In their efforts to create living environments that optimize residents’ health, independence and emotional well being, it is important for senior living providers to understand those things that make us “feel” old. Beyond “age-appropriate” care and services, activities rooted in an understanding of the underlying psychological and psycho-physical aspects of aging can help to create happier, healthier, and more engaged residents.
Larry Matson, Ed.D, co-author of the book, “Live Young, Think Young, Be Young…at Any Age,” suggests the notion of aging as an uncontrollable, unstoppable force may be faulty. According to Mr. Matson, once a person reaches their physical peak (somewhere between 30 and 35 years old) less than one percent of physical and mental decline each year can be attributed to the aging process alone. “Age is really a measure of time, not how ‘old’ we are,” he says.
How to avoid “feeling your age”
Matson provides a list of factors that cause people to physically and mentally “feel” the effects of advancing years and offers simple tips for reducing their impact that providers can also heed for their education and programming:
- Absence of physical activity: Matson points to physical disuse as the number one thing that accelerates age and is associated with the vast majority of chronic diseases. Even if you can’t make it to the gym every day, there are still things you can do to stay active, e.g. walk, take deeper breaths and don’t slouch.
- Meager mental stimulation: Mental neglect comes in a close second to physical disuse in the rankings of factors that make us feel older. “As we get older, we just don’t realize how much less we use our mind,” Matson says.” Try a crossword puzzle, read a few chapters of a new book or learn a new hobby – anything that forces your brain to work in a way that it normally doesn’t.
- Disastrous dietary decisions: Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins are the basics of balanced nutrition. But another way to optimize your eating is to munch more mindfully and slowly. Half of the pleasure of eating actually occurs in the first bite and is then reduced by half with each subsequent mouthful.
- Excessive stress: Chronic stress, an epidemic among caregivers, can cause cortisol levels to skyrocket, leading to inflammation and metabolic malfunctioning. Identify the things that stress you out, anticipate when they will occur and take steps to manage your response, e.g. meditation or yoga.
- Attitude adjustment: “Most people underestimate the effect of the mind, but research in this area is very powerful,” Matson says. Try to become more in-tune with the tone of your inner voice and swap negative notions with positive affirmations.
- Alcohol in abundance: Research indicates that small amounts of alcohol may provide certain health benefits, but women especially should aim for imbibing no more than two drinks in a single day. Beyond that, the drawbacks of alcohol begin to outweigh the benefits.
- Second-hand smoke: Plain and simple — don’t put up with secondhand smoke. For non-smokers, long-term exposure to second hand smoke is nearly as bad as puffing on an actual cigarette.
- Pill-popping: Multiple medications are a big problem for many senior adults. Medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), while helpful for managing certain conditions, may end up doing more harm than good in the long run. “Know what you’re taking and why you’re taking it,” Matson advises. Ask your doctor if there’s any way you can safely reduce your dosage, or go off a prescription all together.
- The genetic gamble: Research your family history and make the lifestyle changes necessary to accommodate your unique set of inherited vulnerabilities. By making simple lifestyle choices and changes, you can improve your physical and mental wellbeing in spite of the calendar.