5 Ways to Care for the Health of Your Aging Loved One – and Yourself

Tips and advice from the Community Wellness Program Coordinator at the Detroit Area Agency on Aging.

The prescription for good health at any age includes physical exercise and good nutrition. For older adults, especially, the key to longevity can be the management of such chronic conditions as diabetes and heart disease.

These were lessons learned when the Detroit Area Agency on Aging (DAAA) released Dying Before Their Time, a research study in 2004 on the premature deaths of adults living in its region. Since then, the agency has been the catalyst for local community and recreation centers to bring health and wellness activities to older adults and their caregivers.

Five organizations, designated as Community Wellness Service Centers, focus on free and tested programs for adults age 60-plus that improve strength, confidence and the ability to live well. For a list, visit detroitseniorsolution.org.

According to DAAA’s Community Wellness Program Coordinator Aida Domazet, “It’s all about simple lifestyle changes for caregivers and those receiving care.”

Here, she offers 5 tips on staying healthy.

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1. Increase activity levels

“Older adults should have exercise regimen suited to their abilities – and that’s what many find three times a week in EnhanceFitness® – with standing and sitting exercises. For most of us, 30 minutes of daily exercise, even in increments, is recommended,” Domazet says.

Being physically active – unless a doctor says otherwise – should be the goal. For many people, even the pain of arthritis can be relieved with regular walking. Weight, blood pressure, pain, anxiety and depression can all be reduced with physical activity.  A Matter of Balance is the perfect program to address any fears related to increased physical activity and falls.

2. Master skills to manage health conditions

Aging parents and those caring for them often need strategies to navigate issues related to communications and decision-making. You need a toolkit, Domazet says, which includes resources for physical activity, stress, weight management, understanding emotions, sleeping and more. Tested programs are designed to give you these tools and allow you to apply them through weekly goal setting, including the class Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

3. Incorporate lifestyle changes

You know the ones – better eating habits, losing weight, exercising more and quitting smoking!

With time and patience, changes can be implemented, often through workshops like PATHPersonal Action Towards Health, Domazet notes. “This class allows participants a personalized plan of action that might begin with walking around the neighborhood for 15-minute intervals,” she says. “Start with small, specific goals, and one-by-one you will start to see changes.” 

4. Manage stress

“Stress is unavoidable, so finding ways to de-stress becomes vital,” Domazet says.

Stress has been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke and stress-reducing techniques can lower that risk. Five to 10 minutes of deep breathing will increase your body’s oxygen levels, which will lower your blood pressure and slow down your heart rate.

Group settings in all workshops allow participants to share and learn from one another. This is especially important in finding new strategies for stress management.

5. Take care of yourself while caring for someone else

Too often, caregivers overlook their own needs when caring for others – whether it’s scheduling their own medical appointments, making time for the gym or cooking a healthy meal. Self-care behaviors, managing emotions, building confidence, and enlisting the support of others are strategies available in several evidence-based classes.

“What you want for your parents, you should want that for yourself, too,” Domazet says. “We can’t take care of others without taking care of ourselves first.”

Evidence-Based Programs For Older Adults

Available from the Detroit Area Agency on Aging

  • A Matter of Balance: Program that reduces the fear of falling and increases activity levels.
  • EnhanceFitness®: Exercise program for older adults combining strength training, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning.
  • Walk With Ease: Workshop demonstrates how to safely make physical activity part of your life.
  • Tai Chi For Arthritis For Fall Prevention: Fitness program that incorporates tai chi principles; effective for fall prevention.
  • PATH: Six-week workshop on how to manage chronic health conditions.
  • DPATH: Six-week workshop to help those with diabetes manage their condition.
  • Diabetes Prevention Program: Year-long program promoting lifestyle changes to prevent or delay diabetes.
  • Creating Confident Caregivers®: Six-week workshop for caregivers of those with dementia.
  • Powerful Tools for Caregivers: Workshop offering advice on caring for yourself while caring for your loved one.
  • Aging Mastery Program for Caregivers®: Workshop discusses the impact of caregiving; provides tools for staying healthy and happy.
  • Universal Dementia Caregivers Bootcamp: Workshop covers dementia symptoms, care strategies and more.

For more information on the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, visit detroitseniorsolution.org.

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