Your dad insists on pouring on the salt even though his doctor says he needs to work on lowering his blood pressure. Your mom keeps complaining about feeling weak even though she spends most of her day watching Oprah reruns. All you want to do is get a good night’s sleep — but you can’t stop worrying about your parent’s health!
You’re not alone. Many adult children are realizing that their once healthy and indestructible parents are, alas, seniors, and this realization and transition can be stressful and anxiety-provoking: Does Dad have enough health insurance to cover him in case he gets sick? Did Mom make it to her last dentist appointment?
Maybe you’ve been trying to avoid this anxiety, telling yourself that you don’t need to deal with this or that there’s nothing you can really do.
But then guilt starts to creep in: They’re your parents and you want them to have the best.
“The best way to keep your parents healthy is to help and empower them to maintain their own health,” says Amie Hanrahan, co-owner of The Ivy communities.
Here is a closer look at five healthy habits for seniors.
1. Get Regular Checkups
Everyone needs regular checkups, even you (you are going to see your doctor regularly, right?). Doctor appointments aren’t only for when your parents are sick. A visit to the doctor can also lead to the detection of potentially life-threatening health conditions or diseases early and increase chances for treatment and cure as well as help your parents stay on top of their health and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle.
If it’s been a while since your parent saw their doctor — or their dentist or optometrist — encourage them to schedule an appointment.
“In assisted living, even though we provide transportation, we’ll have residents call the doctor’s office to schedule their next appointment,” Hanrahan says. “We can help remind them, but they make that initial call.”
2. Drink Lots of Water
Did you know that dehydration is a common cause of many serious health complications in older adults?
“To encourage your parent to drink plenty of water or water-based fluids, make sure liquids are available all day long,” Hanrahan says.
Keep a pitcher of fruit-infused water on their table or in their refrigerator and refill it frequently, and suggest foods with high water content, such as celery, lettuce, grapes, watermelon, oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, beets, and soup.
3. Eat Healthily
Wouldn’t it be nice if when you reached your parent’s age you could eat however you please? Well, you could, but it probably wouldn’t fuel your body to function well. Your parent needs to be eating nutrient-dense foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, fat-free milk and cheese, whole grains, seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
But perhaps the dishes they’ve always liked the most just don't taste the same as they used to, or, now that they live alone, it feels like too much trouble to cook for one.
If you’re concerned about your loved one’s eating and dining habits, talk to them about how eating nutritious foods will help them have more energy and feel better about themselves and how eating with others can make eating more fun. Here are some ideas:
- Invite a neighbor or friend over for dinner.
- Eat at the local senior community center.
- Ask your church about meal partners.
- Go out to eat.
- Encourage your extended family to bring back the family meal.
“Stop by a nearby assisted living community for lunch,” Hanrahan suggests. “Recently, at The Ivy at Ellington, our residents presented their favorite recipes from when they were growing up, and then our cooks prepared the meals. They really enjoyed eating together and sharing stories from their past.”
4. Use It or Lose It
Your parent doesn’t need to do pull-ups or bench presses, but do they want to keep up with their grandchildren during a trip to the park, carry groceries in from the car, or bend down to tie their shoes? Exercise and physical activity can help them stay active and mobile as they age.
“My motto is move to assisted living while you’re healthy because you’ll maintain your independence and health through our exercise and wellness programs,” Hanrahan says.
In fact, studies show that “taking it easy” is risky. If your parent is struggling to do things on their own, it’s usually because they’re not active.
If your parent doesn’t have a regular exercise routine, encourage them to start a walking group with one or more friends or look into a water aerobics or tennis class for seniors. They could also try gardening, dancing, fishing, tai chi, or yoga.
“Any active activity that they enjoy can benefit their health,” Hanrahan says.
5. Stay Connected
Your parent’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Many seniors face tough losses — careers ending, friends and loved ones passing, health diminishing — which can lead to feelings of sadness and depression. They might not feel like doing anything, but staying connected with family, friends, and their community is critical to their well-being.
“Try not to let them veer off the norm,” Hanrahan says. “If your mom had a routine where every Sunday she had her friends over for coffee and cards, encourage your mom — or help make it possible — to continue having them over for coffee and cards.”
Strong social connections can increase feelings of happiness and self-worth, can make you feel more secure, and can give you a greater sense of purpose.
If your parent spends most of their days home alone, encourage them to get out or interact with others more often.
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