Lesson 2 - Introduction
Now that we have determined where we are right now, and where we want to go, we can start the journey by correcting any deficiencies or issues we might have.
Lesson 2 - Core Material
Part 1: Treat any existing problems.
Once we take the first step toward being healthier in our senior years, assessing our current state of health and identifying any problems or deficiencies, it’s time to take the second step and work on correcting them.
While a strong adult skeleton starts in childhood with a healthy diet, regular exercise and lots of calcium and vitamin D. While these may reduce our susceptibility to osteoporosis, what do we do if we find ourselves with the condition? Although there is currently no cure for osteoporosis, there are medications, treatments and lifestyle changes that can slow the rate of bone breakdown and perhaps even begin to rebuild our bones. Medications can come in the form of drugs, antibiotics or hormone treatments. Doctors tell us that it’s also never too late to increase our intake of calcium, but that it’s equally important to take adequate amounts of vitamin D, as it helps our bodies absorb the calcium we ingest.
And while we all know that regular exercise helps us maintain or build strong muscles, did you know that it also helps us maintain or build strong bones? It’s true, it’s true. No matter what form it takes, physical activity helps slow down age-related bone loss and, in some cases, can even bring slight improvements in bone density. BUT, as with any lifestyle change, we need to make sure to consult with our physicians on the type and intensity of activities that are appropriate for us at this time.
Pain relievers can help reduce the effects of osteoarthritis, allowing us to maintain close to a normal level of activity. There are also natural products that some have found can help mitigate the debilitating effects of this condition. Low-impact exercise, like swimming or T’ai chi, can help us maintain a healthy level of physical activity in order to keep up our muscle and bone strength, while minimizing the pain in our joints.
The best defense against the onset of heart disease is prevention, so we need to love our hearts and begin to take care of them as soon as we realize its importance. While there is an entire industry of pharmaceuticals dedicated to preventing and treating heart disease, and its many precursors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and stress, there are just as many natural treatments and life-style changes that we can undergo to help keep our hearts healthy.
Whether or not we are already taking medications, we should also be eating a healthy diet with lots of vegetables but few or no sugars and saturated fats. We should also limit our intake of alcohol, stop or not start smoking, and make sure we exercise every day, or at least perform some kind of physical activity, based on the recommendations of our medical caregivers.
Lung function can be compromised by several different conditions, so treatment needs to be targeted for the specific cause of our particular symptoms. It’s so crucial to see our physicians quickly when we experience these conditions in order for them to make a speedy diagnosis and apply treatment early. This will greatly increase our probability of recovery and shorten the duration of the overall effects of the illness and speed us back to normal activity. Keeping our bodies strong, with proper exercise, diet and adequate sleep, can go a long way to reduce our susceptibility to and the impact of COPD or asthma.
The best way to ward off Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or other forms of dementia is to keep our mind and body active as we get older, since so little is known about the actual causative factors of the disease. Studies report a number of different activities, however, that have been shown to reduce or delay the onset of this debilitating disease. They include: reading, playing board games, learning to play a musical instrument, solving puzzles or mental challenges, taking a class, exercising (there it is again), eating healthy foods (I know, sorry), being socially active, don’t smoke, and lowering your cholesterol. I’ll cover some of these in more detail later on in another module.
Slow bowels, aka constipation, is such a common problem today that overcoming it through the purchase and use of laxatives is nearly becoming a national pastime. It’s certainly a booming industry, with Americans spending over $725 million every year on laxatives. But dependency on pharmaceuticals, even over the counter ones, can quickly exacerbate the problem when, instead of correcting the problem, the body begins to require more of the drug to function correctly. Natural remedies and lifestyle changes have more chance of correcting or at least mitigating the problem without creating dependency.
For example, constipation can often be avoided through regular exercise, adequate hydration and adding whole grain fiber to our daily diet. This is no more true than in our seniors. But if we have concerns over our slowing digestion or a decreasing frequency of our movements, a visit to our physician is in order. Diarhea and stomach pain, when persistent, call for a doctor’s examination and diagnosis quickly, and in particular for seniors, as they could portend a gastrointestinal condition that requires more targeted treatment (i.e., diverticulitis, acid reflux, peptic ulcers, gallstones or irritable bowel syndrome).
Decreased sensitivity in our external senses with age can be adjusted for in a number of ways. Multifocal glasses or contact lenses can help with our vision. Small, innocuous hearing aids can help us hear our loved ones more clearly. And adding herbs and spices to our food can help us enjoy eating once again.
Other senses, such as touch and smell, are more difficult both to diagnose and to treat. Decreased peripheral sensitivity, or neuropathy, is common in seniors but more prominently in diabetics. Besides the inconvenience of losing enjoyment of life in our later years, degradation of these sense can be dangerous if left untreated. Inability to smell chemicals or foods can fail to alert us of impending danger (i.e., gas leaks, smoke or spoiled food).
Loss of feeling in our skin, in particular in our feet, can result in trips and falls, unnoticed and untreated cuts, bruises or even broken bones, and decreased circulation that could result in infection or even gangrene. It will also prevent us from knowing that our bath or dish water are too hot. All of these conditions should be closely monitored and discussed with our physicians, but in particular those that could pose a serious risk to our health.
Preventative steps can and should also be taken by each of us. Improving our oral hygiene starts with decreasing the quantity and amounts of sugar we take throughout our day and every day. This includes snacks, or grazing foods, as they have the potential of keeping sugars and acids in contact with our teeth all day long, increasing the potential for cavity development. Increasing our attention to adequate hydration will help in both areas: diluting the sugars and acids in our mouths and replacing our natural saliva as an aid in swallowing and digestion.
More attention to brushing and flossing also aids in maintaining strong and healthy gums, which are critical to keeping what teeth we have left, in addition to warding off more diseases and just plain looking (and smelling) better. For those of us with dentures, it’s just as important to take good care of them not only in the area of cleanliness, but also making sure that they are still a good fit. Frequent visits to the dentist is even important for denture wearers to obtain that important second opinion as to their fit and condition. It’s very difficult to eat well and healthily if our teeth or dentures are in bad shape.
Although the condition of our skin in the later years is pretty much out of our hands by that time, there are still steps we can take to minimize our earlier bad habits. And as in most cases, the best defense is a good offense. This includes, yes again, adequate hydration to maintain sufficient moisture in the body to help keep our skin also moist. Application of serums (more effective and faster working than lotions or oils) can also maintain pliability and elasticity of our skin.
Combining these with a strong defense, as in application of sun blocks when we are outdoors, will help stop the deterioration of our skin by the sun. And wearing protective clothes such as long sleeves and long pants can not only protect us from the sun, but also from bruises and scraps indoors as well. And finally, we should maintain a regular calendar of visits with a dermatologist to keep an eye on blemishes and other skin conditions and monitor for potential skin cancers.
Part 2: Cease any bad habits.
Effective treatment is only truly effective IF we stop doing the things that got us into this condition in the first place. I’m not referring to bad social habits, like belching or other offensive bodily noises, coarse, rude or vulgar language or behavior, etc. Rather I’m referring to bad habits that degrade our health. One common one is failure to maintain good posture, causing pain and discomfort or even disfigurement in our later years, also known as standing or walking “like an old man (or woman).”
Not getting enough sleep is another bad habit that can effect our health. Lack of sleep can not only leave us low on energy, but can negatively affect our ability to think clearly. Studies show that when we are sleep-deprived we have poorer memory skills than when we get adequate rest. Too little sleep can also compromise our immune system, alter our hormone levels, and make it harder for us to lose weight.
Late night eating is another bad habit that has consequences. Besides helping us stay up, and awake, later than we we should, it also contributes to us making poor food choices, often opting for something sweet, adding not only calories to our stomachs but sugars and acids to our teeth. But last minute eating also often brings on acid indigestion or heartburn, degrading the quality of our sleep if not causing us to awake with acid reflux in our throats.
How many of us feel like we “paid our price” eating healthy all our lives (really?) and now we are going to enjoy the last years of our life, including eating food that tastes good, which is all too often not good FOR us. We need to keep up or establish the good habit of eating fruits and vegetables for one very important reason: Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that help repair damaged cells and protect them from future harm. Eating five or more servings a day reduces our risk of heart disease by as much as 20 percent. So, if we care about enjoying life to the fullest, we should do everything in our power to do so for as long as possible.
Even that nasty but good habit of flossing, if not brushing, will help extend our life, as it has been shown to strengthen our gums and ward off gum disease, a condition that contributes to heart disease and pancreatic cancer. So floss, floss, floss….
And finally, that really bad habit of all bad habits is the likely culprit keeping us up too late at night: watching TV. This not only effects us at night, but also during the day, leading to a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, which greatly increases our risk of stroke, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It also shipwrecks our journey to sandman land, as the blue light emitted by TV screens, computer monitors, tablets and even phones, sabotages our body’s attempts to produce melatonin, the hormone most critical to helping us fall and stay asleep naturally.
Part 3: Find your Partners for Progress.
The best way to ensure we keep working on whatever it is we are working on is to partner up with someone, an “Accountability Partner.” This could be someone working on the same things with you, but it doesn’t have to be.
The key to your success is to ensure they are:
- committed to seeing you succeed,
- able to motivate you to follow through on your commitments,
- available to talk with you every day or two, whether in person or by phone, for just a few minutes at a time, and
- ready to celebrate with you on every successful action, no matter how small.
Their methods of motivating you are personal, customized to your personality. What does it take to motivate you? To what kinds of promptings do you respond best? Gentle persuasion, tough love, beatings (just kidding...LoL)? Anyway, you get the point. You and your Accountability Partner need to discuss this and agree on a method to start with. If it turns out to be less than effective, then you also need to be willing to explore alternative methods, until you find one that works for you.
Both you and your partner need to be able to “read” each other also. You need to understand what your partner needs to hear. Are they discouraged, needing gentle encouragement and compassion? Are they sloughing off or shirking their duty, needing you to tactfully remind them, or exercise some tough love and snap them back in line? Sometimes a close friend works best, or less often a family member.
But there are times when we need the objective eye, someone who can stand back and tell us what we are doing wrong, or not doing at all, without worrying about hurting our feelings, or an existing relationship. So, choose your Partner in Progress well. They could be the difference between success and failure, for BOTH of you.