Helping Senior Family Members Stay Healthy
We all want the best for our elderly loved ones. Whether they are living with family, with assisted care, or independently, we also want to make sure that they are making healthy choices.
As we age, our bodies’ needs begin to change, so we need to adjust accordingly. Staying healthy as we get older may mean that what used to work for us will no longer work, or may not be enough anymore. There are two main areas that seniors need to address in order to stay healthy: physical activity and nutrition.
1) Physical Activity. Our older loved ones are at more prone to develop disorders such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. They may also experience lower energy, strength, and flexibility, which could lead to fall injuries. Being overweight also increases the risk of all the above. Therefore, older adults must make sure to include regular physical activity into their routines. There are four main types of exercises that are especially important for seniors:
- Endurance (i.e. walking or swimming)
- Strength (i.e. weight lifting)
Depending on their current lifestyle and physical state, it is best for seniors to check in with their doctor before starting a new exercise regime. If they have previously lived a mainly sedentary lifestyle, encourage them to get started with small changes, such as incorporating a regular walk into their schedules. As they build more strength and confidence, they can build up their routines with guidance from their doctor, as well as fitness trainers who can give them modifications as needed. For more social activity, help your loved ones find classes in their area that they might be interested in! You can also find some resources online, such as this exercise plan for seniors from Healthline.
Physical activity can help reduce the risk of certain diseases. It can also help our loved ones maintain a healthy weight and avoid fall injuries. Staying physically fit can also help them maintain as much of their independence as possible if that is the lifestyle that they prefer.
2) Nutrition. Similarly, depending on your loved ones’ current lifestyle, physical condition, and any health concerns, a healthy diet should be a top priority. Older adults need to make sure that they are eating enough protein for healthy bones and muscles, and foods rich in antioxidants to lower the risk of certain diseases.
Senior adults also have an increased need for certain vitamins and minerals. According to EatRight.org, older adults in particular require more of the following in their diets:
- Calcium + Vitamin D (especially for bone health)
- Vitamin B12
- ‘Healthy’ fats i.e. food low in saturated and trans fats
Besides making sure that their diets include enough of the above requirements, we should also consider our loved ones’ unique needs that might prevent them from eating a healthy diet. For example, they might have issues with chewing or swallowing, so we may need to ensure that they are getting the nutrients that they need through other ways. They may also have issues with smell or taste, especially if they are taking certain medications. Depending on their health and mobility, they may also not be able to go to a market or grocery store, or cook meals for themselves.
When you visit your loved ones, consider the ways you can encourage them to make these healthy choices if they aren’t already! Here are some ways you can help.
Check in with your loved ones. Get a sense of how your loved ones are doing. Are they feeling well? Are they doing any physical activities? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they meeting with their medical provider on a regular basis? Determining a baseline for how they are doing and how you can help is the first step to keeping them healthy.
Find local service providers who can help. If you happen to live farther away from your older relatives, you can still assist them by finding local service providers to help them meet their needs. This could be a could be a local meal delivery program that will help them keep a steady, nutritious diet. Local senior centers also provide activities and resources, but most importantly, a sense of community that older adults would greatly benefit from.
Encourage them to be mindful and enjoy life. This is a great time in their lives, and your older loved ones might feel that healthy choices can be too strict or cumbersome. Help them get started on healthy habits but do so in ways they might enjoy. Maybe that means taking regular walks with them, or sitting down to a healthy meal that you have prepared together. You’ll be giving them the gift of your time AND healthy choices. You can also encourage them to do little things like eating mindfully - sitting at a table instead of in front of the TV, for example - and reaching out to friends and family for social interaction.
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