Problems. How we deal with them? Where do I go from here? What type of help is out there? Is it possible to remain home even when I'm not really making it through the day? When you're "in the biz" of helping folks remain independent and at home, or of fielding questions regarding resources while trying to weave through a world of eligibility requirements - you tend to squint. That is, your vision becomes narrowed.
While leafing through one of the handout pamphlets in our office (yes, we do read them, too), I was reminded that there is another side to aging-related problems - healthy aging. (Note I said "problems." I have yet to meet someone who has found an answer to aging - and not at all sure I want to.)
Washington State Department of Health has a booklet out titled "Healthy Aging in Washington State," that provides some interesting reading. Ignoring for current purposes some of the emphasis on rising costs of care, let's look at some of the issues which may - to some degree - be preventable. Considering that population indicators show that the age group 55-plus in Washington is increasing dramatically, and that the 65-79 group is also expanding, these are some real issues.
Eighty percent of us 65 or older have at least one chronic condition, resulting in increased care and decreased independence. Two conditions have been noticeably increasing in our senior population: obesity and diabetes. Obesity doubled in our target population between 1990 and 2000. Diabetes increased over 60 percent in the same period. So even though we're living longer, are we living longer well? Understandably, there remain catastrophic illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and so on, but what can we do to help prevent what's preventable?
We've all heard - and know - about healthy diets and exercise, which go a long way to reducing health risks. Adding calcium, other minerals and vitamins is also helpful. What about the medications that have "sustained" you through the years? Reviewing them regularly with a health care professional could be critical and very informative. Some meds have been updated, while others are not as effective as newer ones now on the market. Which also brings up the issue of regular health care - period. Those of us who are prone to see the doc only when something's wrong, may have to re-think our orientation.
Then there's socialization - a term we don't use when we're so active and busy that we do it automatically. I mentioned our vision narrowing at the beginning of this column - it happens in a variety of arenas. When health begins to fail, our world gets smaller until sometimes we realize that all we see are those who are concerned about us. Getting out and getting involved is a great way to improve quality of life. Involvement in senior centers provides a wide range of activities. Community volunteer work is another option. The simple dynamic is the more involved and active we remain, the healthier we remain.
If you're into surfing along the internet, you might try the following: Health Education Resource Exchange, http://www.doh.wa.gov/ HERE, or the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, (http://www.cdc.gov/aging/index.htm), for a start.
We are aging and living longer - let's try also to live well longer.
Senior Information & Assistance
Long Beach: 642-3634/888-571-6558