As we get older, time becomes more precious. The best thing we can do is spend that time wisely: prioritizing friends and family, doing worthwhile activities, taking care of our physical, emotional, and mental health, and making sure we feel at home.
There’s a quote that resonates with many people as they celebrate more birthdays: “It’s not how old you are, but how you are old.”
And as it turns out, Minnesota is a pretty great place for growing older while staying young at heart. According to a study conducted by United Health Foundation, the healthiest state to be a senior is Minnesota. The reasons? Widespread access to dental care, a high percentage of volunteerism (seniors stay active and have a purpose), and higher prescription drug coverage.
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Another advantage to spending your golden years in Minnesota is the number of dedicated senior communities in the state. There are hundreds of senior living communities available, ranging from retirement communities to assisted living and memory care. Long gone is the “old folks home” stereotype of the past. More than any other time in history, there are more housing options designed specifically for the unique wants and needs of adults age 55 and over—wants and needs like multi-functional spaces, cozy coffee/wine bars, fresh, made-to-order dining choices, craft rooms, fitness centers, organized activities, libraries, and some campuses conveniently offering a continuum of care. It’s like a cruise ship—you can participate as much, or as little, as you choose.
When you’re shopping around, make sure you’re comparing amenities, and ask if the “bottom line” really is the bottom line, or if there are extra fees. For example, will you eventually pay extra for private duty aides? Or is around-the-clock care already part of the fee? Think about the services you may need in the future, too, a good emergency response system, a good security system, an employee who will drive you to various appointments (or the availability of nearby public transportation).
Sit down and figure out what’s important to you: Is it location? Do you want to live in a community with an on-site chapel and faith-based mission? How good is the food? How social are the other residents? How friendly is the staff? Will your kids and grandkids feel welcome visiting? Can you have pets? Are there organized activities and classes? Get to know the culture, not just the first impression you receive based on walking into the lobby.
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At Crest View Senior Communities, it’s all about community. Crest View has five faith-based buildings in Columbia Heights and another community in Blaine under development, with a spectrum of services spanning senior housing, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing care, short term rehab care, and home health care. Life enrichment activities include everything from aromatherapy to drum circles. Shirley Barnes, chief executive officer for Crest View Senior Communities, encourages those who are “shopping around” to visit. Experiencing the community firsthand is a great way to determine the best fit.
“There are many benefits to being part of a community, where people have opportunities to socialize, remain engaged in life, and continue to have a purpose, yet also have their privacy,” she explains. Oftentimes people gain independence in this environment, leading to a higher quality of life.
Staying active & engaged
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Seniors feel better emotionally and physically when they’re active, whether that’s a daily walk, swimming or water aerobics, yoga, walking/hiking, biking, or golfing. In addition to cardiovascular activities, other factors that help everyone—regardless of age—feel more healthy and energized are strength training and balance training (yoga, tai chi, pilates, stretching).
The expression “use it or lose it” is especially true with muscle mass. By the time you’re 40, you lose 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade, and the decline increases to 1 to 2 percent per year after age 50. The good news is that muscle mass can increase in response to exercise.
And while strength and resistance training is the most obvious intervention against the gradual loss of muscle mass, the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) Nutrition Working Group published a new review identifying nutritional factors that help preserve muscle mass, specifically protein, an acid-based diet, vitamin D/calcium, and vitamin B12/folic acid.
At The Waters of Edina, providing a spectrum of senior living with services, assisted living, and memory care, there’s a focus on physical wellness in addition to enhancing the social, intellectual, spiritual, vocational, emotional, and physical aspects of residents. Their unique corporate partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing allows them to be one of the first in the state to provide innovative wellbeing therapies known to improve senior-related health issues. Unlike some senior living communities that require large upfront payments, The Waters of Edina offers flexibility with a month-to-month lease and a one-time nominal community fee.
Remaining social and having a positive outlook are also important as we blow out more candles on our birthday cakes. According to a study by The Harvard School of Public Health, seniors in the U.S. who have an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline. “The Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease,” an ongoing study that began at the U of M back in 1986, outlines how positive thoughts and emotions can possibly help develop a natural immunization against Alzheimer’s.
Vital & connected
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Having a sense of purpose is an essential element to living life fully. Research shows that, as people age, they want to feel relevant and use their skills and experiences to make a positive difference. “The vision of retirement as full-time leisure holds little interest for this generation of older adults,” says Julie Roles, program director of the Vital Aging Network, or VAN, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization with a mission to promote self-determination, civic engagement, and personal growth for people as they age.
“The Vital Aging Network sees aging as a lifelong process of achieving potential, creating meaning, and enriching life through contributions and connections in community,” Roles explains. VAN’s “Evolve: Re-igniting Self and Community” program successfully helps people 50+ discover purpose for this stage of life, build leadership skills, plan and implement a community project, and become a part of a high-energy network for exchange of ideas, connections, and support.
“The driving force behind VAN is the belief that society needs older adults to engage in meaningful ways and should be looking for concrete ways to make that happen,” Roles says. “Being deeply engaged has a positive affect on an individual’s well-being. And, deep engagement among older adults has the potential for significant positive impact in our communities and our world.”
Remember, it’s not the years in your life that matter most; it’s the life in your years. “There’s some truth to that old expression: ‘Age is just a number. It’s all in your head,’” says Dr. Ken Kephart, medical director of geriatric services at Fairview Healthcare System. “If you choose to stay active and involved, eat healthy, be social, and not ACT old, it will work wonders for you.”
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Another key to healthy aging is preventive elder care, involving regular exams, check-ups, and screening tests. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following:
Annual Exam: Your physician will check your weight, body mass index (BMI), talk about any concerns you may have, and order blood tests and health screenings as needed.
Blood pressure: Have it checked every two years, more often if it’s high.
Breast cancer: Schedule a breast cancer screening every two years from ages 50-75. The U.S. Preventive Task Force does not recommend routine mammography screening in women ages 75 and older. (However, many major health organizations recommend healthy women ages 70 and older continue to get mammograms on a regular basis.)
Cervical cancer: Continue scheduling a Pap test up to age 65, even if you think you’re “too old.” Screening up to age 65 greatly reduces the risk of cervical cancer.
Cholesterol screening: High blood cholesterol is a leading risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Early intervention is key.
Colorectal cancer: The USPSTF recommends screening in adults beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75. You may need to be screened earlier and more frequently if you have risk factors.
Eye exam: Your eyes should be checked every two years until age 60 and then yearly after that. Macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma are common with age.
Hearing exam: It’s recommended that primary care physicians screen patients 65 and older for hearing loss, and refer them to an audiologist if hearing loss is suspected.