Isn’t it wonderful that Australians are enjoying longer lifespans than ever before? While this is great news overall, one possible downside is that ageing can bring an increasing risk of disability and increasing susceptibility to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, ageing does not automatically doom you to a life of frailty. There are many older Australians who are able to avoid these pitfalls and retain their youthful vigour by making healthy lifestyle choices. Let’s discuss 4 tips for retaining your independence and remaining fit, mobile and healthy as you age.
1. Engage in Age-Appropriate Levels of Physical Activity
Everybody needs to exercise to maintain optimum health and fitness levels – and research has demonstrated that exercise can extend independence for older adults. Victoria’s Better Health Channel reports that the amount of physical activity you actually need depends on your age. For Australians older than 65 years of age, they recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
What kind of exercise do you need to engage in for best results? According to Julie Moberg at the University of Michigan Extension in the United States, there are 4 different types of exercise:
- Endurance training
- Strength training
- Balance exercises
- Flexibility exercises
Ideally, your exercise programme should incorporate all 4 of these types.
In the United States, researchers from Harvard University determined that older adults who followed an exercise programme consisting of walking plus strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance training exercises had an advantage in maintaining their mobility as they aged. The study participants who followed this exercise programme were able to reduce the total time that they suffered from major disability by 25 percent over the duration of the 3-and-a-half-year study. The participants also enjoyed substantially reduced incidences of disability.
2. Guard Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a syndrome that can ruin your independence by causing cognitive decline and memory loss. Its causes are poorly understood, and clinical researchers have yet to discover a cure for it. Yet, the vast body of research that has been conducted on this condition does reveal some actions you can take that may decrease your chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease:
- Design a life for yourself that includes a strong sense of purpose.
- If you aren’t already bilingual, study a second language.
- Keep your brain engaged with mentally stimulating activities such as crafts, reading books, playing games or participating in social activities.
- Listen to music or take a music appreciation course.
- Make sure you get enough vitamin D.
- Brew your own black tea, green tea or oolong tea from tea leaves and drink it frequently.
- Eat omega-3-rich foods such as fish and flaxseed.
- Enjoy blueberries
In some cases, researchers have determined that consuming these foods or engaging in these activities has correlated with fewer incidences of Alzheimer’s disease for the subjects of various studies that have been conducted. While correlation does not effectively prove causation, it is possible that some of these activities may have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease. The linked news articles and studies provide more information about the methodologies the researchers used and their conclusions.
3. Avoid Toxins That Can Ruin Your Health
There are countless toxins that can harm your body and your mind and also have the potential to ruin your independence as you age.
For example, let’s talk about smoking. Everybody knows that smoking cigarettes can cause or contribute to lung cancer – but fewer people are aware that smoking appears to increase a person’s risk of contracting eye diseases including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), which can lead to blindness. Obviously, severe vision loss or blindness would have the potential to substantially limit your capacity for independent living and should be avoided to the greatest extent possible.
Smoking can also adversely contribute to a broad variety of other damaging health conditions and diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It can also cause hearing loss and many other health problems.
Smoking can also negatively influence your mental health. Researchers have found that smokers have a significantly greater risk of suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and schizophrenia than non-smokers do.
If you’re a cigarette smoker, and you hope to preserve your long-term independence as you age, it is of utmost importance that you take action to quit. If you have friends who smoke, avoid breathing secondhand smoke from their cigarettes.
Cigarette smoke isn’t the only toxin that can ruin your health and compromise your independence as you age. Mold, pesticides and many other substances can also cause harm. To preserve your health and independence, it’s beneficial to avoid all known toxins to the best of your ability.
4. Seek Out the Right In-Home Carer
Obviously, it’s ideal to be your own caretaker for as long as possible. However, there are circumstances in which this might not be possible. If you suffer a fall, a car accident or some other accident, there may come a time when you need to seek outside help from a carer. There is no shame in this.
The Australian government offers a Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) to older Australians who need some support but wish to remain living at home independently. If you need short-term help while recovering after a fall, or help with things like showering and preparing meals, or help with installation of ramps or handrails to help you feel more secure at home, this programme might be an excellent option for you.
There are also options for people who need longer-term support while continuing to live at home. Growing numbers of older Australians are choosing to age in place at home via home care packages rather than transition to permanent residential care. And, in general, older Australians tend to be more satisfied with home care services than they are with residential care. Depending on your situation, it may be viable for you to remain at home with a full-time or part-time carer rather than moving to an aged care facility.
Finding the right carer can pose a whole new set of challenges. You have numerous options ranging from government-subsidised packages to private carers to not-for-profit care providers to voluntary care by relatives or friends. The Australian government gives accreditation to worthy aged care providers, but no formal academic qualifications are required to become an aged carer. It can be hard to know who to trust with the critically important task of caring for you.
If you choose to take advantage of a government-subsidised care option, one of the first steps is to request an assessment. The results of your assessment would determine what level of support you’d be eligible for, and what your next steps to get started might be.
If you go through the private system, choosing a carer can be a bit bewildering. There’s no government-sponsored website providing official ratings of carers (although, in some cases, the Aged Care Quality website might be able to help you determine whether a particular provider has had horrific complaints lodged against them and should be avoided). But, otherwise, it’s up to you to figure out who you want to work with.
One of the most important criteria in choosing the right carer is whether you like the person and can get on with him or her in a productive way.
When you interview potential carers, be sure to ask about their experience and qualifications. If possible, it’s beneficial to choose a carer who has completed at least a certificate III in aged care. The absence of such a qualification doesn’t necessarily mean a carer isn’t qualified; but one who has successfully completed this course is more likely to be familiar with all the details of the commonwealth’s high standards for aged care.
There is nothing wrong with seeking out help when you need it. Choosing the right in-home carer can be empowering for older Australians. It’s one of the best options for those who wish to live independently at home for as long as possible.
These are our top 4 tips for staying healthy, fit and independent as you age. Following these suggestions is likely to empower you to remain mobile, live in your own home longer and avoid a move to an aged-care residential facility.