Strategies for Successful Aging
November 13, 2020 | by Thomas Day
Aging and death are an inevitable consequence of being part of an earthly existence. But not all people are the same when it comes to aging. Some people are "old" well before their time and well before that magical and totally arbitrary age of 65. Others remain active and healthy well into their 80s and 90s. Many would argue those who age prematurely and who die early do so because of the genetic disposition that dictates the outcome. In some cases this may be true. In many cases this is not true. There are a number of factors that affect the health and longevity of aging seniors. Here are some social factors that have been shown to affect the aging process
- Socioeconomic status
- Level of education
- Level of physical and cognitive functioning
- Living arrangement such as one of high social status or living arrangement of very low social status
- A mental and emotionally challenging lifestyle
Longevity and quality of life are also very much determined by what a person does to maintain his or her own physical and mental health. Examples of this might include
- Receiving timely and effective medical care
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating nutritious meals
- Getting the right amount of sleep
- Consistently getting adequate exercise
- Avoiding excessive use of alcohol, smoking and other non-healthy habits
- Maintaining social stimulation
- Maintaining mental stimulation
- Maintaining a positive attitude towards life
- Avoiding stress
- Getting help with depression
We will discuss below in further detail how some of these issues profoundly affect the aging process and also affect the quality of life in later years.
The Older Person's Lack of Self Esteem
Many elderly people buy into the notion that they themselves are no longer useful and as a result make little attempt to keep themselves healthy and active. After all, they are getting closer to the end of their lives and have no desire to try new things or to challenge themselves or to eat or exercise properly.
There is a great deal of anecdotal and research evidence that demonstrates older people can learn, can retain memory and can be actively involved in business and in the community. The lack of physical exercise, social involvement and mental stimulation in older Americans often leads to these people losing the ability to use their minds and their bodies. The older person's negative attitude towards aging becomes self-fulfilling.
Many reason that they have missed their opportunities in life when they were younger and it's too late to start over. As a result, many older people are intimidated by new ideas or by technology such as computers, not because they are incapable but simply because of their attitude. The idea of not being able to "teach an old dog new tricks" is in most cases an excuse. Obviously this mindset of failure and inability to perform becomes self-fulfilling. Not surprisingly, depression and suicide are more common in the elderly than in the younger population.
The negative attitude towards aging on the part of an older person has a direct impact on that person's health. Many studies show that people who are physically active have less joint pain, lower blood pressure, less depression, fewer heart attacks and a lower incidence of cancer. Proper nutrition also has the same effect on the aging process; it delays the onset of debilitating illness or disability.
Families or others involved with an elderly person must recognize the all too common attitude of worthlessness, defeat and resignation from elderly loved ones and take corrective action. They should encourage and possibly even prod the older person to be stimulated mentally, socially and physically -- to be actively involved; to give him or her a purpose for living. But families should also be very careful not to become patronizing or controlling but be genuinely supportive in this process. Here are some ideas
- Make sure an elderly loved one has challenging activities throughout the day instead of simply watching TV or viewing videos. This might include trips to interesting places, visiting senior centers, providing challenging games or puzzles, doing volunteer work, providing an opportunity to be involved in church work, offering stimulating conversation or working on an adult education class or college degree.
- If the person is interested, encourage him or her to become involved in handcraft, genealogies, creative design, writing, scrap booking or other challenging home oriented activities.
- Give them responsibility for taking care of pets such as a dog, a cat or a friendly bird. In addition, if feasible, allow them to care for plants as well. This strategy is used often in nursing homes to reduce depression in the elderly and to actually improve their health as well. It really works.
- If a caregiver for an older person cannot be present, make arrangements to enroll a loved one in adult day care. These providers often offer the same strategies we are talking about here.
- Provide opportunities for family and friends to come by and visit and encourage or even arrange such encounters.
- Teach the basics of social media. Facebook and Instagram are wonderful avenues for the elderly to stay connected to family and aware of events and ongoings.
- Provide opportunities for the older person to interact, teach and nurture children such as grandchildren or children in a day care center. This is an extremely effective strategy for helping the older person feel that he or she has a meaningful existence. And it has a dramatic impact on improving and maintaining health.
- Design or arrange an exercise program and come up with a way to encourage the older person to follow it.
- Understand the nutrition needs of an older loved one, especially the need for vitamins and minerals including iron. Get some books on the subject or go to the Internet. Make sure the person takes care of him or herself and eats properly. Fixing special meals, providing treats, getting takeout or going out to dinner can be fun and exciting for anyone regardless of age. Many elderly people neglect their own nutrition. Poor nutrition can cause all kinds of mental and physical problems in the elderly.
- Make sure an older person has opportunity to look good and have nice clothing. Make sure the person gets out in public, and tries dining out or going to a public event and can feel good about his or her appearance.
- Make sure to include your elderly loved ones in important family discussions. Give them opportunities to share their opinions and experience while you and they make financial, living, education, and career decisions.
How Attitude Affects Our Health, Quality of Life and Longevity
Empirical evidence seems to substantiate a general observation that individuals who are upbeat and sunny also appear to be healthy and actively engaged in good things. Longitudinal studies – particularly of seniors – generally back up the empirical observations. Numerous studies have followed cohorts of US seniors over the years and surveyed attitude and health. In general, the better the attitude the better the health and the longer the life.
These studies, however, have to be carefully designed. There can be anomalies in this assumption that attitude affects our health, quality of life and longevity. This is particularly true when a major life change occurs such as retirement. Some individuals hate their jobs and their attitude is not good. Retirement brings an opportunity for new challenges and possibly a different career.
For these people, there is generally an improvement in health, quality of life and longevity. For others, retirement or the death of a spouse may bring on an unfavorable attitude towards life. Depression may set in and quality of life, health and longevity suffer as a result. Even without depression, a lack of zest for life will have negative impact for the future.
How Religious or Spiritual Activities Affect Our Health and Quality of Life
There is some evidence that people who are highly religious or who attend church services regularly or who pray regularly seem to do better with the aging process. A gerontology study done in 1999 examined almost 4,000 North Carolina residents who were ages 64 to 101. This six-year study examined the incidence of death and how it correlated to attending church services. Findings were that people who attended religious services at least once a week were 46% less likely to die during this six-year period of the study.
Other studies that have been done reveal that people who attend religious services or who feel that they are spiritual, experience less depression and anxiety, have better health such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes and these people say that they are more healthy.
It's not known whether the actual state of mind produces a better aging process or whether being religious results in a healthier lifestyle. Or perhaps it is that certain personality types are those who attend services regularly and those personality types handle aging better. This then brings up the question of whether someone later in life can "get religion" and improve the aging process. More studies are needed to determine whether religion and spirituality are a personality or lifestyle trait that results in healthy aging or whether a religious state of mind produces better aging, regardless of the psychological makeup of the person who is considered religious.
The Benefits of an Optimistic Outlook
Research has found that feeling happy or optimistic about life can lessen the burden of chronic pain and possibly reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. A study done by the Mayo Clinic followed a selected group over 30 years. The study found that those individuals in the group who were determined to be "optimistic" on a standard personality test had a death rate that was 80% of those whom the test determined to be "pessimistic."
Staying positive also reduces the risk of developing prolonged depression in later years. Depression has been found to be associated with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Depression has other effects on aging seniors as well. A depressed state often results in poor nutrition, lack of exercise and lack of mental stimulation through socialization with others. All of these have a debilitating effect on health, on the possibility of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease and possibly accelerate the risk of developing some sort of dementia.
All of the issues related to the aging process are interrelated with each other. For example, exercise improves mood and makes a person feel more positive which then leads to better health. Or as another example, reducing stress can lead to a more positive attitude which again leads to better health and longevity. The beauty of understanding this interrelatedness is that even though there are a number of different negative influences that affect the aging process, attacking them one at a time will also mitigate the effect of some or all of the other negative influences. It's a synergistic effect that allows one to improve prospects without having to address all of the negative influences at the same time.