By Curtis Thill, MD
Aging can make us wiser and happier, which is good, because one of the fastest growing groups in our service region is people over the age of 65. While your retirement years and growing older can be a rewarding time, growing old will present a number of new considerations and challenges. These challenges can be both for the over 65 group and for the family members who increasingly find themselves in a position of caregiver.
Many things change for people in the age group of 65+, sometimes dramatically. Here are some general guidelines that can help, whether you are the one in the over 65 age bracket, or if you’re helping care for a family member over 65.
Change is natural. As you age, especially in your 60s and beyond, your body and mind will undergo several changes over time. The rate and impact of many changes can be impacted by how well you took care of yourself in earlier years and also how well you’re taking care of yourself now. But in many respects, it is helpful to understand and accept that physical and mental changes in your senior years is natural. For example, with each passing year, your metabolism starts slowing down. Your muscles can weaken, and bone cartilage can change, making regular simple exercise (like walking and swimming) a priority. It is also a time when it is easy to put on weight, which can complicate things. Changing what (and how much) you eat and exercise can improve your physical health, even in your senior years.
Be aware. As people age, many experience changes in vision, memory, and overall levels of health, including your immune system. While it’s important at any age, being aware of both your blood pressure levels and range and cholesterol levels, and actively working to keep those within a healthy spectrum is critically important. Keeping active with a sound diet and managing those levels can help you improve heart health and lessen the possibility of stroke. Regular checkups and screenings – especially your annual wellness visit – are very important. As you age, your mobility will likely be affected, which means you need to minimize clutter in your living areas and ensure that you have safe paths to walk, including within your home. Many older people will begin to experience minor memory issues. Regarding this, memory issues are not always a sign of dementia. People unnecessarily worry that a little struggle with memory means Alzheimer’s is in their future.
Dealing with chronic disease – As statistics report and as we’ve seen in our medical practice, some 80 percent of older adults will face or already have at least one chronic disease. The top five common chronic diseases are hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, arthritis, ischemic/coronary heart disease, and diabetes. Often, older people will have more than one chronic condition. Programs exist to help with managing treatment and improving care.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including those who are now caring for an aging parent). As people age, their medical and other needs can become complicated. Those now caring for their parents, as well as their own families, can experience burnout. Resources exist to help. Actively partnering with your medical provider can help, and healthcare operations (including Southern Indiana Community Health Care) can help with Medicare and Medicaid navigation, as well as other issues like transportation and options for care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – senior life can be fulfilling and happy years!
Board-certified in family medicine, Curtis Thill, MD has practiced medicine in the Southern Indiana for more than three decades.