Sixty years ago, an American who made it to 65 could expect to live an additional 14 years. Today, Consumer Reports notes, it’s 19 years. So how do we grow older healthfully so that we can actually enjoy those extra years?
No matter whether you’ve just hit 50 or are well on your way toward the century mark, there are strategies that can help you stay healthy, keep you socially and intellectually engaged in the world around you and create a living situation that is comfortable and safe.
This report is one in a series on how to manage your health and health care in the years ahead, funded in part by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies.
1. Managing your health. What are the most important items on your medical to-do list? First is a great primary-care doctor, usually an internist or family practitioner, who should be your main point of contact with the health care system. If you don’t already have such a doctor, find one now and make an appointment for an initial visit. Look for a physician whose practice is a “patient-centered medical home.” That means the doctor’s office has organized itself to quarterback all of your care, including alerting you when it’s time for a test or visit, keeping tabs on all of your medications and coordinating care with your specialists.
Second is well-managed medications. At least once a year, you should put all of your pill bottles in a bag (including all over-the-counter drugs and supplements) and take them to your primary-care doctor for a review. Also keep an up-to-date list of your drugs (including dosages) in your wallet or handbag in case of a medical emergency.
Third is health-insurance savvy. Consumer Reports suggests carefully going through your health plan’s requirements so you really know how it works and whether you need to get referrals for specialist visits or prior authorization for elective surgery or costly tests. A few months before your 65th birthday, enroll in Medicare. Review your plan choices every year at open enrollment.
2. Keeping your body strong. One of the ongoing effects of aging is loss of muscle mass. If you don’t do anything to fight it, you could find yourself unable to get out of an armchair or off the toilet one day. The good news is that it’s never too late to start working out to counter aging’s effects, including consulting with a licensed physical therapist who can help you design a safe exercise program, doing 150 minutes of cardio every week and adding strength training.
3. Staying mentally sharp. Nothing you do will protect you 100 percent from developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but ways to reduce your risk include remaining physically fit, staying socially engaged and learning something new.
4. Living independently. If you want to “age in place,” Consumer Reports recommends considering such modifications to your home as adding ground-floor sleeping space, putting in bathroom safety features and installing a chairlift.
The National Association of Home Builders has a list of Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists with special training in designing and building aging-friendly home renovations. Find one in your area by putting “NAHB CAPS directory” into a search engine.
5. Moving to an easier home. Some features to look for include entryways and interior doors without raised thresholds; wide hallways and doorways; bathroom, bedroom and laundry on the main floor; and services, shopping, transit and recreational facilities within walking distance.
Or you might reach a point where even those types of homes are too much to manage. Your top choices at that point are continuing-care retirement communities, which are developments that offer a continuum of housing options —from regular independent apartments to assisted living to skilled nursing facilities — and assisted living if you don’t need skilled nursing care but can no longer manage on your own.
2014 Consumers Union Inc.