Tips and Tricks for Successful Aging in Place

Story by Autumn Gaylor, for Montana 55

As the baby boomer population reaches 65 years of age and older, the growing concern for safety in the home and in the community rises. The number of people age 65 and over has continued to grow over the past 18 years and now accounts for more than 15.2 percent of the total population, according to a
June 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report.

General wear and tear of the body, increased risks of falling, and medical declines have prevented people from aging in place and maintaining an independent lifestyle. This increase in risk level may be due to physical, medical and cognitive changes associated with aging as well as environments that have not been adapted for the aging population.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 37.3 million falls severe enough to
require medical attention occur each year. Common risk factors associated with falls are lower body
weakness, vision changes, poor foot wear, balance deficits, medication side effects, joint pain, poor
diet and home hazards in the form of clutter, uneven surfaces, and dangerous tubs and showers.

Here are a few tips to successfully age in place.

Never stop moving

Maintain stability and balance by establishing a proper exercise routine right at home. Home exercises can help improve both balance and strength. Having a well-developed sense of balance is essential for health and well-being. Balance exercises can consist of these simple activities:

  • Walk a straight line, one foot in front of the other, alongside your kitchen counter or along the back of the couch (this allows you to have a solid surface to assist when needed).
    Stand on one foot, then the other, as you count to 10. Make sure to tighten your glutes and stabilize at the hip. Place a chair in front of you or next to you for added stability.
  • Stand with one hand on a chair. Turn your head from left to right with your eyes open, then repeat with your eyes closed.
  • Do the Kneeling Superman. Start on your hands and knees. Lift and extend your left arm forward as you simultaneously extend your right leg behind you. Hold for five counts. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

Strengthening exercises in the form of body weight movement can increase muscle tone and strength and can help prevent injury. Strengthening exercises include:

  • Wall pushups. Place both hands on the wall in front of you with your feet positioned 1 1/2 -2 feet away from the wall. Bend your elbows and slowly bring your torso toward the wall, then slowly push yourself away from the wall and extend your arms.
  • Body weight squats. Position your body in front of a sturdy chair or couch. Place your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart and begin to sit down, not allowing your knees to go beyond your feet. As you lower your body to sit in the chair, keep your head up and your back straight to support the spine. Once you meet the chair in a sitting position, stand up and complete the exercise again for a 10 count.

Exercise is not just for the body, it also is for the mind. Keep the mind healthy by reading books, completing word puzzles, words searches, and Sudoku puzzles that exercise the mind. Joining book clubs, exercise clubs or community-based activities are great ways to maintain socialization, cognition, strength, balance and overall health.

Make healthy food choices

Maintaining a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle through smart and safe food choices can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke and obesity as well as inflammation of the joints, brain and digestive track. Increasing your intake of vegetables, fruit, probiotics, and protein-based and nutrient-rich foods can help build a foundation for wellness.

Home modification

Simple home modifications and adaptions can prevent falls and increase safety for all occupants.

  • Remove throw rugs and reduce clutter to prevent tripping hazards.
  • Install grab bars in all bathtubs and showers. Install shower chairs, bath benches and non-slip mats to ensure safe bathing.
  • Place dishware and frequently-used kitchenware at shoulder height and on accessible cupboard shelves. This will eliminate the risk of having to stand on chairs or stools to reach top cabinets or having to get on the floor to dig through low drawers.
  • Sit down when dressing and undressing.
  • If stairs are present in the home or outside of the home, make sure to have railings installed or grab bars positioned.

Be aware of your environment

Situational awareness is a key factor in environmental safety. Keep an eye out for uneven surfaces, curbs, water on floors or sidewalks, ice and snow. Wear proper shoes with good traction and arch/ankle

Medical management

It is important to attend regular doctor, dentist and optometrist visits to ensure and maintain health and well-being. Be proactive by researching the over-the-counter and prescription medications you
are taking. This will allow you to discuss these medications with your doctors and pharmacist and will enable you to ask informed questions. Educate yourself on the proper administration of these medications and on any side effects that may occur. This knowledge will help you prevent and avoid serious and potentially harmful consequences. Report any and all side effects you may experience so
that conditions may be monitored and medications can be adjusted.

Autumn Gaylor is an employee of Moving Mountains Therapy Center in Missoula. Gaylor has experience providing occupational therapy services in diverse clinical and community-based settings ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics and everything in-between. She has worked with children and adults with a multitude of developmental and acquired disabilities to ensure the highest quality of life through use of evidence-based practice. Gaylor has a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Moving Mountains Therapy Center in Missoula is a pediatric speech and occupational therapy clinic that is dedicated to providing high quality, family-centered and effective therapy that fosters an individual’s ability to play, reach their developmental potential and find pleasure, fulfillment and merit in all aspects of life.

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