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Fear of aging from misunderstanding

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.

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Most Americans fear the aging process because they don’t understand it. For many, growing older is associated with a loss of vitality, function, and quality of life. While it is true that our bodies do experience profound changes as we age, and some of these changes are unavoidable, many of the limitations we associate with old age can be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices. Others can be traced back to our attitudes toward aging itself.

Some of the most common beliefs about the aging process are simply not true and should not prevent seniors from living full and active lives. By understanding the truth behind these myths, many older adults are able to look past the wrinkles and gray hair they see in the mirror and live meaningful, active lives.

One of the most commonly held misconceptions is that chronic diseases are inevitable among the elderly. Although chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are common among America’s aging population, the belief that these and similar diseases are unavoidable is simply not true. Researchers are finding that some people may be genetically predisposed to certain conditions, but they are also finding that genetics may help other people avoid them. A healthy diet and physical activity are two of the best ways to prevent chronic diseases later in life, as are avoiding tobacco, illegal drugs and excessive alcohol use.

As we have just acknowledged, exercise is one of the best ways to keep the body healthy during the later years of life, so the idea that seniors should avoid exercise is not only false, it can be detrimental. While the common misconception is that elder adults should avoid physical activity because it could lead to injury, the fact is that moderate exercise strengthens muscles and helps keep joints limber. It also helps to increase energy levels, improve the immune system, and boost brain functions and cognitive ability. Everyone, seniors included, should talk with their doctor before beginning a new exercise plan.

Healthy brain functions also help put to rest the myth that older adults aren’t capable of learning new things. Although the way that people learn things changes as they age, studies have shown that picking up new hobbies or mastering new skills helps to keep the brain active, which can help prevent the deterioration of mental functions.

Similarly, it is also a common misconception that dementia and senility are normal parts of aging. Many adults live well into their later years fully lucid and alert. While some minor decline in memory is not uncommon – such as forgetting where the car keys are or searching for a word that won’t come to mind – these should not be confused with dementia. However, those who have concerns about drastic changes in their older loved one’s memory, mood or other changes in cognitive function should call their loved one’s doctor.

Another myth is that older adults are not capable of living independently. Many people believe that seniors are no longer capable of taking care of their own needs, which means moving in with relatives or relocating to a residential facility. While it’s true that most adults will need some assistance with daily activities as they age, many of those needs can be met by a relative or aide coming into the home to offer the necessary assistance.

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Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in home care. The Visiting Angels Salem office recently received the Top 100 Leader in Experience Award, ranking 12th nationwide on the list of top 100 agencies recognized by Home Care Pulse, the leading firm in experience management for home care. To set up an appointment for a free, no-obligation in-home consultation, call 330-332-1203.

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