Practice Preventive Health for More Independence Days

By Dr. Gerard Muraida

During July when we celebrate our country’s independence, I am reminded that we as individuals spend all our lives working toward being living independently. Walking on our own, driving a car, living apart from our parents, and getting a job are each a step toward personal freedom.

As we age, independence in health should be celebrated daily, as it’s not a given. While retirement may be viewed as an opportunity to have more free time, illness can endanger plans for travel and spending more time with family and friends. In addition, seniors often don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of indolent illnesses, both cognitive and physical, until they’ve taken hold. Hypertension, renal disease and dementia are just a few of the conditions that develop slowly in older people.

In fact, chronic conditions can put fear into some seniors, leading to “independence fright.” These individuals will seek to be taken care of by family or caregivers. Having someone else take over all the tasks of daily living may result in loss of function and increased dependence.

So, how can a person stave off loss of independence in later years?

Maintaining a healthful lifestyle is a good start. Establishing relationships outside the home, including congregate meal settings, can ward off isolation-related depression. Staying active by participating in group functions such as yoga, dancing, and even mall-walking are also beneficial both physically and mentally.

Structure or routine can help to develop healthful habits. Getting sufficient restful sleep is quite important as we age. Treating sleep disorders can improve heart health, cognition, and mood. A minimum of seven hours of sleep without any “screentime” one hour before bedtime is imperative for quality sleep.

Gardening, learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, and joining a book club can promote physical and mental health.

As always, discuss your independence maintenance plan with your primary care provider. Happy Independence Days!

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