Back when you were young, say in your teens or 20s, you felt good every day, stayed slim, and enjoyed an endless appetite. You just knew you were healthy. If you did visit the doctor, he/she confirmed it.
Now, however, we seek out the senior parking spot, automatically say thanks for the automatic senior discount, and with friends may chat about how many inches our body height has shrunk. And one of the mysteries of seniorhood, as individuals, is whether we’re truly healthy or not, a state of being that takes into account the wear and tear of decades of living in an often dangerous world.
There is no widely accepted set of criteria or tests that provide a ready answer. There are guidelines, however. I interviewed popular nurse practitioner Greg Leierwood of Hennepin Health Care who provides doctor-level care for about 14 residents of Augustana Care (Cassia) and several times that at other skilled nursing facilities in the region. At times Greg has provided the basic medical care for 100 patients at Augustana.
Senior healthy means doing well, feeling OK, not fearing the end of life in spite of having achieved an advanced age, and perhaps having survived a stroke but now wise in how to avoid a second. Add being in charge of your weight by having food intake under control.
Knowing if you are senior healthy helps you take action when needed, such as visiting the doctor when you know something body-wise has gone wrong, rather than sinking into denial. It’s taking the time and energy to help yourself physically.
Practitioner Leierwood lends a hand, providing ways to evaluate senior health. How frail are you, with frailty having to do with strength and endurance. Ask yourself how steep has been your decline in those two abilities. Perhaps once a world traveler, a decrease in the region in which you move about—in which you circulate or live–may decrease, may move through the range of the world, the USA, your state, your county, your home town, and eventually to just your bedroom. I’ve felt a similar decline myself, seeing and feeling a reluctance to travel with relatives, to Costa Rica.
“The willingness, the ability, to travel becomes a measure of health for seniors,” contends Greg.
“Heart health really comes down to endurance, or sustained activity over time,” says Greg. “Another good test is grip strength—the hand’s grip tested by a person experienced in doing such a test.”
A simple test one can do frequently at home, even alone, to determine senior health and which Greg recommends, is called “Get up and go.” Sit in a straight-back chair and without using your hands and arms to assist, rise to your feet and walk straight ahead 10 feet, turn around and walk back to the chair and sit down. If you did it in 10 seconds you are likely senior healthy. It took me 15 seconds.
An 89-year-old retired RN and long-time family friend Mary Burns of Richfield, MN, measures her senior health by comparing her physical capabilities against the official Activities of Daily Living. A vegetarian many years, she compares very well, takes one prescription med, and works out daily. The Activities of Daily Living are often used to determine the details of care a new admittance to a care center is to receive.
Mark Lucas of south Minneapolis, age 72, considers himself senior healthy, although hedges the condition a bit. He owns being some overweight and medicates against high blood pressure. But he is physically active, assists in caring for young grandchildren, and recently painted his garage. Travel, including camping, is a regular retirement activity.
As most personal stories confirm, regular physical activity along with weight control well short of obesity are required if physical health is to be achieved and sustained.
*It is always best to consult a physician with any concerns about your health.