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.

Breathing toward a better life

Breath is essential to life. Each person will take about half a billion breaths in their lifetime, most of which are taken without thinking. But focusing on the breath and bringing awareness to it can be a valuable tool in connecting the mind and body.

Our thoughts are connected to our breath, and can be used to influence the way the body behaves through simple exercises. A deep breath tells the body to calm down and encourages full oxygen exchange to keep the heartbeat steady.

For example, stressful thoughts trigger the release of “fight or flight” hormones that then increase blood pressure and heart rate and constrict blood vessels. Deep breathing can reverse this response by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to organs and muscles, thus reducing the damage caused by stress.

The benefits of a regular practice of deep breathing can include:

  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Lower/stabilize blood pressure
  • Increase energy levels
  • Relax muscles

Practicing deep breathing doesn’t have to be complicated. To try, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Breathe in through the nose, slowly, allowing the chest and abdomen to expand. Then breathe out slowly through the nose or mouth.

You may find it comforting to close your eyes or even to focus on a word or phrase to help you relax. Many also combine deep breathing with practices that promote it, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, or repetitive prayer.

A daily practice of deep breathing is one of the most effective tools for enhancing your health and producing long-term benefits. Try to practice for 15 – 20 minutes each day. Over time, these techniques can become more natural for your body and breathing will be more effective.

An active mind is a healthy mind

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we often become primarily users of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage our brains to acquire new abilities.  Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for non-stressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to our mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

  • brainhq.com
  • happy-neuron.com

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

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.

This season, strive for wellness in every dimension

With changes in the weather often come changes in how we feel, whether that means feeling cold, feeling sadness, or simply feeling different than the previous week. Whatever we’re feeling, overall wellness is important for optimal health. The following tips can help us make sure our wellness is in top shape!

To improve your emotional wellness

Practice optimism. Read books that interest you, and spend time with family and friends. Manage stress by setting boundaries, laughing, smiling, and hugging.

To improve your environmental wellness

Respect resources by choosing green processes. Seek ways to spend time in natural settings through walking paths, meditation, gardening, and similar options

To improve your intellectual wellness

Read. Challenge your brain with games. Learn new skills, and share and discuss your interests with others.

To improve your occupational wellness

Pursue interests. Contribute your passion or hobby in a paid or volunteer role. Recognize the value of your contribution, and get involved in your community.

To improve your physical wellness

Engage in regular physical activity, get adequate sleep, and have regular health checkups. Get a massage, eat a variety of healthy foods, and ask your doctor which vitamins might benefit you. (These things will also help your emotional wellness!)

To improve your social wellness

Listen to and care for others. Touch, hug, and laugh. Develop and nurture close, warm friendships. Join a club or an organization.

To improve your spiritual wellness

Live with a sense of purpose, guided by personal values. Participate in group or individual faith-based activities, meditation, or mindful exercises (tai chi, Qigong, yoga).

Practice wellness every day for the healthiest you!

Focus on health all hours of the day (and night)

While being active, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet are often touted as the keys to a healthy lifestyle, the amount and quality of your sleep is just as important.

Getting enough sleep provides valuable benefits for both our minds and bodies, as it can affect our immune system, appetite, hormone levels, blood pressure, and more.

As people age, falling asleep and staying asleep can become more of a struggle, and the prevalence of insomnia rises, as well. This can be caused by changes in circadian rhythms, hormone levels, lifestyle habits, or effects from medications.

However, sleep needs remain the same throughout adulthood—seven to nine hours per night. A lack of quality sleep each night can lead to reduced productivity, daytime sleepiness, depression, increased risk of obesity, and other health concerns.

There are certain practices you can follow to help fall asleep faster and get quality sleep each night:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Do not nap for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping. Do not read, snack, or watch television in bed.
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol in the evenings.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may be keeping you awake at night, such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, and cardiovascular drugs.

Taking care of yourself at night can help your daytime hours be safer, healthier, and more enjoyable.

Is it time for a change?

Getting older and entering retirement age often means having more time to spend on activities we enjoy and having the free time to travel and spend time with friends and family. But it also means that we need to be aware of how our bodies are changing, and that our need for care will likely increase.

As the adult child of an older adult, it can be difficult knowing when it’s time step in and help a loved one increase their level of care. However, there are things to be aware of that can help you know when it may be time to intervene.

When visiting your loved one, try to be aware of these possible indicators:
    • Physical changes like sudden weight loss, bruises, or reduced personal grooming
    • Increased difficulty with everyday activities like cooking, bathing, and dressing
    • Risky behavior like poor medication management, keeping old/spoiled food in the refrigerator, inability to care for a pet, or hiding falls
    • Emotional changes such as unusual or unexplained depression, stress, or anxiety; a lack of enthusiasm for normal activities; and less contact with friends and family
    • Cognitive changes like forgetting names of familiar people; not paying bills; dents in the car; unopened mail or packages; and difficulty remembering to shop, cook, or eat

If you determine that extra help is needed, an inclusive care community can often be the best solution. With this type of care, only the level of help that is needed is provided, but as the need becomes greater over time, the level of care is also increased. This is the ideal solution for people wishing to “age in place.”

Being the healthiest we can and living happy, satisfied lives requires comfort and certainty in the health care we receive. By monitoring the health of our loved ones, we can make sure these concerns are provided for as early as possible!

 

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!