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Extension Agent: Educating yourself about aging with grace

By By Erika Bochat
May 7, 2013 at 12:07 a.m.


The state of Texas and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service would like to provide some tips on successful aging so that the quality of your life will increase along with its quantity.

The first step to successful aging is to remain as physically healthy as possible for as long as possible. Mary Herridge, a gerontologist and retired Hill County Extension agent, points out that poor health is not a consequence of aging, and being healthy is not just the absence of disease.

"A chronic illness may be considered unhealthy but, if managed properly, the person suffering from that illness may be able to lead a normal, healthy life," she said.

A healthy lifestyle may have a positive impact on a person at any age. Proper diet, exercise and preventive health care are three primary means to maintaining your physical health. Herridge said people interested in diet, exercise and prevention may contact the extension agent in their county for information on programs and services that are available to them in the area.

Successful aging is also tied very heavily to a person's mental health. Just as with physical health, decline in mental health is not a consequence of growing older.

"Many clinicians and family members attribute an altered mental state to someone's age rather than recognizing symptoms of a disease and seeking treatment for it," said Andy Crocker, a gerontology health specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Something as simple as the wrong prescription in a pair of glasses may cause disorientation and then may be confused with dementia. Crocker recommends keeping the mind active through stimulating activity such as reading, word games or even talking with friends and neighbors about a current news event.

As an added tip, Judy Warren, professor and gerontology specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, suggests plenty of sleep in addition to any physical and mental activities.

"Plenty of sleep nurtures the body and the mind," Warren said.

Emotional and spiritual well-being are key to any discussion regarding healthy aging. Social interaction is an important part of emotional health. Warren reminds us that "to age well, we need to give and receive love."

Whether it's through volunteerism or a group of friends who meet on a regular basis, staying involved in society gives one a sense of purpose: a reason to get out of bed in the morning and to stay both mentally and physically healthy.

"I don't think we realize that mental, physical and emotional health are all intertwined," said Herridge. "It's like a stool with three legs - if you take one leg away, the stool won't stand up."

An excellent way to stay mentally healthy as well as strengthen emotional health is to participate in educational opportunities in your community.

"Most colleges and universities and some school districts offer a variety of classes that may be of interest to people of any age. The best part is that most classes are very affordable and offer flexible schedules," Crocker said.

Americans are still searching for the fabled "Fountain of Youth," and until someone finds it, we must try to do what we can to age well. Physical, mental and emotional health are all interrelated and must be considered when discussing successful aging.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has many resources available to help you in your pursuit of a long, healthy life.

Among one of them is the 15th annual Healthy Aging Conference, a regional conference devoted exclusively to education and health screening for senior adults and caregivers that provides a way to present resources we have available in the area.

Several new topics and guest speakers are scheduled this year, including presentations on macular degeneration, exercising with arthritis, lifestyle choices and your health, living well with diabetes, caring for aging skin, food safety and heart health.

The health fair portion of the conference will offer a wide variety of information on health and wellness and resources for caregivers.

Screening tests include, but are not limited to, blood pressure checks, cholesterol, blood sugar, bone density and pneumonia vaccines.

Food and door prizes will also be available.

The conference is co-hosted by Citizens Medical Center, the Golden Crescent Area Agency on Aging and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

The conference will be from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 16 at the Victoria Community Center. The cost is $2 at the door and includes a light breakfast, healthy box lunch, free health screening tests and door prizes. Advanced registration is available by calling 361-575-4581.

For more information regarding successful aging, visit the National Institute on Aging "Age Page" at nia.nih.gov.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent - Family and Consumer Sciences.

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