One of the biggest issues for retirees and soon-to-be-retired people is trying to stay healthy. Costs of health care are so expensive these days, that you are better off if you don’t get sick. Here is my health advice for seniors, on how not to get sick in the first place.
Seek the Advice of Your Doctor
Before you make any decisions about your health and well-being, be sure to consult with your doctor. This is particularly important when changing your diet, medications, or your exercise routine. Take your doctor’s advice on any and all health concerns.
The digestive system slows down with age, so high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains are as important as ever. Select high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, vegetables, and fruits. Eat breakfast every day. Keep nutritious snacks at home or with you at all times, so you can grab a snack if you feel dizzy or light-headed. Eat up to 6 small meals a day, rather than 3 big ones.
Because seniors are prone to dehydration, they should drink plenty of water to stay energized and sharp. Water helps with your digestive track, and keeps your skin healthy. It helps also to stay alert, and keeps your body functioning normally. It is recommended to drink 8 – 8 ounce glasses per day.
Focus on Prevention
Preventative care visits, including health screenings for cholesterol levels, colon cancer, heart problems and more, qualify for Medicare coverage. Seniors also need to get vaccinations that can help prevent influenza, shingles, and pneumonia.
Wash Hands Frequently
Nothing helps more for preventing sickness than washing your hands. Rinse first, then lather up with regular hand soap. Continue to lather for about 20 seconds. Healthy eating advocate and chef Graham Kerr says an easy way to get that whole 20 seconds in, is to sing two verses of “Happy Birthday” while you’re lathering. Then rinse off well. If you are in a public bathroom, use your paper towel or your sleeve or the edge of your coat to touch the handle when you open the door.
Avoid Contact With People Who Are Sick
Another way to protect yourself year-round is to avoid being close to people who are sick. This is easier said than done. But if there’s a flu outbreak in your area, limit contact with people who aren’t feeling well and avoid crowded areas until conditions improve. If you must go out, protect yourself by wearing a face mask. If you’re caring for someone with the flu, wear a face mask and gloves, and wash your hands frequently.
It sounds a little callous and uncaring, but remember that the flu and other communicable viruses and diseases have an increased effect on those vulnerable to sickness, which includes the elderly. It may sound a little over-dramatic, but it’s true that having the flu can cost you your life. So, it’s important to avoid sick people as much as you can.
Avoid Areas Where Mosquitoes Carry Diseases
Tropical countries still have malaria carrying mosquitoes. West Nile Disease was quite common a few years ago where I live in Colorado. Now the Zika virus has been seen in some southern states. These among others can do considerable damage to an elderly person. So, avoid mosquitoes if you can, and if you can’t, wear a DEET based mosquito spray or take other mosquito deterring precautions.
Get Information on Medication Management.
Ask about and review your medications with your physician on a regular basis. Consider possible drug interactions and take note of any new symptoms (allergic reactions, drowsiness, loss of appetite and others) that you have after changing or starting medications. In a lot of cases, what appears to be dementia might be a reaction to medication, so keep an eye out for symptoms. Also, the drowsiness and dizziness can affect your ability to drive, so it’s important to recognize how you are feeling and consult with your doctor about any concerns.
Keep your skin healthy and well hydrated
Not only should you drink plenty of water for your skin, but you might want to consider lotions or salves to help with any dryness you experience. And don’t forget to use sun screen when you go out. SPF of 30 or greater is recommended.
Get Some Sleep.
Frequent waking and insomnia in the night are common among seniors. Turn the lights down in the evening to spur drowsiness and make sure your bedroom is comfortable, cool and quiet. Turn off the tech devices at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. Try reading a “real” book. Also, some Sleepy Time Tea helps.
Limit Screen Time
Use of your computer, laptop, tablet, or phone for excessive amounts of time has an effect on your health. Think about it; if you are glued to your screen, you are not exercising or interacting with other people. It’s hard to avoid if you are working for a living, but try to take frequent breaks if you can. Also consider a No-Screen-Time day, where, instead, you read a good book, go to lunch with a friend, do some gardening, go for a walk, catch up on your crafts, do a puzzle, or do other activities that don’t involve your computer or phone.
Learn How to Manage Stress
Even as a retiree, you may be under stress for various reasons.
Chronic stress increases your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol can disrupt different functions in your body, including your immune system.
To reduce stress, increase physical activity, get plenty of sleep, set reasonable expectations for yourself, and explore relaxing, enjoyable activities. Try taking a yoga class or guided meditation. Practice deep breathing. Watch a funny movie, or listen to your favorite calming music.
Set up a de-stress plan ahead of time so that, in the moment, you can go right to your de-stressing activity without having to think about it.
Remember Mental Health
The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation recommends that seniors do crossword puzzles, read and write and try new hobbies to stimulate their minds and engage with the world around them. Activities like these can ward off a decline in mental health. AARP has free computer games you can play that stimulate your brain activity. Try to learn something new every single day, so your brain has something to mull over.
Screen for Vision Changes
Seniors who wear glasses should have their prescription checked every year for changes and have their eyes screened for health issues. Having the right pair of glasses can reduce a senior’s chance of falling. Also, your eyesight is very important for driving safely. So get checked.
Time spent with family and grandchildren help seniors feel connected, especially if they have mobility issues. Those visits can also make seniors feel more upbeat, which is the best medicine at any age. If you don’t have family and friends close by, at least try to connect with your community. There are lots of senior activities and senior centers in just about every small town. Look up your local options and be on the look out for gatherings where you can meet people.
Be Aware of Depression
If you start to feel lonely and blue, be sure to get some help. Speak with a health professional or clergyman. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you are feeling down-and-out. Exercising, socializing, and taking on a “glass is half full” attitude helps so much in combating depression. There is some truth, also, in that song about counting your blessings, “name them one by one.” This is what psychologists have you do when you’re depressed. Every day, write down 10 things that make you happy, and dwell on them for a while. Keep a journal, so you can track your feelings.
Stay Physically Active
Exercise not only alleviates depression but improves energy and memory. An exercise program approved by a physician, long walks or short strolls can keep seniors healthier longer. Ask your health care provider about ways you can safely increase your physical activity.
Fit physical activity into your everyday life. Take short walks throughout your day. Park a block away from your destinations and walk the rest of the way.
Take Advantage of Free Physicals, Discounts, and More
During the first 12 months on Medicare, seniors are offered free physicals. After that first year, they receive free annual wellness visits.
Where I live, the local TV station has a health fair every year in just about every community in the state. They do free or low cost health screenings. Often, the only price you pay is for labs. Once your lab work is done, the health professionals at the fair will send you a readout of your tests that you can take to your doctor to discuss. If they detect serious problems they call you right away. I participated in the health fair before, and I can tell you, it was worth my time and money.
Take advantage of free and low cost prescriptions, treatments, and medical devices. Groupon actually has health screenings and procedures at discounted prices. AARP has all kinds of discounts for prescriptions and medical equipment. A simple Google search will yield pages and pages of senior health discounts you can use.
- AARP prescription savings: Members save an average of 61% on FDA-approved prescriptions not covered by insurance.
- Atera Spas: Includes special prices on products for seniors.
- RiteAid: Offers a wellness 65+ program for seniors that includes 20% off of purchases on the first Wednesday of each month. The program also includes a free consultation with a pharmacist.
- RxFreeCard: Includes discounts on prescriptions for seniors.
Visit the Dentist Every Six Months
Our risk for cavities goes up with age. Plus, many mouth infections can be linked to serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So seniors should see the dentist regularly. Even if you have dentures, you should see a dentist periodically to make sure your dentures continue to fit you properly. There are a lot of health issues that come with ill-fitting dentures, so be sure to have yours checked every so often. And of course, make sure you keep you your dental hygiene routine of brushing and flossing.
Consider Health Monitoring Devices
I have what is called a pulse-ox tester. It’s a device you put on your finger that tells you the oxygen level in your blood, and checks your heart beats per minute. This helps me understand that I need to slow down and take a breather when my oxygen goes too low and my heart rate is too high.
My husband has a blood pressure monitor. It takes his BP readings and stores them with a time and date stamp. He takes his monitor to his doctor visits, where the doctor analyzes them. It helps assure that the BP meds are working.
There are literally hundreds of health monitoring devices on the market, from step counters, to glucose monitors, and many other items. Consult with your medical professional on which devices will work for you.
Quit Smoking and Moderate Alcohol Use
Everyone now knows that smoking is bad for you, as is any kind of tobacco use. And don’t be fooled by the new thing, vaping. You are still taking in harmful and addictive substances even though you no longer take in the tar from smoking. I understand that it’s a difficult, but one must weigh the consequences. It’s all up to the individual whether you continue to smoke or not.
Also, drinking alcohol in moderation is the best advice for health. Some would argue that no alcohol is best, but there are health benefits to drinking a glass of wine or beer now and then. Of course addictive behavior can be hereditary, and it is difficult to stop drinking if you are predisposed to that addictive behavior. Again, it’s up to the individual, once you have weighed the consequences. I know I can’t physically drink the way I did when I was in my twenties, and have become a social drinker, usually nursing one or two drinks throughout the social event. But that’s just me.
Work or Volunteer
It’s true, that you retired (or will be retiring) from your job because you don’t want to work anymore. But that can leave a big old hole in your social interaction and leave you feeling like something is missing. It’s also true that people like myself will HAVE TO work once we retire. But this is our opportunity to do what we WANT to do at the schedule we want to do it at, instead of the regimented 9 to 5 we worked all our careers. It helps to have somewhere to go every day, and to have something to do to look forward to. It also helps to feel like you are a vital part of a team, and your input is needed.
Volunteering can give you some of that interaction you might be missing. It’s fulfilling, not just on a personal level, but helps your community and the people around you that may not have it as good as you do. It gives you a sense of purpose and makes you feel like you are needed.
Speaking of Work, and Keeping Your Mind Busy….
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It’s a lot to take in, I know. But, as you have likely heard, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The longer you keep up all of these routine items, the better you will feel, and therefore, the better you will be. Of course no one can predict the future, and there will be times when these suggestions don’t work, and we get sick anyway. That’s part of life. But even if you do get sick, following these suggestions while you recover will certainly help you keep a positive attitude.
Please put your comments and questions below, and thank you so much for reading!