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Health Matters

A roundup of relevant news about health, fitness and care for seniors.

The impact of sleep on senior health

Sleep Awareness WeekThere’s a myth that sleep becomes less important as we age. But no matter how old we are, sleep remains an integral part of our health and wellbeing. With Sleep Awareness Week being March 2-8, this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the ways sleep benefits us and what we can do to improve our sleep.

Sleep has a significant impact on the immune system. Seniors who get enough sleep tend to have stronger immune systems, helping them recover more quickly from illness or injury. But seniors who experience chronic sleep deprivation are more prone to get sick and experience more serious health issues, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. These conditions significantly increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Managing chronic illnesses

Chronic health conditions affect roughly half of all adults. And if you’re an adult aged 65 or older, you likely live with three or more chronic conditions.

Chronic illnesses may be physical, mental or sensory in nature. Common chronic physical conditions include arthritis, diabetes, heart problems and hypertension. Common mental issues are chronic depression and cognitive disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. On the sensory side, chronic illnesses include hearing and vision loss, such as macular degeneration or tinnitus.

For many, chronic illness can cause depression, anger or fear that your illness will worsen. Some may develop a negative self-view, perceiving themselves as sickly or burdensome. Others may choose to ignore the illness in an effort to go on living the way they have been, and as a result, experience significant declines in their overall health and wellbeing.

The impact of negative stereotypes about aging

Have you heard of Aged-Based Stereotype Threat (ABST)? Basically, it means that negative stereotypes about aging can impair the physical and mental functioning of older adults.

The University of Kent’s School of Psychology recently shared the most comprehensive analysis to date of the effect of ABST. Culling evidence from 37 studies, researchers found that when seniors’ feel targeted by negative stereotypes, their memory and overall cognitive performance decreases. Even a small hint that their performance was being judged based on their age caused the seniors to underperform on tasks they might otherwise excel at. Additionally, many seniors who internalize negative aging stereotypes are less likely to seek preventative medical care. As a result, they experience poorer health, limited mobility and even reduced longevity.

Celebrate Heart Health

American Heart Month

Each February brings American Heart Month, a time to refocus attention on behaviors that may contribute to our compromise our heart health. The American Heart Association estimates that 83.6 million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death among both men and women. The good news is that heart disease is largely in our control; by making smart lifestyle choices, we can significantly reduce our risk. Here’s what you can do:

Maintain a heart-healthy diet. This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy products. Limit saturated and trans fats, which contribute to high cholesterol levels. Also monitor your daily intake of sugar and sodium. The average adult should only consume 2,300 mg of sodium, and adults 51 or older, with high blood pressure, or with diabetes should limit it to just 1,500 mg.

Take care of your brain

Brain healthA brain-healthy lifestyle is essential to aging well. Mental acuity allows us to remain independent and enjoy a higher quality of life. To help promote the brain health of older adults in 2015, Eldercare Locator put out a brochure with tips for maintaining cognitive functioning. It draws on the research and recommendations of the Administration for Community Living, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The brochure, “Brain Health: You Can Make a Difference,” offers the following tips to maintain optimal brain health: