Aging is a gradual process that proceeds almost unnoticed. In today's health- and fitness-oriented society, it can be easy to think and feel young well into our retirement years. Most communities across Canada offer fitness facilities, grocery stores now carry more low-fat and low-sodium choices than ever before, and medical and nutrition understanding is constantly evolving. For many of us, it isn't until we suddenly lose the ability to do our daily activities that we realize we aren't young anymore! It may be something as minor as finding the label on a can too blurry to read to not being able to lift an object which was once no trouble.
For seniors, the inability to do daily tasks can seriously impact autonomy and well-being. Fortunately, there are numerous housing and lifestyle solutions to suit a range of needs. Housing options fit into three basic categories: living at home, assisted (or supportive) living, and residence in a care facility. Regardless of whether a senior is living independently or living with some measure of care, there are some basics needs which must be met to ensure health, safety and comfort.
The energy involved in shopping, cooking and washing up the dishes can be too great for some and for others, physical limitations can make meal preparation too difficult. It can be easier to rely on canned foods and dried goods unfortunately, such foods often lack in water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B-complex. There are a number of community and government organizations as well as private companies that offer meal delivery. Although most of these services are not free, the meals are usually tasty and nutritious. For more information about meal delivery in your area you may wish to contact your local hospital, community centres or your provincial health provider. Other organizations such as the Red Cross (http://www.redcross.ca) offer meal delivery in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
Another reason for poor nutrition among seniors is lack of interest in food. After decades of cooking the same meals it's understandable that our taste buds get bored! In that case, it's time to try new recipes and spice up meals (even a bit) with new herbs, exotic vegetables and sauces. It's also a good idea to eat one raw fruit everyday to ensure adequate intake of vitamin C.
Getting Fit and Staying Fit
Although none of us can actually stop the clock, a healthy lifestyle can slow down the aging process. Regular exercise increases bone density as well as building muscle - together strong bones and muscles will allow people to continue doing their daily activities without injury.
It's never too early to start getting fit! The percentage of seniors in Canada has been rising steadily from 5% of the population in 1921 to over 12 percent in 2002 to an estimated 23 percent by 2041 according to Statistics Canada. In fact, in 2002, there were 3,989,196 Canadians over the age of 65. While it is no surprise that Canadians are aging, not everyone is prepared. Now is the time to rethink our fitness goals to ensure our hearts and lungs will stay strong for years to come. Another benefit of physical activity is a healthy appetite, which encourages an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.
Avoid drug interactions by always buying pharmaceuticals from the same location. Be sure to read any information that comes with a prescription. Some medications need to be taken at certain times and cannot be taken in conjunction with some foods or alcohol.
Safety in the Home
Personal safety is an extremely important issue for today's seniors. It can be especially challenging for seniors who live at home; there are a number of areas in which safety can be a concern.
- A security system can be a life-saving investment. Home invasions, once unheard of, are now becoming frequent news stories. Aside from an alarm, also consider these security measures: install peepholes in the front and back doors so you can identify visitors, use motion sensor lights around a home's property (with a least one light illuminating each doorway), install a good quality bolt on doors and locks on windows which allow them to be opened quickly from the inside in case of fire.
- Tack down area rugs and carpets to avoid slipping and falling.
- If there are stairs in the home, ensure any carpeting on the stairs is well tacked down and that the railings are sturdy.
- Install grab bars in tubs and on bathroom walls. Place non-skid mats in tubs and shower stalls.
- Use a cane or walker for support if you are a little unsteady on your feet.
- Have a phone on every floor and if possible have a phone in the living room, kitchen, main bathroom and bedroom.
- Summer heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and strain on the heart. It's important to drink plenty of fluids regardless of whether you are thirsty. Whenever possible, avoid being outside in the mid-day sun.
- Cold weather presents the risks of hypothermia, slipping and falling on ice as well as limited mobility in snowy conditions. As we age we tend to become more sensitive to body heat loss. It's important to dress properly for the weather, stay dry and avoid alcohol when venturing out into cold weather.
- Ironically, while our bodies may be sensitive to heat and cold, our sense of touch may lessen. Take special care not to get burned in the kitchen or bath.
As Plato theorized, the mind and body work as one and a fit body is nothing without a healthy spirit. Retirement can be a lonely time for many people; their families have grown and their friends have moved away. Social interaction is an important part of maintaining a healthy outlook on life. Today seniors have numerous opportunities to expand their social horizons: walking groups, tai chi, bridge, crafts, and volunteer work.
Be challenged - in our minds as in our bodies, youth can spring eternal.