wrinkles.

TAKE YOUR MEDS

An extraordinary number of people don’t take their prescribed medications. Studies show that 20 percent to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled and that approximately 50 percent of medications prescribed for chronic diseases are not taken as prescribed. Many people who fill their prescriptions only take half the prescribed dose. This lack of adherence is linked to an estimated 125,000 deaths and at least 10 percent of hospitalizations.

Some research has tried to figure out who is most likely to take their meds and who is not. People who have been in a job or home for only a short period of time are at higher risk of not taking their medications correctly. Social support is also a factor. People who live alone or are unmarried are more likely to skip medications or not fill prescriptions. College students and people over 80 are also less likely to follow doctor’s orders.

But here’s the bottom line: If you’ve gone to the trouble to visit a doctor to check on your health, why not follow through? If you’re having trouble paying for it, talk to your doctor. Often they can give you samples, coupons or have a hospital social worker contact the drug company to see if you qualify for an assistance program. Fill your prescription, take your meds and put yourself on a path toward better aging.

PICK A CAR FOR AGING WELL

Driving allows an aging person to maintain independence, but it’s important to recognize that aging can affect your driving. Arthritic hands may struggle with small buttons or gripping the wheel. Getting in and out of a car with bucket seats or one that’s low to the ground can be tough on an aging body.

The American Automobile Association has created a very useful interactive guide to help older drivers identify the makes and models of vehicles within various price ranges that may best suit their particular issues. At SeniorDriving.AAA.com/SmartFeatures, drivers can use drop-down menus to choose among categories like diminished vision, limited upper body range of motion, short stature or overweight, and decreased leg strength.

For those with various vision problems common among older people, for example, features like a high-contrast instrument panel with large number and letter displays, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and glare-reducing side mirrors can enhance driver safety.

Falls are the leading cause of injury among Americans over age 65. Each year, nearly one-third of older adults experience a fall, and 20 to 30 percent of them wind up with injuries ranging from broken teeth to broken hips. Falls and their accompanying serious and less serious injuries can precipitate a cascade of medical problems, the onset of severe disability, and the end of independent living and the beginning of round-the-clock care.

First, you should improve your fitness and balance to minimize your chance of falling. Then you should plan for the right way to fall.

Balance training has been shown to reduce fall risk by 50 percent. Talk to your doctor about your risk and work with a trainer, therapist or take an adult fitness class to improve balance. Exercises like tai chi have been shown to improve balance.  Other balance exercises include walking backward and sideways. Walk on just your heels and then your toes. Practice standing from a sitting position without using your arms to push yourself up.If you do fall, you can plan for the right way to do it.

  1. Protect your head. If you find yourself falling, pivot to your side and tuck in your head.
  2. Avoid FOOSH: The acronym stands for “falling onto outstretched hands.” If you do that, all the force of impact will be concentrated there, raising the risk of breaking your wrist. You similarly don’t want to come crashing down on your knee so you break your kneecap or do that maneuver where you kind of pedal with your feet to catch yourself, which can lead to broken bones in your foot and ankle.
  3. Aim for the meat, not the bone: If you feel yourself falling, bend your elbows and knees and try to take the hit on the fleshiest parts of your body, like the side of your thigh, buttocks and shoulder.
  4. Don’t fight the fall. If you can catch yourself, do. But if you’re going to fall, it’s better to just roll with it rather than fight it as paratroopers do.

Check your house for potential hazards (an occupational therapist can help you with this). And pet lovers need to be mindful that their furry friends are a major risk factor for falls. Dogs and cats cause more than 86,000 falls requiring emergency room care each year. Man’s best friend is the main culprit: Dogs are responsible for seven times as many injuries as cats, and often cause falls while they’re being walked. Be aware of the four-legged hazard in your midst as you age.