The Aging Process
By 2030, the number of Americans age 65 and over is projected to reach some 71.5 million people, with nearly 10 million of them 85 and older. However, many seniors today report better health, greater wealth, and higher levels of education than elders in past decades.
Science is paying a lot of attention to the well-being of people in their later years. One area of concern is cognitive function, and the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical health is another important area of concern for an aging population; keeping the body moving and healthy helps to ensure the quality of a long life.
More elderly workers aren't retiring, but staying employed and finding ways to contribute. Additionally, surveys find that more young people are turning to elders for advice and wisdom in a range of domains.
Conventional wisdom says that one can live a long and meaningful life by keeping the mind sharp. Plenty of sleep, a healthy diet, and physical activity are all beneficial as well. Yet one of the more crucial items on the list, research suggests, is maintaining good relationships. Having a meaningful social life with close others who support you and listen to you can have a significant influence on overall health outcomes. In the cultures with some of the world's longest average life spans—Okinawa, Costa Rica, Greece—activity, diet, and close relationships are at the core of elders' everyday lives.
Here is a short list of healthy aging tips.
- Don’t smoke. This is at the top of on any self-care list. Not only does smoking increase the risk of disease, but it also scars appearance through aging skin, psoriasis, and yellowed teeth.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Eating sugary or processed foods, for example, promotes degenerative diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
- Limit alcohol. A modest amount of alcohol can deliver some benefits such as keeping blood pressure in check, but it’s best to limit one's intake. Among other concerns, too much alcohol can lead to oxidative stress, which contributes to aging.
- Sleep well. Even one night of sleep deprivation can age a person, causing cells to age faster in older adults.
- Keep active. Exercise keeps the brain sharp, and older adults who stay active function like younger people.
- Fight stress. The body releases stress chemicals that impact healthy cells. People under high stress have shorter telomeres—structures at the end of chromosomes—that make cells die off sooner, accelerating aging.
The Support of Caregivers
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), there are 44 million family caregivers, which is nearly 20 percent of the adult population in the U.S. It's not so surprising that most caregivers are women, and that most caregivers are close family members. Often, these individuals are raising their own children as well—hence, the term "sandwich generation."
Caregivers, who are often over the age of 50 themselves, provide physical and financial assistance to elderly loved ones. The NAC has also found that while women provide the lion's share of basic care, both men and women also provide financial assistance, with an aggregate cost, in lost wages and benefits, of some $3 trillion.