National Care Planning Council
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Books for Care Planning

    Long Term Care BooksFind books provided by the National Care Planning Council written to help the public plan for Long Term Care. Learn More...

Eldercare Articles

    Eldercare ArticlesThe NCPC publishes periodic articles under the title "Planning for Eldercare". Each article is written to help families recognize the need for long term care planning and to help implement that planning. All elderly people, regardless of current health, should have a long term care plan. Learn More...

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Guide to LTC Planning

    Guide to Long Term Care PlanningFrom its inception, the goal of the National Care Planning Council has been to educate the public on the importance of planning for long term care. With that goal in mind, we have created the largest and most comprehensive source of long term care planning material available anywhere. This material -- "Guide to Long Term Care Planning" -- is free to the public for downloading and printing on all of our web sites. Learn More...

Understanding Aging Issues

Aging Issues

Aging and death are an inevitable consequence of being part of our existence on earth. But not all people are the same when it comes to aging. Some people are "old" well before their time and well before that magical and totally arbitrary age of 65. Others remain active and healthy well into their 80s and 90s. Many would argue that those who age prematurely and who die early do so because of the genetic disposition that dictates the outcome. In some cases this may be true. In many cases this is not true. There are a number of factors that affect the health and longevity of aging seniors. Here are some social factors that have been shown to affect the aging process.

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Level of education
  • Level of physical and cognitive functioning
  • Living arrangement such as one of high social status or living arrangement of very low social status
  • Ethnicity
  • A mental and emotionally challenging lifestyle

Longevity and quality of life are also very much determined by what a person does to maintain his or her own physical and mental health. Examples of this might include

Longevity and quality of life are also very much determined by what a person does to maintain his or her own physical and mental health. Examples of this might include

  • Receiving timely and effective medical care
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating nutritious meals
  • Getting the right amount of sleep
  • Consistently getting adequate exercise
  • Avoiding excessive use of alcohol, smoking and other non-healthy habits
  • Maintaining social stimulation
  • Maintaining mental stimulation
  • Maintaining a positive attitude towards life
  • Avoiding stress
  • Getting help with depression

We will discuss in other articles in this section how some of these issues profoundly affect the aging process and also affect the quality of life in later years.

The Older Person's Lack of Self Esteem

Many elderly people buy into the notion that they themselves are no longer useful and as a result make little attempt to keep themselves healthy and active. After all, they are getting closer to the end of their lives and have no desire to try new things or to challenge themselves or to eat or exercise properly.

There is a great deal of anecdotal and research evidence that demonstrates older people can learn, can retain memory, and can be actively involved in business and in the community. The lack of physical exercise, social involvement and mental stimulation in older Americans often leads to these people losing the ability to use their minds and their bodies. Thus, the older person's negative attitude towards aging becomes self-fulfilling.

Many reason that they have missed their opportunities in life when they were younger and it's too late to start over. As a result, many older people are intimidated by new ideas or by technology such as computers, not because they are incapable but simply because of their attitude. The idea of not being able to "teach an old dog new tricks" is in most cases an excuse. Obviously, this mindset of failure and inability to perform becomes self-fulfilling. Not surprisingly, depression and suicide are more common in the elderly than in the younger population.

The negative attitude towards aging on the part of an older person has a direct impact on that person's health. Many studies show that people who are physically active have less joint pain, lower blood pressure, less depression, fewer heart attacks and a lower incidence of cancer. Proper nutrition also has the same effect on the aging process; it delays the onset of debilitating illness or disability.

Intervention Strategies

Families or others involved with an elderly person must recognize the all-too-common attitude of worthlessness, defeat and resignation from elderly loved ones and take corrective action. They should encourage and possibly even prod the older person to be stimulated mentally, socially, and physically – to be actively involved; to give him or her a purpose for living. But families should also be very careful not to become patronizing or controlling but be genuinely supportive in this process. Here are some ideas.

  • Make sure an elderly loved one has challenging activities throughout the day instead of simply watching TV or viewing videos. This might include trips to interesting places, visiting senior centers, providing challenging games or puzzles, doing volunteer work, providing an opportunity to be involved in church work, offering stimulating conversation or working on an adult education class or college degree.
  • If the person is interested, encourage him or her to become involved in handcraft, genealogies, creative design, writing, scrap booking or other challenging home-oriented activities.
  • Give them responsibility for taking care of pets such as a dog, a cat, or a friendly bird. In addition, if feasible, allow them to care for plants as well. This strategy is used often in nursing homes to reduce depression in the elderly and to improve their health as well. It really works.
  • If a caregiver for an older person cannot be present, decide to enroll a loved one in adult day services. These providers often offer the same strategies we are talking about here.
  • Provide opportunities for family and friends to come by and visit and encourage or even arrange such encounters.
  • Provide opportunities for the older person to interact, teach and nurture children such as grandchildren or children in a day care center. This is an extremely effective strategy for helping the older person feel that he or she has a meaningful existence. And it has a dramatic impact on improving and maintaining health.
  • Design or arrange an exercise program and come up with a way to encourage the older person to follow it.
  • Understand the nutrition needs of an older loved one, especially the need for vitamins and minerals including iron. Get some books on the subject or go to the Internet. Make sure the person takes care of him or herself and eats properly. Fixing special meals, providing treats, getting takeout or going out to dinner can be fun and exciting for anyone regardless of age. Many elderly people neglect their own nutrition. Poor nutrition can cause all kinds of mental and physical problems in the elderly.
  • Make sure an older person has opportunity to look good and have nice clothing. Make sure the person gets out in public and tries dining out or going to a public event and can feel good about his or her appearance.

For aging seniors, especially those who because of disability or health problems are mostly confined to their homes, there are all kinds of alternative ways to remain active and involved. There is no reason for an aging senior – even one suffering from extreme disability or major health problems – to sit in a stupor all day listening to TV or sleeping