September is Healthy Aging Month!
In this post:
- Introduction – what is healthy aging?
- Common concerns in aging adults
- Social isolation and depression in older adults
- Physical activity needs as you age
- Community resources
It’s no secret that Alaskan communities are aging. As the years march by, the percent of Alaskans above the age of 60 is only increasing. This means that our Alaskan communities have to be even more aware of what it means to age healthily, and how to thrive in our golden years.
So what is healthy aging? Mostly, it means maintaining good health and good quality of life for as long as possible while aging. It means being healthy enough to live independently if you want to, and to contribute to your community in whatever way is meaningful to you. Older adults have a lot to give, especially in retirement when you can focus on what is most important to you and your family.
Healthy aging means healthy living as you get older. It’s important to learn healthy habits and maintain good health practices at all ages. If you’re young, it might be in preparation for the years when your body is maybe a little less forgiving of the sort of shenanigans you think you can put it through now. And if you’re already in your senior years, it might not be too late to adopt healthy habits and extend your life through healthy living.
It’s a myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, after all. My 17 year-old dachshund certainly learned how to play me like a fiddle in his old age.
Common Aging Concerns
Older adults have to contend with a lot of challenges, from managing retirement income to avoiding injury to the many chronic diseases that tend to pop up with aging. These can be anything from joint pain to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease, to Alzheimer's and dementia. Depression and social isolation are also very common in older adults, many of whom find themselves disconnected from their communities due to difficulty with mobility and limited income. Older adults wind up in the hospital for falls that would never have fazed a younger adult. Many seniors find themselves becoming increasingly dependent on others for a variety of issues such as transportation and home repair and home maintenance as their physical or mental capabilities decline.
Some of these concerns can be mitigated with healthy diets and age-appropriate activities, which can help reduce the impact of chronic disease and maintain mobility. Others require community-wide effort to ensure resources for senior care. To learn more and see what the state of Alaska is up to regarding aging initiatives, you can check out the Alaska Commission on Aging.
Social Isolation and Depression in Older Adults
We mentioned that older adults sometimes have to contend with depression and social isolation. This can include feelings of anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and disconnection. If you experience these feelings, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about them.
If you ever think about harming yourself, or that you would be better off dead or not waking up in the morning, call 988 to get immediate help.
Depression can be hard to identify, especially in older adults whose symptoms may be less obvious or who are less likely to talk about their feelings. It’s important to build social connections into your day-to-day and week-to-week routines, both to help prevent depression and to combat its effects.
Physical Activity Needs as You Age
While no one expects you to train for a marathon in your senior years, physical activity is still very important for maintaining good health and preventing disease. Adults aged 65 and older need:
- At least 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity activity.
- At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles
- Activities to improve balance and prevent falls
Moderate-intensity activity can be as simple as brisk walking. Those 150 minutes can be 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, spread out into smaller chunks however your body can manage. Muscle-strengthening and balance activities are important to help prevent falls and injury from falling, and help you get back up in the event of a fall. There are physical activities you can do in your own home, even if you rely on a wheelchair or a walker, that can help strengthen your body and improve your overall health. Or, you can join a senior community that organizes walks, swims, or other activities, to build social connections on top of physical strength!
Try the activity planner from the Move Your Way program to build a personalized weekly activity plan!
Your primary care provider is your first stop to help you prepare for your healthy aging needs. They can help you address your physical and mental health concerns, and get you connected with specialists if you need them. Seeing your primary care provider regularly and following up with their recommendations can help you avoid expensive trips to the hospital. If you’re seen at a Federally Qualified Health Center (that’s us at ICHC!), you can also get financial resources, help with navigating or enrolling in insurance, and help from a case worker to link you to other useful community programs. If you have Medicare, you might be eligible for a Medicare Annual Wellness exam, which is a service that is covered in full by Medicare and gives you the opportunity to assess your overall health and receive a helpful road map from your provider that outlines your preventive care needs as you age.
In Fairbanks, you also can talk to the Fairbanks Senior Center to learn more about programs to help you in your home and in your community. They have a broad range of programs and services, as well as connections to partner programs that can meet needs they don’t address directly. The Senior Program, run by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, has activities and events that seniors can attend for free or for as little as $5.00. They can also help you enroll in transportation assistance and more.
To schedule an appointment with your doctor at Interior Community Health Center, call 907-455-4567. You can talk to us about your financial and social needs, too, and we’ll get you connected with the resources you need.