Healthy aging key to independence

In order to age well and maintain independence, staying healthy is important.

A 2014 report on seniors healthy aging found at canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/seniors says that “Canadians are enjoying longer life spans and better health than ever before.”

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The site suggests that if you are looking for ways to keep yourself healthy, strong and flexible there are five key areas to look at: healthy eating, injury prevention, oral health, physical activity and smoking cessation.

There are many other factors which can ensure that seniors age well including maintaining social connectedness, good hearing, moderate to low alcohol intake and lowering stress levels.

Staying healthy was the focus of the second annual North Shore Seniors’ Health Expo held at West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre and West Vancouver Community Centre Sept. 9.

The presenting sponsors included Amica Mature Lifestyles, Maison Senior Living, and the District of West Vancouver, while the sponsors included McKenzie Funeral Services, NexGen Hearing, Nurse Next Door Home Care Services and the North Shore News.

The expo hosted a number of presenters with a focus on seniors health including information on falls prevention, keeping the brain fit, what you need to know about end of life planning, the importance of happiness and aging, why sleep is so important, advice for caregivers supporting family members with dementia, dealing with hearing loss, good nutrition, fraud prevention, and so on.

The key note speaker, Dr. Heather Palmer, talked about dementia, saying that, statistically speaking, more than 25,000 Canadians will get Dementia each year.

In her talk though, Dr. Palmer says “become dementia-able and live well beyond the diagnosis.”

A presenter talked about how the dietary choices we make can influence our potential to age well, physically, cognitively and socially.

Backing this up, the Health Canada website says “Food nourishes the body and gives us energy to get through each day.

Healthy eating is fundamental to good health and is a key element in healthy human development, from the prenatal and early childhood years to later life stages. Healthy eating is equally important in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases”.

Presenters at the expo talked about injury prevention, another key factor in staying healthy.

They said, too often older age is accompanied with a decline in physical and cognitive health, muscle strength and mobility.

Specifically, a loss in muscle strength and mobility increases one’s risk for a fall which can have devastating consequences in older adults.

Other Health Canada research shows, that for seniors, weight-bearing physical activity reduces the rate of bone loss associated with osteoporosis.

Regular physical activity also maintains strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, and can help reduce the risk of falls.

Being physically active not only strengthens your body, it also makes you feel good about yourself.

An expo presenter talked about the importance of good hearing. She talked about how treating hearing loss can keep the brain fit; increase communication skills and social interaction; reduce risk of falling; and increase brain stimulation, which lowers the chance of accelerated mental decline. Get your hearing checked – it might be well worth the trouble.

A key factor in healthy aging, says another presenter, is being happy.

The presenter spent time in his career finding out what makes us happy and what steps we can take to be happy.

A few steps I’ve learned along the way are savouring moments of happiness, volunteering, having a plan (could even be learning to have more fun), trying to reduce stress and staying connected to family and friends.

Two presenters talked about social media as a way to help us stay connected to family, friends and the world. They say that they have successfully taught many seniors to have fun and to engage with technology in a meaningful way.

A 2014 study found that retired people who use the internet are about one-third less likely to suffer from depression, compared to those who do not go online.

The study also found that the positive effects of the internet were particularly strong for those who live alone.

Healthy aging, the topic for the North Shore Seniors’ Health Expo is a particularly important one for seniors as healthy aging is crucial to maintaining independence for seniors.

Watch for the annual expo next year if you missed this one.  

Margaret Coates is the co-ordinator of Lionsview Seniors’ Planning Society. She has lived on the North Shore for 48 years and has worked for and with seniors for 20 of those years. Ideas for future columns are welcome Email: lions_view@telus.net

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