Nine out of ten Canadians aged 75 or older live with at least one chronic disease, and seven percent live with five or more.
Ensuring senior adults are actively involved in their own health and wellbeing is a priority for health professionals and policy makers. As the number of older adults increases, there is a rising threat of strain on resources, both financial and medical. However, there are many reasons why this should also be a priority for the senior adults themselves. Many younger people fear that getting older will mean years of poor health, mobility problems, cognitive decline, and loss of independence. The truth is, however, that many of these difficulties associated today with growing older are preventable or at least manageable. Adults can grow older and remain active by making choices that benefit their overall health.
Why Seniors Should Care
One could make the argument that we all have to die somehow, so why not enjoy life while we are here? The logic breaks down, however, when one considers that poor choices do not necessarily lead to a speedy end of life. People are living longer. Those who reach the age of 65 today can expect to live 19.2 additional years on average. That is five years longer than their counterparts in 1960. More commonly, lack of interest in personal wellbeing and poor health choices result in reduced ability and independence and an overall reduced quality of life. Consider the statistics:
- Chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lower respiratory disease are on the rise in the older population; more than 7 million Canadians over 50 years of age suffer from at least one.
- Many chronic conditions are often preventable with a healthy diet and exercise.
- In 2010, the most recent data available at the time of printing, 38 percent of adults aged 65 or older were obese and the numbers continue to rise.
- In 2010, only 11 percent of adults aged 65 or older engaged in aerobic or muscle-strengthening exercise.
- Older adults (65 or older) are the most sedentary age group, spending 10 hours or more daily sitting or lying down.
- In 2010, 10 percent of both men and women aged 65 or older were current smokers, but 53 percent of men and 29 percent of women were former smokers.
The consequences of poor choices for older adults means more time spent needing help and care and a greater financial burden. This can also result in increased rates of depression for older individuals as they begin to lose control over their own lives.
Motivating Elders to Change
Perhaps the greatest motivator for change is the perceived control over one’s health. Seniors who actively make decisions that impact their overall quality of life are empowered; they “beat” the ageist stereotype of the frail, incompetent, senile, elderly individual. Simple education can be a motivating factor for seniors to take an interest and control over their personal wellbeing. Fully understanding the impacts of decisions can guide the individual in making better decisions.
Even those who are already facing physical challenges can enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and reduce the impacts of, or in some cases reverse, the chronic conditions that lead to a reduced quality of life. Family, friends, spouses, and caregivers can support the older adult and ensure he or she has access to the resources needed to remain active and follow through with healthy choices. Becoming involved with the older adult while supporting their choices has the added benefit of increasing the senior individual’s social engagement, yet another factor in increased quality of life. Better yet, the older adult may just teach their younger counterparts a few things about growing old gracefully.
- AARP. (n.d.) Chronic conditions among older Americans. Retrieved from http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/health/beyond_50_hcr_conditions.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (May 11, 2011). Chronic disease prevention and health promotion: Healthy aging at a glance 2011. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/chronic.htm.
- National Health Service. (November 7, 2013). The importance of exercise as you get older. Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/activities-for-the-elderly.aspx.
- Phillips, E.M., Schneider, J.C., and Mercer, G.R. (2004). Motivating elders to initiate and maintain exercise. Arch Phys Med Rehabil.,85(Suppl 3), S52-57. Retrieved from http://www.instituteoflifestylemedicine.org/file/doc/publications/articles_by/MotivatingElders_Phillips.pdf.