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7 Health Challenges of Aging

Experts explain how to prepare for the health issues people face as they age.

Mental Health: Memory and Emotional Well-being continued...

"When you get older, you're dealing with life-change issues," says Crowel. "Kids leaving home, health problems, loss of parents and friends, and retirement become issues. We notice that all the basketball players are younger than us, and the music and ads are for a younger demographic." He advises anticipating and preparing for the changes to come.

One of the biggest life changes is retirement. Many people have their sense of worth tied up with work. In retirement, depression and suicide rates rise.

"Prepare for retirement by thinking about what some call 'the second act,'" says Crowel. "What would you have wanted to do if you hadn't done your career? Jimmy Carter is a perfect example. After his presidency, he went on to become a humanitarian, working on behalf of international human rights and Habitat for Humanity."

Recognize that some physical abilities will decline, but giving up sports altogether isn't the answer. "People who are active in sports such as basketball or football should think ahead to activities such as golf or water polo that put less stress on the joints."

Also recognize in your 40s and 50s that parents and grandparents won't be around forever. "In anticipation of their getting old and dying, making contact and tying up loose ends can be useful."

Even though family and friends may be gone or distant, the loneliness that's often associated with old age is not inevitable. "Reach out to new people, and even think about being a 'grandparent' to a younger family," says Crowel. "When I was 27, my wife and I moved to Washington, D.C., and a 94-year-old woman befriended us. She showed us the city and cooked for us, and we gardened together. We got a grandmother, and she got companionship. I'll cherish that forever."

He adds that nurturing your spiritual side may be in order as you get older and face mortality. "For many people who have drifted away from religion or spiritual practice, it's sometimes comforting to reassess that. Do I need to connect with my religion or spend time becoming the spiritual person I want to become? Pay attention to it if it's important to you.

"Finally, just the way you figure out your finances, figure out what you need to make you happy, and if you have a medical problem or mental health problem, how will you deal with it," says Crowel. "Make some strategic decisions about how you want to live your life."

Do Your Part

Much of the illness, disability, and deaths associated with chronic disease are avoidable through known prevention measures, including a healthy lifestyle, early detection of diseases, immunizations, injury prevention, and programs to teach techniques to self-manage conditions such as pain and chronic diseases according to the CDC.

And while the future will undoubtedly bring medical advances in treatments and cures, Brangman advises taking care of what you have. "Our original parts are the best. If you can keep your own parts, that's the best way to go."

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Reviewed on December 09, 2006

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