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Published By Nuala Duignan on January 02, 2017

Eight ways to plan ahead for the well-being of our senior selves

The New Year is like an annual alarm clock. It reminds us that another year has passed and it's time to wake up to life's realities. Among them is the fact that we're not getting any younger! This year, set your sights beyond 2017 and put some resolutions on your list that will make it more likely you'll be able to live the way you want as you grow older:

1. Create and maintain an active social life. People who are socially active tend to be healthier in both mind and body. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who were socially active had slower rates of memory decline. Research from Brigham Young University stated that social isolation and loneliness are as dangerous to health as obesity and loneliness increases the risk of premature death and even affects us on the cellular level! So, give your friends a call and head out to a movie or dinner. Take a morning stroll with your neighbor. If you find it hard to meet people, join a club or check out volunteer opportunities.

2. Think long-term about where you'll live. There may come a time when living at home alone is no longer safe or convenient, and you might want to consider the options available. The worst time to research possible living choices is during a health crisis. Learn about the options ahead of time. Of course, most seniors want to stay in their own homes as long as possible, so learn about home modifications that can make the home a better fit. And check out in-home care services that could provide help you might need with housekeeping, personal care, health and medication management, transportation, and any other tasks that become challenging.

3. Assume you will need care. Even if you practice all the right lifestyle choices, things happen. It helps to know what you would do in case of an accident or prolonged illness. Remember that in addition to the home care services mentioned above, do you have family members who could step in and provide care? Don't assume—discuss this in advance.  

4. Save your money. The good news is that we're living longer. The bad news is that increased longevity means we need more money as we head into retirement. To live comfortably throughout a retirement that may be several years longer than our parents' means we need to start saving early. From the beginning of your career, begin putting away a percentage of your income so it has time to grow. If you're already at or near retirement age, talk to a financial planner about ways you can still optimize your assets and plan ahead for a fiscally healthy future.

5. Document your medical wishes. None of us want to be in a situation where others are making life-and-death decisions for us. An advance directive (such as a living will) makes your wishes known to loved ones and healthcare providers by specifying what kind of medical treatment you would and wouldn't want in the event you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. You also should appoint someone you trust as a healthcare representative to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to express your wishes.

6. Improve your diet. Nutrition plays a critical role in how well we age. A diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, as well as healthy fats and oils like those found in nuts, olives and avocados, has been found to be particularly successful in helping people age well. Studies suggest that a diet like this can reduce the risk for heart attack, stroke, dementia and premature death. Eating well also means avoiding foods such as trans fats, highly processed foods and sugar, which have shown to be detrimental to good health as we age.

7. Get enough exercise. Physical activity is a top factor for maintaining good health and staving off the negative effects of aging. Even when started later in life, exercise can lower your risk for a host of ailments, including chronic diseases, physical disability and even memory loss. 

8. Improve your attitude about aging. Last, but far from least, examine your beliefs about older adults and your own future journey into your later years. Have you noticed that some people who wouldn't dream of making a racist or sexist remark will nonetheless make insulting jokes about older adults? Remember that ageism has been described as "prejudice against one's future self"! Gerontologists say young people who have negative attitudes about seniors are at greater risk of poor health in their own later years.

Advance planning can increase the odds that no matter what life brings, you'll have the old age you want.

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