If you’re in your 30s and 40s, every day is a marathon. The demands of the day are relentless — they can range from work commitments to dropping off the kids at day care to running errands during lunch hour to sorting out dinner for the family. At the weekend, there is even more to do, thanks to a packed social calendar.
Chances are, your parents aren’t always a part of the mayhem. Sometimes, in our haste to take better care of ourselves, we don’t realise how they have slipped a few notches down our mental priority list. But just as each year hurtles towards December 31, our parents are on the fast track towards being older and weaker, right before our unseeing eyes.
It’s natural for us to picture our parents in the way we’ve always known them to be: Energetic, able-bodied folks who gave us piggyback rides, taught us how to ride our bicycles without the training wheels on and stayed up late watching movies with us. And then one day, at the sight of them shakily navigating a flight of stairs or falling asleep in front of the TV, it hits you:They’ve gotten so... old. And it’s a little scary.
I can definitely relate. I’ve seen it happen with my parents, who at age 69 and 71, aren’t the healthiest of people. Increasingly, I also notice how simple activities can be a stretch for them, and how they are slowing down physically as they have aged. Which leads me to worry: How am I going to take care of them?
With our rapidly ageing population, Singapore will join 33 others as a "super-aged" country, where one in five people are aged 65 and older by 2030. Our parents are already part of this statistic; taking care of them will require considerable time and dedication, and it can seem like the weight of the world is on our shoulders.
Yet, it’s not an impossible task — with the right know-how and approach, you can ensure your parents receive the necessary support to live their lives to the fullest. Here are the five questions to consider in helping them thrive in their golden years.
Now that we’re adults, our parents have shifted their priorities and aims in life; we are no longer their responsibilities. They too should be living creative, dynamic lives and possibly even revisiting those dreams they’ve always wanted to fulfil. They’ve certainly earned it. But chances are, as they start having less energy than they used to as they age, they lose desire to pursue more active endeavours.
Take the time to talk to your parents about their life-long dreams, things they have always wanted to do but never got round to. Is it a three-month cruise to experience sights like polar bears on ice caps in Alaska? That long-postponed family holiday in Europe? Or perhaps picking up a new skill like ballroom dancing or home gardening?Such conversations are often neglected because we tend to assume the status quo is fine, or that our parents are snug in their comfort zone.
But this isn’t necessarily the case. Perhaps if we’re completely honest, it’s really because we’re so caught up with our own lives, we haven’t stopped to think about what Mum and Dad need.
Our parents have worked hard all their lives, and now is their time to do things that they want. By keeping busy enjoying activities that stretch them physically or mentally, our parents can improve their overall wellbeing and look forward to enjoying each new day.
A recent survey by Abbott Nutrition found that 74.5% of older adults say they aren’t able to achieve their dreams due to a lack of physical strength. Most adults achieve peak muscle mass during their late 30s to early 40s before the natural loss of muscle mass and strength. As our bodies age, muscles get weaker and smaller. Experts say from the age of 40, adults lose about 8% of muscle every 10 years. And given that strength is directly affected by muscle mass, this could cause mobility issues and curtail one’s physical activities.
This loss of muscle mass could spell the beginning of a general loss of independence as older adults gradually lose the ability to walk unaided, do chores, or even clothe and bathe themselves. If accelerated through physical inactivity and poor nutrition intake, this loss of muscle mass can limit their ability to perform daily tasks and affect their quality of life. Things that used to be accomplished easily, such as carrying the grandkids, going to the hawker centre to have lunch or meeting friends for a day out becomes increasingly difficult.
To counter this, regular physical activity and nutrition intake are vital.Resistance exercise, in particular, has been shown to decrease frailty and improve muscle strength in older adults.
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Muscle loss in older adults results in loss of overall strength as well as body pains and cramps, which in turn leads to exhaustion and low physical activity. Engaging in resistance-based exercises can help in maintaining muscle mass and improving balance and coordination. Here are some options to consider.
Not only is it a great aerobic workout, cycling is also an activity that involves smooth, regular movements that do not put big stresses or strains on joints and muscles, making it ideal for older adults who like to be on the move.
Most HDB estates are equipped with exercise corners: Activity areas with outdoor equipment such as stationary bicycles, steppers or balance beams designed to improve strength development with ease and convenience.
While taking a walk around the neighbourhood is a good low-impact workout older adults can do, hiking through the parks in Singapore can encourage older parents to walk farther and longer and is a great activity that everyone in the family can participate in.
Falls are common among older adults here in Singapore, and the statistics are sobering. In 2012, at the launch of the Nurses’ Initiative for Community Engagement (N.I.C.E) programme at Hougang Community Club, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong shared that up to 40% of elderly in the community are at risk of falls.
A common result of a fall is an injury such as a hip fracture.For older adults, it’s more than just a broken bone - it’s a lifestyle overhaul.
At the opening ceremony of the International Osteoporosis Foundation Asia Pacific Regionals Conference last year, Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor shared some findings from a medical journal dated 2002. Between the late 1960s and the late 1990s, the rate of suffering from a hip fracture for people aged 50 and older increased five-fold in women and 1.5 times in men.
She also quoted a 2002 medical study that revealed that about 25% of patients who sustained osteoporotic hip fractures died within a year. Of the survivors, two in five required walking aids, and one in three were either wheelchair- or bed-bound a year after the fracture.
It is crucial to prevent the onset or worsening of muscle loss in older adults by ensuring the reduction of risk factors such as a poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking or the excessive consumption of alcohol. Of these, the diet of older people is of particular concern.
The 2010 National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Health Promotion Board found that three-quarters of adults between the ages of 50 and 70 do not have an adequate daily intake of calcium and Vitamin D, and one in four older adults had a protein intake that was below the recommended daily level. Inadequate nutrition can lead to higher risk of physical injury and longer recovery times for older adults.
Sometimes we might not even realise that our parents aren’t getting the nutrition they need to counter the adverse effects of muscle mass loss as they age. Here are a few simple questions you can ask yourself using the handy acronym CARE.
Have their clothes started to look loose on them?
Do they need to constantly tighten their belt to stop their trousers/skirt from slipping down?
At mealtimes, do they often have a drink instead of eating food?
Do they often feel full very quickly?
Do they mention how they have difficulty chewing food?
Does jewelry they often wear, such as their wedding ring, seem loose on their fingers?
Do they generally look tired throughout the day?
Do they struggle to keep up with you when you’re walking with them?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions regarding your parent(s), there might be a need to relook at the nutrition they are currently receiving. Set up an appointment with the family doctor to get some valuable advice on the nutrition they need.
Eating less as we age is natural. Older adults eat around 25% less food between the age of 40 and 70.Chances are, your parents don’t pile as much food on their plates as they used to. But are they eating right?
As we age, a balanced and nutritious diet is especially important to prevent health problems. Also, as mentioned earlier, weighing too little has been linked to a higher risk of falls and recovery from physical injury.
Poor appetites can be a side effect of taking medications, or be caused by changing metabolism and a decrease in the ability to smell and taste. A complete loss of appetite, however, could be a red flag for a serious health problem.
TODAY recently reported a study from the National University of Singapore spanning 14 years and counting that found half of the older adults in Singapore to be frail. The study that began in 2003 involving 3,000 adults aged 55 years and above (with the oldest being 96 years old), found that along with the lack of exercise and having chronic illnesses, the lack of proper nutrition was a large factor in causing this frailty.
What kind of diet is best? As with most things in life, it’s good to subscribe to the "everything in moderation" theory. Older adults shouldn’t read too much into myths like how they need less nutrients because they have slower metabolisms, or how they should avoid oily dishes completely.Do they love hawker fare like nasi lemak, char kway teow and chicken rice? Indulging now and then is fine.
Make mealtimes for your parents more enjoyable by introducing new flavours that can boost their intake of nutrients, or make the effort to eat with them more often. However, should your parents have a prolonged loss of appetite accompanied by unintentional weight loss, the Health Promotion Board recommends the use of liquid nutritional supplements to provide a more complete and balanced nutritional intake here
In addition to finding out how they would like to live each day more fully, there are some simple things you can do to get your parents living stronger, healthier lives.Pay closer attention to their ailments, no matter how minor they might seem.
What appear to be insignificant like a cough or an ache could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Teach them to watch out for warning signs such as weakness in the arms (which may lead to a stroke) or a decreased ability to concentrate on tasks (which may lead to dementia).
Find out how you can make their daily demands less stressful, even if it means taking the time to shop for their groceries, helping to clean their house on the weekend, or running their errands like getting a new mobile phone. That said, it is just as important to ensure that they maintain an active lifestyle and enjoy balanced and complete nutrition on a daily basis.
Helping your parents enjoy fulfilling lives starts with a conscious decision to play a part in their health and wellness. Whether it’s about joining them in outdoor activities that get their bodies moving, or simply understanding how their bodies are changing as they age, your personal involvement in your parents’ lives will make all the difference in their golden years.
Besides keeping an eye out for lingering ailments and encouraging regular check-ups at the doctor, it’s important to remember that well-rounded, balanced nutrition is essential for your parents’ good health. Should your parents struggle with limited food intake, liquid nutritional supplements, which are ideal for adults above the age of 50, can be included in their daily diet. These will not only help strengthen their nutritional foundation so they can live strong in the years to come, but also give them the chance to truly live the way they want to in their golden years.