Our five senses—hearing, vision, taste, smell, and touch—connect us to others and the world around us, allowing us to experience things in a number of ways. It’s easy to take our senses for granted, until one or more of them start to diminish.
A decline in senses is a natural effect of aging. Health and environmental factors can also facilitate sensory deterioration. Long-time smokers may experience reduced taste and smell sensitivities, while people living with diabetes may have issues with vision.
While sensory changes can be frustrating, acceptance and a positive attitude can help make the changes more manageable. With patience, you can often learn to compensate for the diminished sense with others, while adaptive devices can also provide assistance.
- Hearing is often considered our most social sense—and can lead to withdrawal and isolation as people become more and more hesitant to interact with others. Misunderstanding others can also lead to paranoia and disagreements. Avoid shouting, speak face-to-face, and eliminate background noise when speaking with someone who has hearing loss.
- Vision loss can lead to problems with mobility, poor orientation, and even hallucinations. It may keep people from moving around and getting outside, and also lead to isolation. Many low vision aids can help with adapting to this change. Regular eye exams ensure the most up-to-date assistance.
- A diminished sense of touch affects both the ability to distinguish between different objects and textures, but also to detect pain. Older adults are less likely to be able to perceive internal pain or rising temperatures. They may also miss out on the therapeutic benefits of another person’s touch.
- Changes in taste and smell often go hand in hand for those over the age of 50, and can cause food to become unappealing. A loss of smell can also create consequences with safety and personal hygiene. Find ways to enhance the flavor of foods without salt, add textures, and follow good oral hygiene to help retain smelling and tasting abilities.
If you notice changes in a loved one, bring it up in a tactful way. Avoid making someone feel inadequate and instead focus on finding ways to help them adapt and remain successful.
When thinking about our personal health and wellness, we don’t often consider the effects our environment can have. But how you interact with the earth can have a significant impact on your well-being. When we are aware of how our actions and behaviors affect the world we live in, we can make informed decisions and feel good about our choices.
The resources of our world are not unlimited, and recognizing that fact is one of the most effective ways to develop our emotional wellness. Awareness of our place in the world and the consequences of our actions and behavior are the foundation of living of life with environmental wellness. We must consider not only our world, but the world of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
This month, we celebrate Earth Day and give thanks to all that our environment provides us with. But that gratitude can be a part of our everyday lives with just a few simple habits.
- Engage in activities that help you appreciate the world we live in, while also stimulating other areas of wellness, such as walking, meditating, and gardening.
- Walk or ride a bike instead of driving, when possible. When not possible, consider taking public transportation or carpooling.
- Be cognizant of your impact on the world and work to reduce your footprint—turn off lights, recycle, and avoid polluting the air and water.
- Reduce the use of toxic chemicals—choose “green” cleaning products and pesticides to reduce negative effects on people, pets, and the earth.
- Eat local, whenever possible. Visit local farmers markets and eat what’s in season.
Cultivating our environmental wellness not only helps the earth stay healthy—it also helps to foster other areas of our personal health, by allowing us to breathe fresh air, eat nutritious fruits and vegetables, spend time outdoors with others.
The first few months of the New Year are a time for fresh beginnings and preparation for the future. Good nutrition is essential to good health and well-being, and March is Nutrition Month, making this a great time to check that your diet is on track for a happy and healthy new year.
The first step to optimizing your diet is to make sure you’re getting the right combination of nutrients. Look for a rainbow of food colors on your dinner plate, including proteins, fruits, whole grains, such as rice and wheat pasta, and dairy or other sources of calcium.
When they’re available, the best kinds of foods to eat are called “whole foods,” which just means they come from the earth to you, with minimal processing. Whole foods include any raw meats, raw fruits and vegetables, and unsweetened dairy products. (Whole foods don’t have to be raw when you eat them, just when you buy them!)
Whole foods are best because you can easily control their salt content, as well as any other ingredients. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat anything that comes in a box, but you should keep track of the nutritional content, serving size, and the fat and sodium levels available on the side of the box. Ask your doctor what levels are right for you, and compare this information to your recommended levels when choosing prepared and frozen foods.
Another important part of good nutrition that is easy to control is to make sure you’re getting enough water. It’s easy to forget to drink water, and doctors say that feeling thirsty can already mean you’re dehydrated — so try these handy tips:
- Every time you take any medication, drink a full glass of water.
- Always keep a glass of water next to your bed.
- After every meal, drink a glass of water.
- Eat plenty of foods with high water content, such as fruits and salads.
Eat and drink towards a healthier you, and make this year even better than the last!
As our bodies change with age, so do our nutritional needs and priorities. Appetites might decrease as a result of less physical activity, as a side effect of medication, or even simply from living in isolation.
Eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is important at any age, as it contributes to maintaining physical and cognitive health. The best approach to healthy eating is to eat from all basic food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, quality protein, and dairy) and limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars, and salt.
In addition to choosing whole, balanced foods, the tips below address the unique nutritional needs of seniors.
- Cut sugar intake—choose water instead of sugary drinks and fruit for dessert.
- Use spices and herbs instead of salt to add flavor to your meals. Choose low-sodium or reduced-salt options when available.
- Eat foods high in levels of vitamin B12, such as fortified cereal, lean meat, or some types of fish.
- Choose foods rich in dietary fiber to avoid constipation.
- Pay attention to serving sizes and calories to make sure that you are eating the right amount of food and meeting daily recommended values of nutrients.
- Drink plenty of low-fat or fat-free milk for vitamin D.
March is National Nutrition Month, making it a great time to focus on mindful eating and making healthy choices.
Changing your eating habits is more than just a quick-fix diet, it’s a lifestyle change. Start small—take the salt shaker off of your table, switch to whole-grain bread, or pick up a few more fruits and vegetables on your next shopping trip.
Effective changes don’t have to be expensive or complicated, and can make all the difference in your quality of life.
February is the month of love, and this month we’re focusing on self-love! Taking care of mind, body, and spirit helps us feel our best and live each day to its fullest.
It’s easy to get caught up in our busy schedules and worry about our home, bills, or family before we consider our own well-being. But taking time for ourselves actually makes us better prepared to handle our other responsibilities.
Consider these simple ways to put yourself first and embrace personal wellness throughout the year:
- Make sure you’re up-to-date on your state of health. The best way to stay healthy is to know where you’re at, and what areas you need to take extra care in. See your doctor regularly and take as active a role as you can in your care.
- Try to make your physical self a priority. Taking the time to shower, brush your teeth, and get dressed each day—no matter how much or how little is on your schedule—helps to provide a sense of purpose and feel put-together.
- Express gratitude. Surround yourself with positive people who build you up and be sure to share your appreciation with them regularly. Doing something nice for someone else benefits both giver and receiver. Spreading kindness can spark a chain reaction and inspires positivity in all!
- Take time to recharge. After a busy day, set aside time to refuel in whatever way works best for you. Read a book, take a walk, unplug from your phone, and just enjoy the quiet time by yourself.
The holidays are a time of gathering with friends and family to show gratitude, share a meal, and spend quality time together. In the midst of celebrating, it’s easy to let healthy habits slip and find ourselves indulging in sweets, drinks, and heavy meals.
But there are easy ways to maintain healthy habits during this busy time and still enjoy all that the holidays have to offer. Here are some tips for continuing the diet and exercise routines established throughout the year at special meals or holiday parties:
Find balance. If you overindulge on one meal, eat lighter on the next. Consider following the 80/20 rule: eat healthier foods for 80 percent of the day and enjoy a special meal or dessert for 20 percent of the day.
Eat until satisfied, not full. By sticking with normal-sized portions, you can enjoy the delectable treats of the season without overeating. If you’re still feeling hungry after 20 minutes, it’s OK to go back for seconds.
Choose your favorite treats. If pie is your favorite dessert, have a slice! But avoid piling other types of desserts on your plate just because they’re available.
Stick to your exercise routines. Even with a busier schedule during the holidays, it’s especially important to continue with regular exercise schedules to balance out the extra calories.
Don’t get discouraged! If you overindulge, simply get back on track. Try to reduce your intake as the holidays wind down to get back into your normal routine. Add more exercise if possible to burn more calories.
Being mindful about your approach to eating during the holidays can help make it a happy and healthy season whose effects you won’t have to worry about in the new year!
When a loved one is diagnosed with a deteriorating health condition requiring daily assistance and support, it’s only natural to focus on that person’s well-being.
Taking on the role of caregiver for a family member or friend is one that often comes without any notice or preparation. Responsibilities can increase over time until they become all-consuming, often leaving other areas of life in neglect. Putting the needs of an ailing loved one first is gracious, but often unhealthy for the caregiver.
Over time, caring for a loved one can result in sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor eating habits, and a general failure to care for yourself. But the best way to care for a loved one is to make time for your own physical and emotional wellness.
- Visit your doctor. You likely spend plenty of time at doctors’ offices already, but be sure to go for at least an annual visit and share any changes in your sleep, behavior, mood, or appetite.
- Be realistic. Remind yourself that the care you’re providing is helpful but the effects of the health condition are usually beyond your control.
- Take breaks. Caring for someone is a round-the-clock job with no time off. Without time to yourself, caregiver burnout is inevitable.
- Ask for help. It’s perhaps most important to accept and recognize when caregiving duties become more than you can handle. There may be a time when professional care or a move to a retirement community can enhance your loved one’s quality of life.
Talking to a friend, family member, or your doctor about how you’re feeling can provide valuable support for those carrying the stress of being a caregiver. Look into local support groups, as well. Paying attention to your own needs is just as important as the care you’re providing.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now is as good a time as any to make sure you’re educated on the risks and early signs of this disease to help keep yourself or your loved ones healthy. While breast cancer is not preventable, there are several ways to help stay protected and minimize the effect of this potentially deadly condition.
Eighty percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50, with 60% found in women over the age of 65. A woman’s risk of breast cancer tends to increase with age—which makes regular screening and early detection all the more important.
For women between the ages of 50 and 74 years old, a mammogram screening is recommended every two years. This X-ray exam is usually covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs, and is the most effective way to detect any signs of cancer as early as possible.
In addition to regular screenings by a professional, it’s important for everyone to be aware of some of the early warning signs of breast cancer, and bring them to the attention of your doctor as soon as possible. Common warning signs include:
- Lump in the breast or underarm
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Pain in the nipple or breast
- Redness or discharge from the nipple
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
While most incidences of breast cancer are found in women, men are not immune to the disease. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the risk factors and know how to identify early signs in themselves, their partner, or a loved one they care for. This month, educate yourself and promote lifelong health.
As we get older, certain conditions, injuries, or simply the effects of time may keep us from moving the way we once did.
Aging bodies have different needs. The activities you may have once enjoyed as exercise may no longer be feasible. But learning to adapt to these changes can help keep exercise an important and effective part of your life.
Staying active is essential for maintaining or improving your well-being. In addition to reducing the risk of falls and cardiovascular conditions, physical activity helps release endorphins to relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and improve moods.
In September we celebrate Active Aging Week, and this year’s theme is “Explore the Possibilities”—a great reminder to think outside the box when it comes to your physical activities and find the options that work for you.
- Focus on balance. Be sure to incorporate balance exercises like tai chi or Pilates into your routine for a low-impact workout with significant results.
- Take a seat. Chair yoga and other seated exercises can still provide tremendous benefits and are ideal for those who are unable to stand for prolonged periods of time, or get down onto the floor.
- Dive in! Aquatic exercise is easy on joints while helping to strengthen your core, legs, and back. Water-aerobics classes can also help enhance cardiovascular health.
- Think outside the gym. It’s easy to incorporate walking and stretching into everyday life. A stroll through a mall or museum, a dance class, or spending time in the park with grandchildren are all ways to get moving without even feeling like you’re exercising.
No matter your abilities or strengths, the most effective type of exercise is one that you enjoy. To successfully incorporate workouts into your daily routine, consider which activities make you happy and which you’ll look forward to doing each day.
Today’s technology has made many parts of our lives more convenient. In our phones and tablets, we can carry books, movies, games, notes, maps, and so much more. Some of these new innovations can even help us stay more in tune with our bodies and minds by monitoring our health and stimulating different aspects of our wellness.
The following apps and devices can help promote personal wellness for all ages:
- Fitbit or other wearable technology: These small bands can track your steps, heart rate, calories, sleep quality, and overall activity level. They are a great motivational reminder to help you meet your fitness goals each day.
Activity tracking apps: Monitoring your steps and exercise doesn’t necessarily require another piece of technology. Apps like Map My Run, Strava, and MyFitnessPal can also log workouts, calories, and overall health.
- Luminosity and other brain games: Many of these games are free to download and are fun and stimulating ways to keep your brain active. They can also track your progress and potentially show any areas of decline.
- Skype or Facetime: Social interaction is important for everyone, but especially for seniors, who are often prone to feelings of isolation. These video chatting tools can substitute face-to-face interactions with grandchildren and other loved ones when an in-person visit isn’t always practical.
- Medication tracking apps: A daily pill box can still get the job done, but apps like Medisafe or Pill Monitor can provide visual reminders of which pills are needed as well as alarms to help you remember to take them at the same time each day.
While using apps and other technology can sometimes seem daunting for older adults, most are built to be intuitive and user-friendly. Determine which ones would be most helpful in your life and start embracing the power of technology!