Most people, including older adults, are afraid of what they don’t understand, which only worsens as the years go by. As we age, we go through more significant changes in life, including retirement, empty nests, deaths of our loved ones, and health and physical challenges. Learning to cope and grow from these experiences is key to healthy aging.
As we get older, we have choices to make about our health care, lifestyle, personal goals, and our plans for the future. Once you learn about what to expect as your body ages and coping methods, you are proactively participating in your life. You will be better prepared to cope with the physical and mental changes that happen with age.
Change often causes conflict, and it is hard at any age. It is normal to grieve over our losses. They are the most challenging part of life. However, by balancing the feelings associated with a loss with positive thoughts, you can keep your mind and body healthy and continue to grow as you pass by the landmark ages of 65, 75, and 85.
Learning to cope with changes that accompany aging means finding new things you love to do. We need to stay socially and physically active, stay connected to our loved ones and our communities. Unfortunately, aging brings fear and anxiety. “How am I going to care for myself in the future?” “What if my spouse dies?” “Will I still have my mind?” These are common questions that come with older age.
Many of these fearful thoughts come from common misconceptions about aging. The truth of the matter is, you are more resilient and stronger than you realize.
Myth #1: Aging equates with declining health.
Fact: Some diseases and illnesses become more common as we age. However, aging does not mean you will automatically have poor health. It is not an automatic seat in a wheelchair or dependent on a walker. By practicing preventative measures, you can lower your health risk by eating right, exercising, stress management, and self-love.
Myth #2: Memory loss is inevitable with aging.
Fact: You may start not to remember things as quickly as you did in the past, and maybe it may take you a bit to retrieve some memories. However, significant memory loss is not a definite result of growing older. There are many great memory exercises today, such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, and more! The sooner you start exercising your mind, the sooner you reap the rewards.
Myth #3: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Fact: One of the more unsettling myths about aging is that you won’t be able to learn new things after a certain age. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only can you learn new things and thrive in new places or environments, but you also have the wisdom and life experience to take with you on your new adventures. If you have the confidence and believe in yourself, you will always have a great deal to offer.
Myth #4: Loneliness and depression are normal in older adults.
Fact: Sometimes, especially after the death of a spouse, older people can feel alone and isolated. Those feelings can lead to anxiety, sadness, and depression. But, that doesn’t mean depression is a given for the elderly. Aging comes with many emotional benefits, such as beautiful memories to reflect upon, life-long friendships with family, friends, and other loved ones. Research on the subject reveals that older adults report fewer experiences with depression than young adults. They may, however, be less likely to report such feelings. So, if you know an older person or feel depressed or anxious, there are very effective treatment modalities available.
Myth #5: Older people need less sleep.
Fact: We all need a good 7-9 hours of sleep at any adult age. It is sometimes harder to fall or stay asleep with age for various physical and emotional reasons. Getting a good night’s sleep can reduce your fall risk and keep you healthy and more alert.
Myth #6: Older adults should avoid exercise and activity to avoid getting injured.
Fact: With exercise comes strength, and with strength comes lowered fall risk. They say that sitting is the new smoking! Often, lack of physical and social activity is more to blame than age, as the less you do, the less you are able to do. Physical activity can help manage chronic conditions and stimulate your brain to release feel-good chemicals.
Healthy Aging Tips
- Learn how to cope with change. With life comes stress and joy; “peaks and valleys .”It is important to learn healthy methods to cope with life’s struggles and build your resilience. This will help you maintain your healthy perspective during the tough times and make the most of the good times.
- Keep an attitude of gratitude. The longer we live, we lose things more, making life’s moments very precious. Not taking things for granted, staying humble and grateful will keep you appreciating each moment you have and add to your overall health and wellness.
- Recognize and verbalize your feelings. Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness. Stuffing your feelings can lead to built-up resentments, anger, and depression. Take to journaling and perhaps confiding in a close friend. There is a multitude of ways you can learn to process your feelings.
- Accept life on life’s terms. There are many things throughout our lifetime that we have no control over. Keeping a healthy sense of humor and facing the limitations of aging will lead you toward the best way to react to those things you have no control over. It all comes down to acceptance of the things you cannot change.
- Look at the bright side; find the silver lining in the cloud. Look at your challenges as opportunities for personal growth. We all make mistakes. It’s what we learn from them that matters.
- Be proactive while learning how to accept the limitations of aging. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away. Take things one step at a time. Baby steps are still progressing forward.
7. Find joy and meaning. An essential part of healthy aging is to maintain the ability to find happiness and meaning in your life. With the aging process comes many changes and many losses. Older adulthood is not the time to stop forward progress. Maybe you didn’t know gardening was so enjoyable because you worked your whole life. Now is the time to find new joys and meanings in your life.
8. Stay spiritually healthy! We experience things differently, and the things we enjoy change too. Launching the children, retirement, and other normal changes comes a time for newfound joys, hobbies, and activities that will nourish your spirit.
Get involved in your community. Volunteering can be very rewarding and fill you with a sense of purpose.
9. Travel to places you have never been. You can go somewhere locally or out of state. Try things involving nature or national parks. Staying close to nature is a great way to nourish your spirit. Go to a museum, join a book club, play cards, take an art class, go to a play. These are all enjoyable activities no matter how old you are!
10. Be smart about planning for your financial future. If you haven’t retired yet, plan. Manage your assets and investments carefully. Ensure you have adequate insurance coverage and plan for your future living arrangements.
Educate Yourself on What to Expect as You Age
As you get older, your bones become weaker and reduce in size. This is true for both men and women, but particularly the case with post-menopausal women. The result can be osteoporosis. When your bones become weaker, fall risks go up and result in serious injury. Since our immunities also get weaker with advanced age, healing from injury can become slower. Falls are one of the most significant factors in death for the elderly.
Your heart becomes slightly enlarged and pumps blood slower, and its walls may thicken.
Your Nervous System and Brain
As you get older, your reflexes and senses may change. Slight memory loss can also occur. Keeping your mind active and exercising your brain can help reduce your risk of dementia, which usually occurs when nerve and brain cells become damaged by tangles and plaques that build up over time.
Your Digestive System
Your ability to digest food and metabolism slows down as you get older. Your digestive tract becomes more rigid and firm and doesn’t contract as strongly as it did during your younger years. This is why constipation is a common complaint among seniors. Stomach acids lesson, as does saliva production, both of which are major players in digestive processes. Your body’s ability to get rid of harmful bacteria slows down, making you more prone to illnesses caused by food and harmful bacteria.
Changes in your senses, vision, taste, smell, and touch commonly reduce as you age. They don’t respond to stimuli as quickly and strongly as they did. Changes in smell and taste can decrease your appetite, which is not good for your health. If you can’t smell things well, you may not know if foods have spoiled, leading to food poisoning.
As you age, you become more cavity-prone because of the erosion of tooth enamel, which protects you from tooth decay. Also, a higher risk of periodontal (gum) disease comes with age. Your gums tend to recede, making your teeth look longer and loose. Also, many medications can cause a dry mouth which is not suitable for your teeth.
As you age, your skin begins to lose its elasticity and starts to wrinkle. Smoking makes it worse. It is never too late to quit smoking.
Your Sex Life
Post-menopausal women can suffer from a lack of lubrication or vaginal dryness, and men may experience erectile dysfunction. There are treatments available for both conditions.
It is important to see your doctor more often than when you were younger and to go for recommended testing and screening. These include:
- Regular blood pressure monitoring.
- Screening for colorectal cancer.
- Screening for diabetes.
- Eye test.
- Hearing test.
- Pelvic exam.
- Screening for prostate cancer (for men).
- Dental exam.
- It is also recommended that you get your flu, tetanus, and pneumonia vaccination.
Ways to Keep a Positive Outlook
- If you have suffered a loss, consider joining a support group. Talking and facing your feelings is a powerful method for working through them. Interacting with others who have a similar experience can help you to feel that you’re not alone.
- Spend time with others. This can be a friend, neighbor, or religious group. Face-to-face interactions are healthier ways to communicate with others than emails and text messages.
- Nature walks will help you commune with the elements and notice the beautiful things around you. Stop and admire the trees, smell the flowers, and grab a bit of vitamin D from the sun (wear your sunscreen, of course).
- Practice affirmations, gratitude, and acceptance every day.
- Take on a new hobby. Try baking, learning a new language, swimming, bridge, golf, or playing an instrument.
- Tend to your spirituality through prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.
- Write your life story (memoir), and reflect on your trials, triumphs, and tribulations.