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Health, activity can help seniors age well

The concept of aging well and what goes into aging well is discussed throughout the senior care and medical community, but most professionals agree the concept focuses on aspects including mental and physical health, activity and the pursuit of aging in place.

Melissa Gleeson, assistant director of the Rose Centers for Aging Well at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland; Adam Santo, owner of Oasis Senior Advisors in Avon Lake; and John Burkley, care navigator and dementia care specialist at Montefiore in Beachwood, said that seniors who want to stay active and well in their community should strive to be healthy in all aspects of their life

“I would say staying engaged in their community is a big aspect,” Gleeson said. “The key is not staying home and to avoid isolation. You should get out every day and be active, and continue to keep your mind active by learning new things.”

Santo noted he finds two important areas when it comes to aging with dignity – health care and keeping up to date with it and the emotional side of health. He said seniors who live in communities have the benefit of being reminded and taken care of, but those who live at home need to really be in tune with what their doctors want.

“Keeping up with health care needs are first and foremost,” he said. “The emotional side sometimes goes unnoticed as well. The loss of maybe not being able to drive or getting around as much, paired with the emotional stress and strain that can come with that, is a lot. Families should give (seniors) a forum to let them know that it is OK to feel upset and worried. Seniors today are from a time where they aren’t as open and forthcoming with their emotions so check in with them.”

Burkley said seniors should be proactive and seek community resources.

“As Clevelanders, we’re blessed to have many excellent clinical and professional supports and services at our fingertips,” he said. “As we age, we should strive to familiarize ourselves with these organizations and foster relationships which will be useful when we need them. Too many seniors wait until they experience a traumatic event to begin making decisions regarding their wellbeing.”

When it comes to the foods seniors should eat and avoid, Gleeson said they should partake in low salt, high fiber diets, paired with healthy proteins and lots of water to combat dehydration.

“As you age, your ability to sense when you’re dehydrated kind of diminishes,” she said. “Staying hydrated and drinking water is key, especially when you’re not thirsty. There are a lot of illnesses that creep up in adults that are associated with dehydration.”

Santo said, “As seniors age, caloric intake starts to drop. But the number of nutrients and vitamin intake needed increases. Foods that add in and focus on fiber richness like oats, beans, nuts and seeds; lean protein like chicken and fish and milk and yogurt filled with probiotics are key.

“Seniors want to avoid processed sugars. These calories are empty and don’t do a lot of good. Salts also promote dehydration, so it’s good to drink things that are electrolyte rich.”

Burkley noted when changing a diet, seniors should consult a registered dietitian to ensure the change won’t negatively affect their health.

“Focus on a balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy,” he said. “For those suffering from dementia, finger foods and uncomplicated plating is best practice as the illness progresses. Also, as the brain changes due to dementia, so can appetite and preference.”

When seniors are eating healthy, Burkley, Santo and Gleeson agreed the change in diet needs to be paired with appropriate exercise.

“Seniors should continue to focus on balance and flexibility,” Santo said. “A good activity for that is yoga. These types of movements really focus on strengthening the leg and core muscles, which can, in turn, help them recover better if something were to happen.”

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