7 tips for successful aging

Eva Allegria works out at an AltaMed PACE Center, which helps elderly individuals stay healthy, active and happy for longer into old age. Photo by Dan Caston/ PBS NewsHour

Eighty-six year old Eva Allegria has been living independently in the same house for six decades. But a few years ago, her health deteriorated and she was forced to use a wheelchair. She became increasingly depressed and wouldn’t leave her house.

She says she was ready to die, and had even talked with a friend about what blouse she wanted to be buried in.

But Allegria’s sons weren’t ready for their mother to give up just yet. They signed her up to participate in an AltaMed PACE Center in El Monte, Calif. Now, three times a week, a shuttle picks her up, takes her to the center for meals, activities, parties and exercise programs. It has given her a new reason to live and she says, looking toward heaven, “I told that guy, wait a little longer.” There are 98 PACE (which stands for Program of All-Inclusive Care) centers across the country and they are becoming a popular way for people to stay in their own homes — or live with family members — while still receiving comprehensive medical care and socialization. It’s particularly appealing for elderly Latinos who have traditionally wanted to age at home with their families.

And for those who need even more care, nursing homes are becoming an option that often wasn’t considered before. In fact, Latino admissions to nursing homes has increased by 58 percent while there’s been a 10 percent decrease for whites.

In the past, some nursing homes didn’t make minority residents feel welcome. But now, places like the Country Villa Plaza in Santa Ana are going out of their way to provide cultural amenities to residents from Latin America.

With the overall population of people 65 and older expected to double in the next 15 years — and the Latino population aged 65 and over expected to quadruple in that time — there will be a vast need for even more medical, social and cultural services to meet their long-term care needs.

Tune in to XX evening’s PBS NewsHour for the full report on PACE’s approach to long-term care. But first, we bring you some advice on successful aging from Allegria and some of the others interviewed for this story.

Read their tips below, and then share your own in the comments section below.

7 Tips for Successful Long-Term Aging

1. Stay active

“Get involved with a social group so you get out of the house at least two days a week. It has completely changed my life.”

— Eva Alegria, 86

2. Know your drugs

“Make sure that all of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others who care for your loved one are all communicating with each other about medications.”

— Al Mendez, son and caregiver for his 77-year-old father Jaime

3. List your daily needs

“Work with the health care team to evaluate the needs of your loved one’s daily living activities (everything from dressing and bathing to transportation and meal preparation). Determine which things they need assistance with, then create a schedule of who can help them with each one. Many times, an elderly patient’s decline is related less to the medical conditions themselves than to the basic daily activities needed to maintain a person’s functional status.”

— Dr. Esiquio Casillas, medical director for AltaMed Health Services

4. Consider the risks

“Talk openly and honestly with your health care provider about the true risks and benefits of all medical interventions. Many times, treatments that seem standard for most patients start to have higher risks for elderly people that begin to outweigh the benefits. This is the case for cholesterol therapy, strict control of diabetes and preventative tests for colon or breast cancer.”

— Dr. Esiquio Casillas

5. Keep moving

“Exercise, exercise, exercise! A sedentary lifestyle in older age is particularly dangerous as it puts you at higher risks for falls and more rapid health decline.”

— Dr. Esiquio Casillas

6. Start the conversation

“Begin to talk about end of life issues openly and honestly with your family and your doctor.”

— Dr. Esiquio Casillas

7. Stay social

“If you’ve determined your loved one needs to go into a nursing home, make sure it offers plenty of social and cultural activities to keep them engaged. Those activities are as least as important as the medical care they receive.”

— Rashmi Birla, director of the Country Villa Plaza nursing home in Santa Ana, Calif.

Whether you’re elderly, a caregiver or a family member, let us know what tips you have for successful aging. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below or send them to us at onlinehealth@newshour.org.

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