The United States of Aging Survey, conducted by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare and USA TODAY reported on seniors’ perspectives on aging and what concerns them. Of interest is what doesn’t seem to concern them so much: taking care of their health.
The survey was comprised of 4,000 telephone interviews, including nationally representative samples of Americans ages 60 and older and adults ages 18-59.
The study found that sixty percent of seniors expect their health to stay the same over the next five to 10 years. (Who are they kidding?) They are not doing any activities to help themselves manage their health over the long run. 65 percent of seniors report having at least two chronic health conditions. Chronic health conditions do tend to worsen over time, sometimes dramatically.
From seeing this part of the study, I am concerned. Chronic health conditions need to be managed or they are sure to get worse over time, not stay the same. Yet the majority of the seniors in the study did not report taking their chronic health issues seriously enough to work on managing them. They must be in la-la land.
More than half of the seniors studied have set no goals, such as regular physical activity or weight loss, to manage their health. And these seniors are apparently not getting much help on this goal setting either. Of those with chronic health conditions, 7 in 10 state that they were not encouraged by their health care provider to attend community programs to help with their health.
Where does that leave us? If the study reflects general attitudes of being unconcerned about health conditions that need attention and no one is paying attention, we will all pay the price. If a senior does not manage high blood pressure, for instance, by doing what doctors recommend and not having a specific goal to get blood pressure down to a more normal level, more seniors are going to suffer strokes and heart attacks.
We will all be paying the high costs of treating these things via Medicare expenditures and family caregiving contributions to maintaining our elders after their health breaks down.
How soon do you want to become your aging parent’s caregiver? Imagine the burden that could create on you and your own family.
What Can Families Do About This?
So how do we get our elderly parents, or maybe our siblings age 60 and over to get out of la-la land about their need to pay attention to health? We can aim for healthy aging ourselves. We can take the first steps and talk about our own efforts with our family members. We become the example for them.
Here are 5 ways for you to start on the path to preventing your own chronic illness.
- Get a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Keep them by the door on days you want to get out and spend 30 minutes walking. If this is all new, start with five minutes and slowly build up your time moving.
- Put the days you will engage in physical activity for 30 minutes on your calendar and keep your appointment with yourself. 3 times a week is a great start. Commit. Invite a friend to join you. That motivator of being accountable to someone else really does help.
- Cut out one unhealthy food or drink habit every week for a month. Whether you stop buying sugary drinks, like sodas or refrain from fries, you can part with one thing each week. Maybe a good new habit will displace the old one.
- Read food labels next time you go to the grocery store.You might be surprised at what’s in those packaged goods. If you can’t pronounce the additives, they just might not be good for you. Don’t buy it if you want to be sure. Watch out for sugar in all forms. It has many names.
- Tell your aging loved ones what you’re doing and encourage them to do the same.. If you really want to be accountable, post what goals you want to reach on social media, such as Facebook (Meta) or other outlets where you participate. And set some deadlines for reaching your goals. Post your progress.
We can change our consciousness about healthy aging one step at a time. Now’s the time to take that step. This is for YOU and your aging loved ones. Preventing health breakdowns means habits you have to form yourself and encourage others to form with you.
If you’re worried about your aging parent’s major self-neglect and failure to attend to even basic health needs, this is more serious than forming healthy habits. You may need professional advice so you can avert disasters. Reach out to us at AgingParents.com by calling 866-962-4464 or book your consultation online. Prevent the crisis you see looming!
By Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com