Happy New Year! As you look ahead to 2014, do you wonder what you or your parents might need in the year ahead to stay safe, healthy and independent at home?
You might think, "Hoo boy, grab bars, or maybe they should move." Think again. Much of the preventive work that supports healthy aging at home can be done with nary a screwdriver. Here are 10 easy-to-follow New Year's resolutions that you and your loved ones can make for a happy and healthy 2014.
1. Stop making "old" jokes. They perpetuate stereotypes about old age and make people feel worse about it, fueling a negativity (see Resolution 2) that causes problems. Self-deprecation has its place but does not need to be tied to the aging process.
2. Lighten up about aging. Similarly, positive attitudes about aging help people to live longer and feel better getting there.
Stay active and engaged in life, and the years will be less of a preoccupation.
3. Use realistic language about aging. No need to pretend that it's a (slower) walk in the park, but "oldness" tends to be blamed for more problems than it causes. Why exaggerate? Say "I feel tired" instead of "I feel old" and "I feel energized" instead of "I feel young." Speaking realistically will make it easier to talk pragmatically about changing needs; it will reduce denial and open the door to important cross-generational discussion.
4. Take a seventh inning stretch. Sitting for long periods is bad for your health. Whatever you're doing, squirm, change positions, and take regular standing or movement breaks.
5. Take an after-dinner walk. That's a particularly good time for a stroll because it evens out your blood sugar, reducing cardiovascular risk and helping prevent or manage diabetes. In bad weather, walk through a shopping mall, especially if they have a regular walking group. Social pressure will help you show up; social interaction will make it more fun. Set yourself up for consistency and success.
6. Sign up for Tai Chi classes. Geriatricians -- doctors who treat the aged -- have concluded that studying this gentle, ancient movement practice helps older people develop balance skills. Better balance can reduce the risk of falls. Falls are the #1 health risk for older people.
7. Plan your health. Sit down before the year really gets underway and plan out on paper when you'll get your checkup, any necessary screenings, your dental cleanings, your eye exam, immunizations and so on. At the same time, attend to the 'wellness' side of things by signing up for fitness classes and planning out how your exercise regimen will respond to the changing seasons and work with your other activities, travel plans and so on. It's also a good time to maintain and check any fitness equipment: oil the treadmill belt, for example, or determine if you need to buy the next size up in hand weights.
8. Organize your medications. No matter who prescribed which drug, write or type a list to review with your primary doctor. In fact, make a separate appointment to review your medications with the intent of removing or reducing medication as much as possible to minimize side effects and interactions. Discard any out-of-date prescriptions.
9. Investigate strength training. Even the use of light hand weights two or three times a week can help build important upper-body strength, which can help people work around the house, do their own shopping, avoid injury (especially to shoulders and backs), and keep a steady grip on hand rails. Similarly, you can learn about resistance training to build your leg muscles. There are books and websites specializing in strength training for people over age 50. Find something that makes sense to you. Inexpensive weights can even be found in discount stores.
10. Walk around the house to assess for grab-bar placement. Like I said, this does not require a screwdriver (yet). It's just 20 minutes, no harm done. All you have to do is walk from room to room, pen and paper in hand. Where would it help to have an extra handhold? Getting in and out of bed? Next to the toilet? Especially, getting in and out of the tub/shower (essential when you're slippery wet and off balance)? Make a list and look up installation guidelines or ask a handyman for help. Grab bars are inexpensive, and my book also provides shopping and installation guidelines.
In line with this, do consider mounting a mirror-image handrail on all stairs. Make the Fall of 2014 a delightful season, not a dreadful accident.
Which of these resolutions do you think you or your loved ones can keep? What would you add to the list? What are your plans for a healthy and independent year in your own home?