September is Healthy Aging Month, and to mark the occasion, we’ve compiled a selection of courses and resources for healthcare professionals focused on four key themes: staying fit, healthy, adventurous, and connected.
Fit: Staying active and motivated
It’s a perpetual conundrum. With aging comes a natural decline in muscle mass. Increased activity can help compensate for the decline, but for those enjoying their retirement years, pushing their bodies that extra mile may be the last thing they want to do.
Nevertheless, exercise has proven positive effects — not only on physical health, but also on older adults’ mental, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Here are five tips healthcare professionals should consider to help promote physical fitness for seniors:
Make exercise fun
Start with the simple question, “What do you enjoy doing?” Activities structured around genuine interests make exercise fun, rewarding and, most importantly, easier to maintain long term.
Remember, exercise can be anything! Putting in 30 minutes on a treadmill may seem like a chore, but walking around a local park with a grandchild may be a joy. Tailoring exercises to an older adult’s needs and interests is much more likely to yield positive outcomes.
Find a partner
Even the most onerous tasks can feel easier when done with a friend. Finding a fitness partner not only allows for exercise accountability, but it provides seniors the chance for regular socialization.
Set simple milestones
Setting rigid or unrealistic goals is one of the surest paths to burnout. Instead, keep it simple and set small milestones over time, focusing on incremental progress rather than big, long-term goals.
Offer ample support
Seniors striving to maintain physical fitness often require help. In both word and action, healthcare professionals should take time to encourage older adults as they progress toward their fitness goals.
Build a gradual workout schedule
Once the senior has chosen an activity they enjoy, set the first goal for once a week. Don’t forget positive feedback! After the senior has met this first goal for a few weeks, increase his or her activity to two times a week. Another successful month? Increase to three times a week and so on with positive reinforcement.
Watch for signs of potential burnout, and always be prepared to adjust accordingly (including adding new activities when the current ones grow stale).
- Reference: How to Encourage Physical Fitness for Seniors
- Course for Nurses: Healthy Aging, 3rd Edition
- Course for Therapy Professionals: Therapeutic Exercise and the Older Adult: An Evidence-Based Approach, 2nd Edition
Healthy: Food for thought
While metabolism may slow down in the golden years, diet still plays a critical role in shaping, maintaining, and repairing the body. Besides the standard macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), seniors and those caring for them must also pay careful attention to the vitamins and minerals they are — or aren’t — getting in their diet.
Some seniors may have difficulty absorbing things like Vitamin B-12, which is naturally found in foods, or they may need additional minerals like calcium to combat bone loss.
- Related article: Food for Thought (and Other Processes): Nutrition Basics for the Rehabilitation Professional
- Course for Nurses: An Overview of Geriatric Care
- Course for Therapy Professionals: A Clinician’s Guide to Improving Therapeutic Outcomes: Why is Nutrition Important?
Adventurous: Staying sharp
Cognitive fitness is as much a part of healthy aging as physical fitness, and it’s vital for seniors to keep their minds sharp. Mental exercises can not only help improve mood; they can also hone thinking, memory, reasoning, and processing skills.
As with physical exercises, it’s important to find mental activities for seniors that will hold their interest. Maybe they enjoy reading or puzzles or sketching or painting. Ask them about favorite hobbies, but don’t be afraid to encourage something new.
Whether it’s learning a new language, taking up bird-watching, buying a telescope to study the night sky, or researching their own family history, embracing creativity can help stave off cognitive decline.
- Reference: Mental Health and The Elderly
- Course for Nurses: Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults
- Course for Therapy Professionals: Depression, Cognitive Changes and Dementia in Older Adults
Connected: Finding ways to socialize
COVID-19 has changed the meaning of socialization for everyone, but its particular impact on older adults who are more susceptible to the virus cannot be overstated. Seniors who are already at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other mental health issues have faced a long quarantine; finding alternative forms of socialization is absolutely critical.
Encourage seniors and their loved ones to connect via video calls, phone calls, emails, or old-fashioned letters. Where face-to-face contact is safe and feasible, allow for those connections.
- Reference: Loneliness in Seniors Due to COVID-19
- Course for Nurses: Mental Health and the Older Adult
- Course for Therapy Professionals: Depression and Anxiety Disorders in Older Adults, 2nd Edition