Plan Today for a Healthier Tomorrow
By Margot McWhirter, MA, Reg OT (Ont.), Founder of Inclusive Aging
www.inclusiveaging.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of us know that Canada’s population is getting older, with nearly one in five persons now being 65-plus years of age. In fact, those over the age of 80 years represent one of the fastest growing segments in Canadian society – with the vast majority living in their own home, condominium or apartment. Whether you are an older person or are providing care and support to someone who is, chances are fairly good that you have thought about how best to manage your health and well-being as you age. If not, then this article might be a wake-up call for you!
There is no ‘one best way’ to plan for a healthier future. Yet, experts and non-experts agree that there is value in thinking ahead and taking action in a few key areas. These areas include: your health, housing, finances, social connections, and access to services. A deficit in one or more of these areas – especially if the losses are sudden or unexpected – can create an overwhelming crisis for you, and your family. Equally as important are the personal losses or changes that occur gradually, almost unnoticeably. Without realizing when or how it happened, you may find yourself having to:
- Squint to read restaurant menus or food labels
- Turn up the volume when watching or listening to the news
- Reach for the wall or a piece of furniture, as you move between rooms
- Ask someone to pry open sealed packaging or help you with a necklace clasp
- Avoid activities or routes that leave you feeling winded or overly tired
- Forgo using the ‘good dishes’ or wearing last year’s favourite scarf, because they’re out of reach on a high (or low) cupboard shelf
- Increasingly rely on lists and notes to remember names, dates, phone numbers, or events.
If any of the above sounds familiar – congratulations, you’re human! Specifically, you’re a human who has lived long enough to experience one or more common, age-related changes that can occur separately from acute or chronic illness, injury or medical condition. (For the record, the most common types of disability affecting 23% of those aged 55-64 years and 43% of those aged 65+ are related to pain, flexibility, and mobility.) So, what’s a person to do? Throw up your hands in defeat? Deny the reality of your situation? Fight against the passage of time? Suffer in silence? I say no. Instead, I encourage you to approach aging as a period of transition and change – not to be feared or minimized, but to be embraced and planned for.
Healthy aging involves being able to cope with change – a skill that research has shown to be hard, but not impossible, to learn in later life. This adaptability (also called ‘resilience’) is something that comes more easily if you’ve applied it throughout much of your life. Let this be a reminder that it’s never too early to develop the skills and habits that will serve you well in older age!
Another way to prepare for a healthier tomorrow, as well as maintain your comfort and safety during everyday activities today, is to adapt your home environment to offset the typical age-related changes listed above. By proactively renovating key spaces within your home, you’ll be ready to welcome visitors of all ages and abilities while also setting yourself up to successfully ‘age in place’. (Aging-in-place means being able to continue living in the home of your choice and get the assistance you require, as your abilities and needs change.) No need to move into a retirement or assisted living community, or long-term care home - unless that’s what you want and/or significant health problems or care needs make those options more feasible than staying put. And the good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice high quality, attractive features and finishes in order to achieve an age-friendly, accessible home.
To ensure that your home works for you, I recommend engaging the services of knowledgeable experts – which could include a designer, an occupational therapist (OT), and a contractor. Together, they can assess your current and future functional requirements,
your personal style and preferences, and practical considerations relative to your needs. (For those unfamiliar, OTs are university-trained health professionals whose primary focus is to identify and overcome personal or environmental barriers that limit
a person’s participation in everyday activities – at home, at school, at work or in other settings. OTs often work in collaboration with others, but their role is distinct.)
Examples of customized, age-friendly home modifications include:
- Lever door handles and faucets, other operating controls
- Motion sensor lights, lowered light switches, raised outlets
- Sufficient lighting and use of colour-contrast
- Firm, slip-resistant, level flooring with minimal pattern and glare
- Furniture of proper height, depth and firmness for transfers and comfort
- Adequate interior circulation space, no-step access to shower and interior/exterior areas
- Placement of furniture, and fixtures to accommodate transfers, mobility device, caregivers
- Bathroom design, flooring, fixtures, and (elegant) grab bars
- Mix of counter heights and working surfaces – in the bathroom and/or kitchen
- Appliance features, location and height – in the kitchen and/or laundry room
- Well-lighted, accessible storage
- Transfer devices, assistive technology, home health equipment
Having a well-designed environment can mean the difference between an older person staying healthy, safe and independent – versus becoming prematurely unhealthy, at risk for injuries, or dependent on others for care and support. I invite you to reflect on the information contained in this article and join me in planning for a healthier tomorrow, today.
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