June Duncan from Rise Up for Caregivers and I are back for another tag-team venture on senior health and this time we are changing-things-up! Rather than the usual intro/outro format we are adding a bit of weaving. Within her article, I've peppered my thoughts and added points of perspective and resources that I've found to be personally helpful during my own careship. That's right! Careship, which is the new term I've started to use in identifying my role as a caregiver. Like any tour of duty, my time serving in this role is temporary. I'm an active duty caregiver but I'm also so much more and I'm finding it increasingly important to make that distinction. I'll have more on that topic later but for now June and I are doing our thing. My thoughts are below in italics.
Our lifespans are getting longer worldwide. Thanks to improvements in medical science and technology, humans have seen marked improvements over the last several decades, and many people alive now can expect to live well into their 70s and 80s. The percentage of centenarians -- that is, people who reach 100 years of age -- is also rising. The choices you make each day help determine not only how long you will live but how well you will live in your final years. Your quality of life and your quantity of years are dependent on taking care of your health right now.
See Your Doctor
The best way to ensure you stay healthy is early intervention. Regular checkups help you catch problems early when they are easier to address. Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to get regular checkups. Everyone needs an annual exam, but seniors may benefit from more frequent care. It’s also important to comply with your physician’s directives and take medication as prescribed. Get regular vaccinations, including the annual flu shot, and get tested for bone density so you can identify concerns and respond promptly. Broken bones are more dangerous for the elderly, and osteoporosis is a serious issue for your health and longevity.
I'm gonna add, take care of your feet! If there is one thing that geriatrics could advocate a bit more for it's podiatry. As senior mobility decreases I find it ironic that there is not more awareness around foot care. Get pedicures!!! And if you are a caregiver to seniors get them together. Feet are easy to neglect, especially when they are not your own and the last thing anyone wants is long, sensitive toe nails that making walking or wearing shoes painful. This only adds to the risk of falling so get-on these trips to the salon and self-care yourself!
Take Care of Your Body
A healthy diet and a good exercise program will give you more energy and resilience. Talk to a nutritionist to help you identify any nutrient deficiencies you may be experiencing. Replace empty calories with nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and heart-healthy fats. Eating well will help you heal from injury and illness, and it may also help you to improve your mood and preserve your mental cognition.
Anyone familiar with the website Blue Zones? Their motto is "live longer, better" and exploring their research is worth the time suck. Go get lost in their website and see what you learn...
Studies show that moderate exercise for as little as 30 minutes per day can lift your spirits and help you to retain your physical mobility. It helps prevent the onset of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. You can break it up into 10-minute increments throughout the day and switch up your activities to help you stay motivated. Take a walk in the morning, go for a bike ride in the afternoon, and do yoga or tai chi in the evening.
If you are a stay at home caregiver, unable to leave the home and need your own physical outlet, I strongly recommend this book:
I've been working my way through these workouts with the goal of completing all 100 by the end of 2018. It's great for anyone too mentally exhausted to come-up with workouts. Personally, I don't want to have to think about what I'm going to do for exercise. I just want to do it and be done with it. I have too many other things to think about during my day. As for fitness, I know it's important and just want to get it done and move on. So far this book is working for me. It rids me of my many excuses, the biggest being "stuck at home with no time or equipment".
Lower Your Stress Response
The long-term consequences of living with high stress levels are anxiety, depression, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise is a proven stress reducer, but you can enhance its effect by learning a few relaxation techniques. Focused breathing exercises help you to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure and get into a more relaxed frame of mind. Mindfulness meditation lowers stress-related hormones like cortisol in the body. Additionally, you can do things to make your life less stressful overall. Avoid over-commitment with family or friends and learn to say, “no.”
Have you tried Headspace? It's a meditation app and website dedicated to helping you get calm. There are subscription options for those ready to dive into a committed practice but there is also a free program that I highly recommend. For anyone that's been a bit lost in how to get zen, Headspace offers smart guidance with a series of introductory meditations that are worth exploring.
Just as you scale down your social obligations, you can scale down your household junk. If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. Cluttered homes make people feel uneasy and sad. If they impair your ability to clean, they can even make you ill. And if there are things in your home that aren’t safe, consider making some modifications.
June and I dedicated a whole post this very topic. You can read it right here.
Get Plenty of Rest
The physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation can lead to serious health concerns. Initially, being overtired can affect your performance and thinking in the same way as an intoxicant. But over the long term, your missed sleep can add up to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Set a bedtime and follow it. Cut out caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening to help you get sleepy at the right time. Invest in room-darkening blinds, good sheets, and comfy pillows to help you find sweet dreams.
Your quality of life is a direct result of the care you give your body and mind, so make sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to have a long, healthy life. Your loved ones want to enjoy your company for as long as possible, making memories for years to come.
Alright, now it's your turn! Whether you are in your Golden Years or not, let us know in the comments below how you are harnessing efforts to address your physical and mental health. We are in an age that is ripe with self-care and long drank the kool-aid that sharing is caring. Share your self-care tips! Tell us about resolutions, best practices, new routines, and failed attempts. You're the expert of your experience and we want to hear from you.
June & Ashley
*June's book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving is expecting to be released this winter!