The Fountain of Youth may be less of a destination than a daily mind-stretching, body-bending, cardio-boosting journey through the golden years.
Just ask Mary Prusaitis, 92, and Florence Wold, 98. The two women live active, independent lives, but they aren’t fitness junkies; a walk around the neighborhood, lunch out with friends or a trip to the community pool for water aerobics constitutes a good workout at their age.
The pair, who live in a local senior community, are adamant that moving about - physically and mentally - is critical for people living on their own at an advanced age.“Those who are not active and stay at home are not able to do anything. They’re stagnant,“ says Prusaitis, who does leg lifts and practices getting up and down from a chair at the start of each day.
Aging experts agree. Activities that break you from routine; regular, honest assessments about your limitations; and senior-friendly assistance devices can liberate seniors who want to live independently.
“The key to successful aging is adjusting,“ says Martha Grove Hipskind, a gerontologist and director of senior residential development in Raleigh, N.C.
Of the more than 36 million Americans 65 years and older, just 1.3 million live in assisted living facilities, according to a 2004 National Nursing Home Survey. And the number of older Americans continues to grow. The American Geriatric Society estimates that by 2030, one out of every five Americans will be a senior, and most of them will live on their own or with family or friends nearby, the society says.
Those who do live independently should consider how the normal effects of aging on the eyes, ears, brain and nervous system will affect their daily lives, says Jonna Borgdoffnational, rehabilitation director for Interim Health Care, a companion service company.
For example, 12 percent of all seniors older than 65, and 35 percent of those 85 and older, require help with routine needs such as household chores, necessary business or shopping, the 2006 National Health Interview Survey reported.
Borgdoff says assessing your situation isn’t giving up on independence. Instead, it allows you to safely control where and how you live.
Is furniture and lighting in your home conducive to safely navigating around during day and night? “Maybe the only thing you have to do is rearrange,“ Borgdoff says. “After 40 years in the same home, maybe it doesn’t make sense to have some things there.
“A safe home environment can be one of the easiest and smartest things to do, considering an estimated 1.6 million older Americans go to the hospital each year for fall-related injuries, the National Institutes of Health reports.
That can mean clearing the clutter, installing handrails in the bathroom or employing a companion service to do light house cleaning and errands.
The risk and fear of falling - and yes, not being able to get back up - prompted both Wold and Prusaitis to purchase an emergency response alert device from ADT Security Services. In the last year, both women have had to press the Companion Service pendant they wear as a necklace to call paramedics to their home.
In January, Prusaitis fell while getting her morning paper from her driveway. Unfortunately, the alert button was inside, on the kitchen table, so she waited for two hours until a neighbor rushed into the kitchen and pushed the button. Now she wears the pendant all the time, tucked discreetly in her bra.
“There’s a peace of mind knowing you have it, especially at night,“ Prusaitis says of the service that costs about $35 a month.
Technology like the response system also can help alleviate the fears of adult children who worry about parents living far away, Borgdoff says. It also can provide a gateway for families to hold the difficult but important conversation about living arrangements with their elderly loved ones.
With kids, you talk about sex and drugs early, she says, and you should take the same preemptive approach when it comes to your aging parents. “Talk about this even before you feel you should stand next to mom to help her get up safely,“ Borgdoff says.
Borgdoff suggests families ask the following questions to determine whether and how an elderly person can live safely:
Are you ever afraid you are going to fall? If an old easy chair is set low and is difficult to rise out of, maybe all that’s needed is a new chair.
Is there anything you did a year ago that you don’t do now? “We edit what we do without realizing it,“ Borgdoff says.
“Not going to bridge is not a sign that you are impaired, but that you are less active.
“What do your friends say? Friends will notice changes. They will tell you whether you’re not winning at bridge like you used to.
Have you simplified furniture and clutter, such as knick-knacks, photo frames and throw rugs? It’s hard ridding yourself of possessions, but if you have to actively step around something, it’s in the way.
Why are you tired? Is it because you haven’t been active or exercised regularly in years?
Are pets trained? A small animal can be an excellent companion, but it also can be a fall hazard. Obedience classes can help reduce the risk.