Throughout our healthy aging series, we have seen a pattern emerge — practicing simple, healthy choices every day is the best protection against the effects of aging. And it should come as no surprise that your golden years are no different. With the right mindset and proper management of chronic diseases, your 70s, 80s and 90s can be just as rewarding as your younger years.
For our last installment in this series, we asked local health experts to share 5 tips for staying healthy and independent in your golden years. Here what they had to say:
To ensure you can keep your independence, you'll want to avoid falls. Knowing the risk factors can help.
According to Kristina Oplinger, senior physical therapist at Nazareth Center for Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation, and Balance, risk factors include:
If three or more factors above apply to you, you are at an increased risk for falling.
Fortunately, many of these factors are modifiable. Oplinger recommends exercising to increase your strength and balance and wearing supportive shoes. Also be aware of any tripping hazards in your home, get your hearing and vision checked on a yearly basis and have a discussion with your doctor about any medications with adverse side effects.
Gastrointestinal (GI) problems have a tendency to increase as we age because the motility of our GI track slows down with time. Christina N. Brown, a gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Associates, Inc. in Rydal, explained that this can lead to constipation, weight gain, or acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Brown warned of an especially problematic complication of GERD called Barrett's esophagus, in which, the tissue lining the esophagus regenerates into tissue resembling the lining of the intestine. This disorder also comes with an increased risk for cancer of the esophagus.
For constipation issues, Brown suggests increasing your fiber intake (the American Dietetic Association recommends 25g for women and 38g for men daily) and drinking 64 ounces of water a day.
To lessen acid reflux symptoms, and stop eating at least three hours before bed and decrease your intake of acidic foods and caffeine. Brown noted that many people with acid reflux will also need some sort of pharmacological treatment to reduce symptoms.
Lastly, Brown recommended that seniors be careful when taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, as they can cause peptic ulcers, which could lead to upper GI bleeding. Taking a prophylactic can help.
At this age, an annual influenza vaccination is imperative.
"The consequences of the flu are miserable for everyone, but for senior citizens they can be deadly," said Katherine E. Galluzzi, professor and chair of the department of geriatrics at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Galluzzi added that Tdap — a combination vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis — is important as a one-time dose to protect yourself and those around you (grandchildren) from whooping cough. Thereafter, a routine tetanus shot every 10 years is recommended.
"If you are a member of a high-risk group (diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, HIV) ask your doctor about hepatitis and other immunizations," Galluzzi said.
Finally, Galluzzi recommended that anyone born between 1945-1965 should also get a one-time Hepatitis C titres drawn to assure that there is no occult infection present.
Nurturing meaningful relationships at every age and remaining engaged in your community and family is crucial.
"If you are no longer working, consider volunteering or participating in church or neighborhood programs," Galluzi said. "This will ensure that you remain mentally engaged and that you have a network of people who can assist you when an inevitable problem occurs such as an unexpected illness or injury."
Galluzi recalled physician-physicist Walter Bortz, M.D., who postulated decades ago that one of the generators of frailty in older persons was the uncoupling of the individual from his/her environment.
"Stay involved in life and with the people and world around you," Galluzi said.