Since the 1960s average life expectancy in the U.S. has steadily increased. The CDC National Center for Health Statistics noted that in 2017 heart disease and cancer death rates dropped slightly, which is great news for older adults.
As our population lives longer, adult children are faced with a new challenge – helping their aging parent live a happy and healthy life in their later years. It’s important to help aging parents maintain their independence, but adult children may need to take an active role to ensure this is possible.
Make Safety Updates at Home
There’s a good chance your aging parent has a home of their own and wants to stay there. Today, many people are thinking ahead and using universal design, also known as aging in place design. The concept includes things like walk-in showers, wider wheelchair accessible hallways and toggle light switches that are lower on the wall.
If they have a two-story home, seriously consider installing a stair chair lift for improved mobility. Stairs are one of the most hazardous parts of the home. All it takes is a small misstep to cause a serious injury that could be life-threatening. Stair chair lifts make it possible for people with mobility difficulties to safely get up and down the stairs. A track with a sturdy attached chair is installed along the wall of the staircase. Sit down, strap in and push a button to get up the stairs in seconds.
Keep Your Parents Socializing
Did you know people with an active social life are less likely to get dementia? Research has found socializing is very beneficial for mental health. One study showed daily contact with friends and family reduced women’s chances of developing dementia by nearly 50 percent. Doctors aren’t quite sure what mechanisms are at play, but staying engaged has an all-around positive effect. The mental boost people get from socialization can positively impact emotional well-being and physical well-being.
Encourage your aging parents to:
- Volunteer with local organizations
- Join social groups
- Attend church events and activities
- Call friends and family regularly
Seniors should aim to have at least three close contacts that they interact with on a regular basis. The problem for seniors is that they may become less social later in life due to factors like limited transportation options and physical limitations. If your parent can no longer drive arrange for transportation so that they can socialize on a regular basis at least several times a week. Services like Uber now allow others to arrange pick ups and drop offs, which may work if your parent lives in a city.
Keep Them Moving
Your parents may be getting older, but that doesn’t mean they should forgo regular exercise. In fact, staying physically active is more important than ever when you get older.
Exercise helps seniors maintain their health and happiness in a number of ways:
- Prevents excess weight gain
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Increases bone density
- Opportunity to socialize with peers
- Increases energy levels
Health experts recommend that seniors aim to get at least 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise five days a week. This may seem like a lot, but something as simple as walking can help seniors hit their physical activity goals. Suggest that your parents try these three exercises for aging adults that are safe and highly beneficial.
Know the Healthy Diet Recommendations
Diet recommendations from the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department and USDA are based on sex and age. As we go through life our bodies need different levels of nutrition. Currently the recommendation is that males over 60 years old get 2,000-2,600 calories a day, and women over 60 years old should consume 1,600-2,000 calories a day. The more active a person is the more calories they need regardless of age.
There are also nutritional guidelines that highlight the need for a well-balanced diet. Like younger adults, seniors should load up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Seniors should be particularly careful to limit their sodium intake.
MyPlate.gov is an excellent resource for helping your aging parents come up with meals and snacks that support a healthy diet. There are even tips and advice for healthy eating on a budget.