Five things to consider in order to live well as we age according to the experts

We are all dealing with a new way of living but keeping a routine, taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill, is essential if we want to live well at home, Helen Kelleher reports
Five things to consider in order to live well as we age according to the experts

Doing one thing we enjoy every day is essential

Keep a routine

This is arguably the most important piece of advice as we continue to negotiate our way through this pandemic. We are all dealing with a new way of doing things, a new way of living. Routine as we once knew it is gone yet there are certain activities we do each day like getting up/going to bed, eating and exercise and doing these well is essential if we want to live well at home.

Dr Patricia O’Sullivan, Consultant Geriatrician at Cork University Hospital (CUH) says having set times to do these things each day makes life easier. Doing one thing we enjoy each day is also important, so gardening, listening to music or reading. If you haven’t already thought about taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill like photography, arts and craft, or playing an instrument then the advice is to do so. Evidence shows taking up a new activity can reduce stress, enhance confidence and give a sense of achievement. Take time also to keep our brains healthy by completing brain-stimulating activities such as crosswords, Sudoku and word searches.

Sleep easy

Most importantly Dr O’Sullivan says we need to ensure we are getting a good night’s sleep. So even though we may not be running around as much as we once did, it is important to get adequate sleep to ensure that we feel well and have energy the next day. Ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature and avoid technology, large meals or caffeine (this includes chocolate) before bedtime. If you do feel tired Dr O’Sullivan suggests maybe taking a short nap during the day (maximum 40 minutes) and doing the most tiring tasks when we have the most energy — think for instance about preparing the dinner early at maybe 10am. 

Avoid pain

Older people need to think about how they can make life easier, so for instance think about using raised flower beds in the garden so you don’t need to bend down to ground level. There are many aids and appliances that can make life easier — appliances like shower seats and rails for people who find it difficult to stand in the shower for long periods of time. Adaptive aids to assist with cooking, cleaning or completing self-care can help to live your life as independently as possible.

Miriam Ó Tuathaigh and Marian Lyons, Occupational Therapists at CUH say a lot of their work is spent enabling older people to take care of themselves so they can live well at home — “as people age obstacles, such as illness and pain can reduce the ability to engage in everyday activities, including leisure and work.

Miriam says: “we assess and provide practical solutions to enable patients to do what they need to or want to do, so, for example, finding alternative ways of doing a task, rehabilitation to allow patients to do the activity again, provision of equipment, advise about adapting a home to make life easier”.

Stay active

Dr O’Sullivan notices that people who are active and busy in their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties tend to be active and busy also in their seventies and their eighties.

“We don’t change hugely as people as we age... we tend to live our lives the same way we lived our lives when we were younger, so if we eat well, socialise and exercise when we are young the likelihood is we will do the same when we are older. I would say if planning for older age then it starts almost in your teenage years. Remember what Artistotle said – “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. If you are physically active, eat well and are involved in activities now, then that will carry out”.

When it comes to older people and living well at home Dr O’Sullivan says there are five things we need to be cognisant of - sleep, intake, bowels, pain and mood. I think when we talk about living well these are the indicators of one’s quality of life and of course, these things disimprove as we get older.

“I always say the best insurance policy is a good loving family. If you have elderly parents, then it is important to have a family rota. Start with a WhatsApp for siblings, so everyone knows what is happening with regard to domestic tasks and general care”.

How we live our lives now she says is how our lives tend to be mapped out.

Maintain connections

“Life is obviously difficult right now with Covid and especially difficult for older people who may be lonely. Participation is hugely important, so participating in meaningful activities like playing cards, going to Mass, book clubs, art, golf, flower arranging all of these activities are of enormous benefit for physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing and right now older people do not have any of this. Studies show that people who engage in personally meaningful and productive activities are less likely to develop certain diseases, have longer lifespans, are happier and less depressed, are better prepared to cope with loss and may be able to improve their thinking ability.

“Unfortunately we are still dealing with Covid-19. Feeling anxious during this time is natural and to reduce anxiety we need to ensure that we do not spend too much time listening to Covid-19 related stories on the radio or on the TV. If you are feeling anxious, practice some breathing techniques; breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four and rest for four”. Then go and do something you enjoy. We are nearly there but unfortunately, we are not there yet.

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