Aging causes a lot of changes to the body and mind. Some of the changes we experience are noticeable, and others are not as obvious. People also age at different rates, with some people suffering some of the effects of advanced aging at a young age, and other people maintaining youthful vitality well into their twilight years.
Factors that Affect How We Age
There are several factors that affect how we age. Some of these factors are within our control, and some are not:
Heredity. You can take cues on your own aging by observing the elderly people in your immediate family. If your parents and grandparents are fairly healthy and active, chances are that you will also age well. If you have a family history of age-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis, then you are also more likely to be at risk.
Environment.Where you live can have a profound effect on your health. There are certain regions of the United States that are considered healthier than others for a variety of reasons, from climate and pollution to stress levels and poverty rates. People who live in areas that are considered unhealthy often have higher poverty rates and also tend to be industrial areas that have higher rates of air or water pollution.
Lifestyle Factors.Dietary and exercise habits, the amount and quality of sleep, stress levels, smoking, and alcohol consumption all affect how well we age. For example, men who are chronically sleep-deprived often show signs of accelerated aging in the brain.
Health Status.There are certain diseases that can accelerate aging, especially if they go untreated or are not managed properly. For example, type 2 diabetes damages blood vessels, making patients more prone to hypertension and kidney disease. There is also a strong link between poorly controlled diabetes and dementia.
The Effects of Aging on Lifestyle
The physical and mental effects of aging have a strong influence on our lifestyles as we age. Individuals who remain fairly healthy could live independently, and continue performing activities of daily living indefinitely. However, those who develop age-related diseases could find it increasingly difficult to manage their own care.
Often, these individuals have no choice but to seek help from others. For some, this could mean moving in with adult children, and even grandchildren, and for others it could mean transitioning into an assisted living facility, or nursing home.
Unfortunately, nursing homes often get a bad rap due to reports of abuse and neglect; and as the elderly population continues to grow, instances of abuse could become more frequent. According to Michael Pines, a nursing home abuse lawyer in California, a survey published by the National Center on Elder Abuse revealed that 7.6 to 10 percent of elderly respondents experienced some form of abuse in a nursing home setting. Additionally, only 1 in 14 cases is ever reported.
This is not to say that assisted living facilities and nursing homes are terrible places, only that we need to take precautions when deciding on care.
Choosing the Right Care
Not every elderly person needs to go to a nursing home. Many individuals could do quite well living at home with at-home nursing care, or attending an adult daycare. However, regardless of the option you choose, here are some steps for finding a good program.
Find a Reputable Referral Service.You don’t have to look far to find an eldercare facility or program. In fact, many of them advertise on television and radio during the times of day when the elderly are watching. However, the production values in the commercials don’t tell you the whole story. Before you call the number on your screen, check with reputable agencies to find good facilities in your area. These agencies include:
- Your local council on aging;
- The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, which can give you a listing of agencies in your area;
- The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator, which can help you find facilities all over the United States;
- The Medicare Administration’s Nursing Home Compare, which gives detailed information on every Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing home across the country.
Many of these organizations can tell you if a given facility has had any complaints of abuse, or has had any other issues, such as problems with cleanliness.
Online research and phone calls are only part of the process. You will also need to visit the facility to see what it is really like. If you know someone who lives in the facility, consider visiting them, and asking for their take, before you schedule a tour. You might find that they tell and show you things that are not included on the standard tour.