What do you most fear about aging? It’s a daunting question that more people across Oklahoma have to consider each day. Whether it’s loss of independence or lack of financial security, these experts point out ways to avoid many of the concerns that often come with growing older.
“Health is one of the main reasons people spin down into poverty and have problems as they age,” says Laura Dempsey-Polan, senior director of community and systems development at Morton Comprehensive Health Services. “If people take care of their health starting in their 40s and 50s, eating healthy and exercising, they can change their health entirely.”
The concern is not just with physical abilities, however. For many Oklahomans, the fear of mental health deterioration is worse than the aging of the body.
“People are very worried about dementia and losing their ability to have the same cognition,” Dempsey-Polan says. “You hear it all the time, ‘Oh, I’m so forgetful,’ or ‘There’s a senior moment,’ and that morphs into more than 100 dementia diseases that people can be diagnosed with.”
Although there are no miracle cures to prevent aging or illness later in life, most experts agree that a healthy diet and regular physical activity greatly lessen the likelihood of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in old age.
What happens after the kids leave and get families of their own or friends or a spouse die? Many seniors find themselves looking for new ways to maintain social activities after they retire.
“One of the best ways you can alleviate loneliness as you age is to volunteer,” says Evelyn Harms, public relations and recruitment coordinator for RSVP of Central Oklahoma. “Volunteering puts you with new friends and you are able to meet people and really make a difference.”
Programs such as RSVP connect seniors with volunteer opportunities throughout the community, even if they are unable to leave their home. Seniors can also find places to get involved through civic, faith, sport or community groups in their area.
“There are so many ways to stay involved when people retire, they just have to find new ways to stay involved,” says Carol Carter, spokeswoman for LIFE Senior Services. The two senior centers LIFE has two senior day centers in the Tulsa area with activities, ranging from tai-chi and yoga to painting and choral groups.
Safety for seniors is a popular topic in the news lately, and for good reason: The number of abuse cases against seniors is now higher than the number of child abuse cases in Oklahoma.
“There are a lot of scams out there, and many times it’s propagated by family members,” Dempsey-Polan says. “Basically, if you’re wel-connected and have lots of friends and your financial wellness and health are taken care of, you’re less likely to be in danger.”
One obvious fear for many Oklahomans approaching retirement age is the question of finances: Is there enough set aside, and will the family be taken care of?
“It’s really important to have your finances in order with a will in place and people you really trust with your power of attorney,” Dempsey-Polan says.
The easiest way to secure financial health is to make sure a will is established and family members or friends know what to do in case of an emergency.
“People need to keep an open mind as to what independence is because it can take on different meanings,” Carter says. “A lot of times people fear not being able to stay in their home, but there are many services in Oklahoma that help them maintain independence so they aren’t rushing into a certain level of care prematurely.”
Services such as transportation or simple housekeeping can be the difference between a person being able to stay in their home and having to move into a care facility or in with family. Identifying these services early on allows seniors to maintain independence as long as possible.