Thursday, June 9, 2011

Growing old gracefully.

We've all heard that the western world is facing an "aging crisis":  the projections for Australia suggest that the population aged 65 years and over, is projected to increase from  13% in 2002, to between 29% and 32% in 2101. Currently most of the media and political "noise" has focused on how this is going to impact on the economy, with a reduced work-force having to work harder and longer to cover the increasing medical costs  "caused" by the grey and wrinkled generation. 

Being a parent becomes ingrained into one's psyche, and for most of us in the senior segment of our lives, we still passionately care about how life is going to pan out not only for our children, but also for our grandchildren. So the challenge for us is to not just shut up shop and go quietly into the retirement village, but to stay active, independent, involved and as healthy as we can so that, even though many of our bodily systems that we once took for granted, now take more time to grind into action, we can actually have a good quality of life. What we definitely don't want to do is to become any sort of a burden on our children, or our children's children. If we are successful at this, then our resultant health care costs will be less and then everyone's a winner!

Well, the good news is that the scientists and researchers have actually proved that this works!! It seems that plain common sense is scientific sense too! A study called The Well Elderly 2 trial was performed between 2004 and 2009, with the write-up appearing in the June 2 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and this showed that with just small, healthy lifestyle changes and involvement in meaningful activities—going beyond just diet and exercise—are critical to healthy aging. Seniors participating in the study made small, sustainable changes in their routines (such as visiting a museum with a friend once a week) that led to measurable gains in quality of life, including lower rates of depression and better reported satisfaction with life. Of course one strategy does not fit all aging persons;  going to the gym 3 times a week would drive many up the wall, and so professional input was required from a very professional group known as Occupational Therapists to help guide the participants. OTs are a largely unsung band of amazing people who do so much to help many people live meaningful lives. They were a key part of The Well Elderly 2 Trial, just as they were before in the 1997 British Well Elderly 1 Trial that has been used to help develop British pubic health policies.

My belief is that there is so much more each individual, or family, or group could do to improve their health and quality of life, and it really only involves incremental changes that are carried out over long periods of time: good quality food, no tobacco, minimal alcohol, much physical activity and so on. Our senior years should not been seen as ones of inexorable decline, but years when we can still "value add" to ourselves, our families and our communities.

 See you at the beach ....... after you've been to the museum!
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