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National Family Caregivers Month has been spearheaded by the Caregiver Action Network since 1994 and formally recognized since 1997, when President Clinton signed the first annual NFC Month Presidential Proclamation.

NFC Month recognizes the more than 40 million caregivers taking care of aging parents, sick spouses, or other loved ones with illness or disability. Caregivers spend an average of 13 days every month on caregiving activities, equivalent to an economic value of $500 billion in unpaid services—three times more than annual Medicaid spending on long-term care. However, because it’s a labor of love, this hard work goes largely unseen and unrecognized for most of the year.

“Family caregivers have an immeasurable impact on the lives of those they assist, but their hours are long and their work is hard. Many put their own lives on hold to lift up someone close to them,” President Barack Obama said in his National Family Caregiver Month Proclamation in 2012. “National Family Caregivers Month is a time to reflect on the compassion and dedication that family caregivers embody every day.”

According to the Caregiver Action Network, November is our opportunity to celebrate the efforts of family caregivers, increase our support, raise awareness for caregiver issues, and educate caregivers about self-identification. The 2019 theme for NFC Month is #BeCareCurious. This theme encourages caregivers to be proactive and engaged when it comes to their loved one’s care, whether that’s in the doctor’s office, in the hospital, or at home.

This month, make an extra effort to #BeCareCurious about:

  • Your Loved One’s Goals: Having hard conversations about treatment goals in the face of a serious disease is challenging for everyone involved, but these discussions are necessary to ensure your loved one is receiving the care they really want.
  • Treatment Options: If your loved one isn’t responding well to their current treatment, ask their doctor about other options. When you’re not feeling well, it can be hard to be your own advocate. That’s why they’re lucky to have you in the room with them.
  • Research: The internet is a great resource for understanding the basics of a loved one’s condition, but it can also be a mess of conflicting and inaccurate advice. Don’t stop at Google. Follow up with your loved one’s doctors to get the full picture.
  • The Care Plan: After a loved one is discharged from the hospital, most of the follow-up care will happen at home. Make sure you understand what they will need in the weeks to come. Ask questions about medications, care procedures, and future appointments.
  • Coverage: Be vocal when it comes to insurance coverage and do your research to fully understand the ins and outs of your loved one’s plan. This will make life easier for you and will help avoid any expensive surprises.

Acting as a family caregiver is not an easy job. It adds stress and complication to your life no matter how willingly and lovingly the care is given. But as they say, knowledge is power. The more you know about your loved one’s goals, needs, and situation, the more confident and capable you’ll feel as their caregiver.

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Technology use by seniors has been increasing by the year. Although mobile devices may not be as ubiquitous among older adults as they are among other demographics, the Pew Research Center found that more than 40% of seniors report owning a smartphone and 32% own tablets. Seniors were slower to adopt the internet, but now 67% of older adults go online every day.

Seniors are joining social media, too. Over 30% of older adults have profiles on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and that number is only growing. According to some estimates, as many as 50 million seniors will adopt a social media platform by 2020.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that social media has rewired the way society functions and the way we connect with other people. It can be just as transformative for seniors. Considering that social isolation is linked to shorter lifespan and increased risk for chronic disease, social media use can be as beneficial for seniors’ physical health as it is for their emotional well-being.

The benefits of joining at least one social media platform include:

  • Increased connection with family and friends — It can be difficult to stay in touch with family members and close friends who live out of state, or even a few hours away. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram not only allow seniors to exchange messages with loved ones, but to stay in the loop with daily photos and status updates.
  • Reconnecting with old friends — It’s natural to fall out of touch with certain friends over the decades, as jobs, family, and life takes people in different directions. But there’s nothing like the joy of reconnecting with an old friend after years apart. Seniors can rediscover lost friends by searching for other people who graduated in their year, lived in their town, or worked at the same company.
  • Participating in community events — Many social and volunteer groups use platforms like Facebook to make announcements and organize events. Being active on these platforms can help seniors stay involved in community activities, like a book club, bible study, or volunteering opportunities. Discover other ways seniors can get involved in the community.
  • Staying informed about current events — People are increasingly relying on social media platforms to get their news. Scrolling through your newsfeed, you’ll encounter headlines for the major news events of the day, both in your local community and around the world. Using social media can help seniors stay informed about current events without reading the paper every morning.

Does the senior in your life have a social media account? If not, consider sitting down together to set one up. Help them upload a photo, fill out their profile, and get started by connecting with their closest friends and family members. Pretty soon they’ll be using the platform like a pro—and enjoying the many benefits that come with it.

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The later decades of your life can be among the most rewarding. You have more free time to devote to hobbies and people that make you happiest. You may be blessed with the joys of becoming a grandparent. You have more wisdom, patience, and confidence than you did when you were younger. And you have the perspective to know not to take any of it for granted.

It’s important to keep your body and mind healthy to enjoy these years to their fullest. The key to healthy aging is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There are five essential science-backed elements to living a healthy lifestyle at any that any age, which continue to serve as a strong foundation for health and daily well-being as we age.

The 5 essential elements of healthy aging are:

  • Diet
    Many Americans consume far more sodium, sugar, and fat than they should, but following a healthy diet can become even more challenging as we age. Make sure your diet is largely composed of whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good sources of protein. If cooking for yourself becomes an obstacle, take advantage of your senior living community’s dining room. The menus are created according to nutritional guidelines and will help you maintain a balanced diet.

 

  • Exercise
    Regular exercise is one of the most important elements of physical and mental well-being at any age. And contrary to popular assumption, it only becomes more important as we get older. Maintaining your physical fitness will help you retain independence, prevent injury, and can provide relief from chronic illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes.If you don’t already have a fitness regimen, read our tips for how to start an exercise routine after age 60.

 

  • Relationships
    Loneliness is among the biggest dangers to your health — especially later in life. Social isolation increases risk for depression, anxiety, dementia, and even early mortality. Maintaining an active social life can certainly become more challenging as we age, but that just means it’s even more important to make this area of your life a priority. Set up weekly calls or visits with family members, go on walks or get meals with friends, and find ways to get involved in your community.

 

  • Mental Stimulation
    Some people assume that cognitive decline is a natural byproduct of aging, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Practicing good habits for your cognitive health can prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, improve memory, and minimize those pesky “senior moments.” The good news is that following the other four essential habits of healthy aging will naturally support brain health. In addition, find ways to keep your brain active every day. Try new things, learn a new skill, read books, play games, and engage in meaningful activities like volunteering.

 

  • Sleep
    Yes, sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle! Sleep is restorative; while you’re catching Z’s, your body repairs any cellular damage that occurred during the day and reboots your immune system. A good night’s sleep also supports memory, mood, and concentration. Older adults who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to depression, memory loss, nighttime falls, and infection.Insomnia becomes more common as we age. To make sure you’re getting good quality sleep, build a healthy sleep routine and stick to it. Go to bed at the same time every day, keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.

 

If you’re struggling with any of these five elements of healthy aging, ask for help. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your health, reach out to the staff in your community, or confide in a trusted friend or family member. The most important thing to remember about aging is that none of us should do it alone. Take advantage of the support systems around you and ask for help when you need it.

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Life changes associated with aging can lead seniors to experience social isolation and loss of purpose. The two are often closely connected. Retirement, losing a spouse, adult children moving away, and lack of independent transportation all contribute to a shrinking social sphere, making it more difficult to interact regularly with other people.

It’s not without consequences. Socially-isolated seniors tend to have higher healthcare expenses and a shorter lifespan compared to those who are more socially connected. They have an increased risk for chronic disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s. And they are more prone to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

On the flipside, seniors who remain socially connected tend to live longer, report better mood, and have better health outcomes when they are admitted to the hospital. Having purpose likewise helps seniors maintain cognitive function and other markers of wellbeing, such as good sleep and lower risk of disease.

It’s clear: engaging in meaningful, productive activities with other people is beneficial for your physical and mental health. One way to maintain these connections in old age, especially if family lives out of state, is to get involved with your local community.

Here are five ways seniors can get involved in the community:

  1. Sign up for an exercise class — Fitness classes kill two birds with one stone. You get the physical benefits of exercise with the emotional benefits of social interaction. Choose a fitness class that suits your activity level. Talk to the wellness coordinator at your senior living community if you need help finding the right fit.
  2. Attend church services — Staying active in a religious community can be immensely beneficial for body, mind, and spirit. Not only that, but Sunday services ensure that you have at least one scheduled social outing every week. If you’re currently a member of a church, keep attending if possible. If transportation options or mobility challenges prevent you from keeping up with your usual congregation, attend services in your senior living community.
  3. Volunteer — There’s no better way to find purpose and feel useful than through volunteering. Volunteering allows you to be active, to interact with people of all ages, and to make positive contributions to your community. Consider volunteering at local schools, hospitals, or the library.
  4. Join a hobby group — Shared interests are a great way to bond at any age. Connect with the activity coordinator in your community to learn about groups that might align with your hobbies. Most senior living communities will have book clubs, bridge clubs, and bible studies where you’ll find like-minded residents to socialize with.
  5. Take a class — Many studies have shown that a commitment to lifelong learning supports cognitive wellness and may help ward off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Keep in mind that learning doesn’t have to mean textbooks and classrooms. You could take a cooking class, learn to play a new musical instrument, or take a creative writing course—perhaps writing some personal non-fiction to pass your memories down to your children.

Aim to schedule at least two or three recurring weekly activities—like church on Sunday mornings and a book club that meets on Wednesday afternoons—so that you always have a social event to look forward to. Each week, fill in your calendar with more spontaneous outings, like coffees or lunches with friends. It doesn’t matter what activities you decide to get involved with. The important thing is making it a regular part of your life.

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Seniors often find it harder to tolerate hot temperatures or long hours in the sun. That’s because our body’s ability to regulate temperature declines as we age, making us more prone to dehydration and heat stroke. Following sun safety tips will help prevent the ill-effects of sun exposure. But when you’re planning to spend time outside with an older adult during the summer, you should also look for outdoor activities that limit direct exposure to the sun.

Try these ideas for outdoor summer activities that are enjoyable and safe for everyone:

Fishing – The best hours for fishing are first thing in the morning—conveniently also the coolest time of the day, before the sun is high in the sky. Set up a couple chairs on the dock and spend the early morning hours casting lines and sharing conversation. Fishing is also a summer activity that can be shared across generations, with seniors, their children, and their grandkids alike.

Gardening – Not only is gardening a low-impact way to move your body and spend time outside, it also has countless benefits for your body, mind, and soul. Gardening a few times per week reduces risk for numerous health conditions, reduces stress and elevates mood, improves balance, and supports a good night’s sleep.

Farmer’s Market – Filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, farmer’s markets are an ideal summer outing for seniors. Many markets set up stalls with tents and awnings, which help to limit sun exposure. Head out in the morning before temperatures reach their peak, and spend a couple hours walking around and browsing for the ripest finds.

Golfing – While some seniors remain active well into their 80s, most would benefit from taking a more low-impact approach to exercise. Playing a round of golf in the evening is a great way to engage in mild physical activity without pushing the limits. Because the game moves at a slower pace, it’s also a good opportunity for socializing.

Attend Community Events – Whether it’s the local fireworks show on the Fourth of July, movies outdoors in the park, or a family barbecue, attending community events is a great way for seniors to spend time outside while retaining close social ties. Feeling engaged in a community is essential for mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing for seniors.

It doesn’t matter if it’s family, friends, or a senior living community (or ideally, all three!), it’s important to stay connected. That’s why it’s so beneficial for seniors to get out of the house and not spend the whole summer cooped up inside avoiding the heat. Talk to your loved one about which outdoor summer activities they want to do and make plans for when you’ll get together to do them.

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Cultural stereotypes tend to paint aging in a negative light. “Senior moments” of forgetfulness, fumbling with new technology, and mishearing things are all familiar hallmarks of aging—at least as it’s portrayed in the media. Not only are such stereotypes patently untrue (according to data from Pew Research Center, 46% of seniors over 65 own a smartphone!), they also ignore the many benefits that come as a byproduct of collecting decades.

Recognizing the happy side-effects of growing older can help you embrace and lean into the aging process rather than fighting it. If you struggle with accepting “your number,” the following benefits of aging might help you shift your perspective.

Upsides of Aging That Make Growing Older a Privilege

Wisdom and Perspective

One of the few positive aging stereotypes is the elderly person who doesn’t suffer fools or foolishness—and isn’t quiet about it. By the time you reach a certain age, you’ve experienced enough and witnessed enough to know the difference between what matters and what doesn’t. That perspective frees you up to stop sweating the small stuff and instead devote your energy to the things that are most important to you.

Free Time

For decades, your life is full of work schedules, school schedules, after-school schedules, and social events. By the time you retire, your kids are out of the house and (hopefully) taking care of themselves. So when you remove work obligations, suddenly the only demands on your time are… whatever you want! This abundance of free time can be overwhelming at first, but it’s an amazing privilege. Use your newfound free time to go back to school, start an exercise routine (you’re never too old!), or pick up a new hobby.

Grandchildren

With grandchildren comes all the fun of parenting without the any of the downsides. You probably don’t miss disciplining your kids or arguing about bath time, but you might trade anything for one more chance to snuggle your now fully-grown children in your lap while reading them a bedtime story. Being a grandparent lets you revisit the joys of having kids—and the fun doesn’t stop when your grandkids start growing up.

To Live Longer, Embrace the Aging Process

Maintaining a positive outlook on aging isn’t just fluff. It can actually help you live longer. In a 2001 study, researchers from Yale and Harvard followed 660 participants between ages 50 and 80 for over 22 years to observe how self-perceptions of aging correlated with longevity. The participants who had a more positive attitude about the aging process lived, on average, 7.5 years longer. So figure out what “senior moments” make your life better and celebrate them every day.

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