Making sense of our world

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.

Preparing for flu season

The seasonal flu is a viral infection affecting the nose, throat, and lungs, and with the change in seasons, it’s essential to take preventative steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

For many, the flu is a serious nuisance—and for some, it can develop into a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Those at the highest risk for serious flu complications include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under the age of 5
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes

The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines may be administered as a shot or a nasal spray and are available at many different locations, such as your doctor’s office, clinic, pharmacy, or employer. They are covered under the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare Part B.

In addition to the flu vaccine, listed below are other steps you can take to help prevent the seasonal flu.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you do get sick, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Practice general good health habits, such as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.

Taking action to prevent the flu can help ensure you have the best season ever!

A message on massage

We often think of massage therapy as a spa-like indulgence to help us relax and relieve stress, but this ancient practice has plenty of health benefits. It can be a valuable form of treatment for a variety of conditions, while also helping us feel younger, healthier, and more balanced.

The benefits of massage therapy are vast! Depending on each individual, massage can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve range of motion
  • Enhance immunity
  • Increase joint flexibility
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Relax injured, tired, and overused muscles
  • Release endorphins—the body’s natural painkillers

Different types of massage can help serve different purposes, each utilizing different types of movement and levels of pressure.

Massage for older adults tends to differ from traditional massage practices, and usually includes gentle stroking, kneading, and light pressure on specific points. Targeted pressure can help lubricate joints, which relieves the pain and stiffness of arthritis. And the relaxation and communication promoted during massage can even help people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unlike many medications, massage is a natural way to stimulate the nervous system and increase blood circulation. In fact, according to Massage Today, regular massage can often help reduce the need for medications.

Massage therapy can benefit most people; however, it may not be appropriate for those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication; people with deep vein thrombosis; or when you have open or healing burns or wounds.

Speak to your doctor before scheduling your first massage.

Spend time with others and build your social wellness

We spend much of our lives with built-in opportunities for socializing: school, work, parent-teacher meetings, entertaining, and just being out and about in our communities. But with retirement, isolation and loneliness become valid concerns. Many people lose their sense of belonging and begin to feel detached.

Regular social interaction is proven to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease; lower blood pressure; increase self-confidence; and reduce the risk of depression. Without opportunities to connect with others, we’re missing out on significant health benefits!

Fortunately, the opportunities for socializing at any age are more plentiful than you may realize—and often help cultivate other dimensions of wellness, as well.

Here are just a few ideas for staying socially active:

  • Attend regular group activities. Weekly church services and club or group meetings are great outlets for socializing and exploring interests.
  • Spend time with loved ones. It may seem obvious, but regular quality time together with friends and family in whatever way possible can help boost personal wellness.
  • Get online! When face-to-face socializing is not possible, connecting with others over the internet can provide the benefits of social interactions. For instance, with Skype you can “attend” a family gathering you might otherwise miss!

Connect with others and find your place in your community—you’re never too old to make a new friend!

Do what you enjoy and live with purpose!

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”

Winston Churchill

Self-worth is often tied to one’s occupation, which can cause many people to feel depressed and a lack of purpose when it’s time to retire. Having more time to relax and enjoy leisure activities can actually feel like a loss.

But engaging in meaningful work doesn’t have to end in your later years. There are many opportunities to use your skills and passions—or gain new ones—while contributing to the community you live in.

For example, you can:

  • Spend time on hobbies that benefit yourself and others such as gardening and woodworking.
  • Pursue creative endeavors such as painting, sewing, music, or writing to share your talents with others.
  • Get involved in your community and share your ideas. Join a resident committee or volunteer to help effect change.
  • Share your knowledge with others: become a mentor, tutor a student, or read to young children.
  • Try something new! Take a class, start a club, or teach yourself a new skill.

Embrace the freedom of retirement by focusing on activities that you enjoy. Then, find a way to expand their reach into your greater community. Before you know it, your days will be filled and fulfilling!

Give your brain a reason to function!

As we age, inevitable changes occur throughout the body, including the brain. In older adults, some areas of mental ability (e.g., vocabulary and analytical skills) actually improve.

Did you know that 50% of cognitive function is determined by our genetics and age, while the other 50% is under our direct control?

Here are a few things that are thought to increase the likelihood of cognitive decline:

  • Lack of mental and physical activity
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor nutrition and sleep
  • Chronic stress
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, depression, or hypertension.

How can we maximize our mental ability and reduce the effects of aging?

Recent research proves we can increase the number of neural connections at any age by challenging our brain. More connections mean improved cognitive function and fewer symptoms caused by dementia or trauma.

This requires a multi-faceted approach. Wellness initiatives such as building a social network, continuous learning, improving skills or learning new ones, physical activity, good sleep, and nutrition are proven to have a huge impact and long-lasting effects.

Attend exhibits, plays, musicals, and poetry readings; take a workshop or course; start a new hobby; listen to TED talks; download an app for brain stimulation.

If you are learning something new, changing a pattern or routine, or exercising your mind while you exercise your body, you are focusing on your intellectual wellness. And people who develop their intellectual wellness are more likely to maintain healthy cognitive function with age.

Proper Poise for Healthy Living

While we’re careful about what we eat and how much we sleep, sometimes we forget how important moving correctly is. As we get more active outdoors with friends and family, let’s take a moment to reflect on the importance of ergonomics—the science of human safety and capabilities—in our everyday lives.

The ways we sleep, sit, twist, bend, reach, and stand can all have lasting effects on the health of our bodies. If not practiced properly, repetitive actions can lead to overused muscles, poor posture, and eventually even injury. As we age, our muscle and bone mass naturally decrease, which can lead to stiff joints and limited mobility.

No matter what activities you’re doing, it’s important to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at all times. The following tips can provide a helpful starting point to assess your ergonomic safeguards.

  • When sitting at a computer, make sure your feet are flat on the ground, your monitor is at eye level, and your wrists are flat and straight. And be sure to sit up straight.
  • If you have to stay in one spot for a prolonged amount of time, don’t just sit—get up and walk around every hour to avoid slouching or slumping.
  • Any time you must stand for long periods of time, be sure to wear supportive footwear to help maintain the body’s center of gravity and alignment of the spine.
  • When lifting something from the ground, bend only at the knees and hips, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting while lifting.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise—such as running, walking, or swimming—to help the muscles of the back stay strong and promote good posture.

By staying proactive and practicing proper posture in everyday activities, you can keep your body pain-free and healthy!

Seven Dimensions for Full Living

As we age, experts agree it is essential that we stay physically active. But many don’t realize there are several other factors that add up to healthy wholeness. In fact, living a full and satisfied life means overall “wellness,” which is defined by more than physical well-being.

In 1976, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a six-dimensional model for achieving wellness. According to Dr. Hettler’s model, by focusing on and balancing each of these factors, a more complete form of wellness could be achieved.

In the years since Dr. Hettler made his discovery, a variety of organizations, from universities to health care professionals, have adopted these dimensions. And in the years following, a seventh dimension has been added.

The seven dimensions of wellness are:

  • Emotional: Being aware of feelings and coping with challenges in a respectful way signals emotional wellness and helps create a balance in life.
  • Physical: Healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain or improve health and function.
  • Spiritual: Living with a sense of purpose in life and being guided by personal values is key to our well-being and connection to the larger world and others.
  • Occupational: Utilizing our skills and passion, while cultivating personal satisfaction, is valuable to both society and the individual.
  • Intellectual: Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is a proven approach to maintaining cognitive function.
  • Social: Positive social support has a protective influence on our health and well-being.
  • Environmental: Living with a greater awareness of the world allows us to begin to make environmentally friendly choices.

The dimensions in action

At Touchmark, the seven dimensions of wellness are an essential part of the Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program™. This award-winning program identifies people’s strengths, skills, needs, interests, and goals to help them lead happy, healthy, and full lives.

By focusing on each dimension, individuals become aware of the dimensions’ interconnectedness and how they contribute to overall health. And the dimensions can be applied in multiple ways to nearly every area of daily activity. For example, going on a hike with friends combines aspects of the physical, social, and environmental, but may also involve the spiritual, emotional, and even the occupational and intellectual, depending on conversations, thoughts, and experiences. The same dimensions may interact in a variety of ways when we go on a picnic, play a game of pickleball, or visit a museum.

Touchmark’s Health & Fitness Club can help by offering residents a firm foundation in the physical that can be easily added onto with other elements like the mental, in classes like yoga, and the social, intellectual, and more in group fitness classes and other group activities in the heated pool.

In order to provide a plethora of opportunities for these kinds of interdimensional crossovers, Touchmark uses its Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program and the seven dimensions to craft daily diverse and creative events and activities that often go beyond what some might expect from a retirement community.

“Residents may find themselves on a seven-day train trip through California, digging in at our old-fashioned clam bake, or enjoying the sights of Touchmark’s annual Father’s Day Weekend Classic Car Show,” says Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village Executive Director Matthew Hoskin. “By carefully listening to what people are interested in, we’re able to offer residents a lifestyle that’s not only fun, enriching, and engaging, but also includes all the elements of wellness.”

Touchmark believes that a full life is available to anyone—no matter one’s age—and its Full Life program ensures all residents have the unique tools, opportunities, and community support to bring their personal vision to life.

Volunteerism is a winning way to spend your day

As you consider getting out in warmer weather, think about what types of activities you would most like to take part in. Any type of activity that keeps you moving and intellectually engaged is great, and what if you could do something for someone else at the same time?

One way to accomplish all that is by volunteering! In fact, there are many different types of volunteering, and none of them is a wasted effort. Here are some ways to spend a few hours each week or month:

Deliver meals on wheels. Make sure other seniors get the nourishment they need by delivering food and conversation to their doors!

Assist other seniors. Perform tasks around the house, like light housekeeping and cooking, for seniors who need a little extra help. Escort them to a store or the park, so they can share in the joy of nicer weather and social engagement!

Work with animals. Call a local shelter and offer your assistance! Many shelters have opportunities to help walk dogs and feed and groom all kinds of critters. You’re in fur a good time!

Help youngsters. Help kids learn to read, mentor teens, care for premature infants, and more! There are so many children who could benefit from your experience, knowledge, and compassion. When school is back in session, many teachers love to have outside help with story times and paper grading, too! Call a nearby school and see what you can do.

Having a little extra time on our hands is never a bad thing, but using it to help others can make a real difference to people in our community. We all need a little help now and then, so let’s pay it forward whenever we can!

Getting reacquainted with our environment

Sometimes we don’t realize how easy it is to make a difference in the health of our world, or how easily we can impact it. With Earth Day coming up, this is a great time to think about ways we can help ourselves, while also enjoying our environment, and helping our planet.

The world’s resources are not unlimited, and recognizing that fact by choosing alternative transportations is a good place to start. For instance, by walking, bicycling, and/or taking the bus on your next shopping or social outing—rather than driving or riding in a car—you can cut down on fossil fuel use. At the same time, by adding a little more physical movement each day—even if it’s just walking from the bus stop to the store—you can significantly improve your health over time. Small changes have big impacts!

You can always build on small actions, too—the next time you are out for a walk, bring along a paper bag and a rubber glove and pick up a piece of trash or two on each trip. It doesn’t take much to improve the world around us, and, who knows, other people might even be inspired by your actions and choose to join in!

Another seemingly small thing you can do for your body and the planet is to eat locally grown foods and avoid processed or heavily packaged foods as much as possible. Processed foods can contain ingredients that aren’t good for you. And by eating locally, you’ll further cut back on fossil fuels by limiting the need for the foods you eat to be transported across the country—or the world. Eating locally also cuts back on the resources used in manufacturing plastics and cardboards for packaging. This may mean eating fruits and vegetables only when they are in season—when they naturally taste their best!

Through a few small actions you can make big differences in the health of the planet, your immediate environment, and your own body. Start small and keep working your way up, and eventually you’ll inspire others, making you feel great in more ways than one!