Extension Agent: May is Older Texans Month

By Erika Bochat
May 13, 2014 at 12:13 a.m.

When we think of the word "age," the most common thought is the number of years lived. However, as Americans continue to live longer, we also must think about how well they are living and how successfully they are aging.

Since May is Older Americans Month and Older Texans Month in the state of Texas, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service would like to provide tips on successful aging so that the quality of your life will increase 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 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. According to Herridge, people interested in diet, exercise and prevention may contact the extension agent in their county for information on programs and services that are available.

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, 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, Dr. 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 "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 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," Herridge said. "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 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. For more information about ways you can age successfully, attend the Healthy Aging Conference from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Victoria Community Center or contact me at the Victoria County Extension office 361-575-4581.

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



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