Even a high-end car needs a tune-up every once in a while, and the more miles it has, the more maintenance it needs. So why then, if we don’t question the importance of car maintenance, do we ignore the importance of self-maintenance as we age?
Just as a car requires regular oil changes, tire rotation, and fuel to keep it running smooth, the typical person must have their basic needs met to function:
Exercise: Even just 15 minutes of activity a day can boost your lifespan, and it can be something as simple as going for a walk. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per week can even prevent disability in adults with lower extremity joint symptoms.
Hydration: Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water to survive and work properly. Drinking plenty of water helps you digest your food, absorb nutrients, and expel waste.
Nutrition: Proper nutrition can increase immunity while lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as the risk of certain diseases. It can also generally improve your well-being and energy levels!
Social interaction: We are wired to crave socialization, and the need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water, and shelter.
Unfortunately, when it comes to healthy changes versus unhealthy ones, it can be difficult to tell which changes are a normal part of growing older. The fact is, combining any unhealthy aging symptoms with a decline in our regular maintenance of nutrition, hydration, socialization, and exercise can quickly lead to a major breakdown.
Falling is never normal and tends to happen as the result of an underlying health issue – often something that can be addressed such as decreased muscle strength, medication reactions, or inner ear conditions. So, while falls are often treated almost like an expected part of the aging process, they shouldn’t be, and every fall should be both treated as a crisis and addressed by a doctor.
Sudden change in behavior
Just like experiencing falls, a sudden change in behavior can be an indication of an underlying health issue. While illness like a urinary tract infection (UTI) can be a common culprit, there could be any number of underlying causes. Dehydration, poor nutrition, or transient ischemic attacks (TIA or “mini-stroke”) are just a few of the causes a doctor will consider when assessing a behavioral change. Behavioral change may manifest in less-than-obvious ways, like shifts in emotions or memory.
Sudden onset physical issue
It is an unfortunate reality of aging that we experience aches and pains that never happened before. But before writing off new physical issues as a normal part of aging, consider that new pain, swelling, numbness, or breathing difficulties may be symptoms of an underlying issue that should be addressed with a doctor.
All of these should be of particular concern if they are severe or if onset is rapid, as normal, age-related declines typically present as subtle shifts over time.
The fact of the matter is that society’s outdated view of aging is harmful, even to those who are actively living it because it allows space for the belief that abnormal issues like falls are a common part of aging. This view of “old age,” however, doesn’t fit the reality of being an older American today. One out of every four existing 65-year-olds will live past 90, and the number of Americans over age 85 is the fastest-growing age group. So, the more this outdated view is rejected, the more independence and well-being can be brought to older seniors.
However, it takes awareness and a proactive approach to make sure our golden years are still full of life.
The key to aging healthfully is to stop considering small decreases in quality of life as acceptable. If there is a problem, always report it – preferably to a doctor, but at least to someone. Let’s kick off an “always report” culture. Don’t be afraid to take your car to the mechanic BEFORE the axles are falling off.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to think outside the box for help. You may not be ready to consider a senior living community, so look at what local support exists for dining, socialization, exercise, and assistance with daily tasks. Would life-alert or home health be beneficial? What about even just a little extra family support? We all want to be independent, but accepting help to ease some of these burdens can lead to a happier, fuller life.