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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Aging vs. Healthy Aging

In a recent newspaper article entitled, “What To Do Now to Feel Better at 100,” the article’s author told a story of hiking in the Grand Canyon with her grandson. At one point, the grandson turned to his grandmother and asked, “Grandma, how many 69 year- olds do you think could do this?” My first response was surprise that the grandson knew his grandmother’s age; I can only imagine what a difficult concept 69 is to a 10 year old. I was more taken aback by the grandson’s question, as 69 seems a perfectly reasonable age to me for someone to be out hiking.

Which leads us, in a roundabout fashion, to the concept of our perceptions of age and aging. The very fact that it has become mainstream thinking to make plans for how to be a healthy centenarian is something that most of us now greet without blinking an eye. Scanning the obituaries, it has become commonplace to see people living to an age that was scarcely imaginable not so long ago. Frankly, numbers seem to mean less and less, while physical, emotional, and mental status are the true measures of health at any age.

The goal, of course, is to live as long and healthy a life as possible. Whether it makes sense for all of us to strive to be 100 is a very different issue altogether. I find the prospect rather daunting, although if you’d asked me at 20 what I thought about being 55, I might have had a similar response.

The focus of “What To Do Now to Feel Better at 100” was on two major influences, written about by a specialist in geriatrics. According to Dr. Mark Lachs, we all possess something called physiologic reserve. This is an excess capacity that we all start out with, and which diminishes over time. If we can slow down the loss of this excess capacity, we will age more successfully. With an emphasis on the decline in muscle strength, Dr. Lachs points out that most of us who are healthy will remain mobile into our 80’s or 90’s. But, as Dr. Lachs also points out, given our new longevity, “today millions of people have survived long enough to keep a date with immobility.”

Simply taking a walk every day can mean major changes in your health down the road. And, what is even better, it is never too late to start a walking program. As Dr. Lachs comments rather pointedly, “the embers of disability begin smoldering long before you’re handed a walker.”

The other major component for healthy aging is a healthy environment. It makes sense to look around your home and to make adjustments to your environment before problems present themselves. If, as a colleague of Dr. Lachs points out, “most dwellings and equipment were designed for 21 year-olds,” we need to give conscious consideration to our surroundings, i.e. poor lighting, windows and doors that stick, stairs and bathrooms and bathtubs that become increasingly inaccessible as we age.

If we plan – and act – now, we will have reason to celebrate at 100.

Laura Solomon
Director, Covenant Methodist Home Care

Chicago Senior Living
Assisted Living in Chicago

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