It’s never too late to improve health

Campaign highlights positive aspects of aging

September is Healthy Aging Month, part of an ongoing national campaign to broaden awareness about the positive aspects of aging. The campaign also is designed to prompt health care professionals to inspire older Americans to improve their physical, mental, social, and financial health.

"The underlying theme is that it is never too late to get started to achieve a better quality of life. The month is a point during the year we created to draw attention to the issues of older adults," says Carolyn Worthington, president of the Education Television Network in Unionville, PA.

The Education Television Network has produced several specials on aging that show why it is never too late. One focused on a study that looked at a group of 90-year-olds who were confined to wheel chairs or walkers because they had no muscle mass. These individuals began lifting small weights to build their muscle mass and eventually were able to walk unassisted. The point of the special is that when the elderly don’t use their muscles, they atrophy. Part of the campaign is to encourage people to look at different options to improve their health, reports Worthington.

A national contest promoted by the Education Television Network asked seniors for their secret for healthy aging and resulted in 10,000 letters from around the country. Many wrote about the importance of mental wellness through social support systems. "Most people who lived long lives were surrounded by others. People cherish their solitude at times, but the people who aged successfully generally had someone around them, whether it was a family member or friend," she says.

Seniors also mentioned in the letters the importance of keeping their minds sharp. Often seniors accomplished this by watching game shows such Jeopardy or playing Bingo. More and more, older Americans are using computers as well to exercise their minds and increase communication with others. The winning contest entries were published in a book and often are used by health care professionals to promote their own contest or encourage letter writing during Healthy Aging Month.

Last year, Kelly Nichols, MSW, assistant program director for Lourdes Behavioral Health Center in Paducah, KY, displayed the book of contest entries at a booth in the lobby of the health care facility where she worked. Someone staffing the booth explained the letter-writing process and many people started writing about their life experiences or words of wisdom gleaned with aging. Others determined to take it a step further and create journals for their grandchildren.

For her lobby display, Nichols also used the Healthy Aging Kit produced by the Education Television Network that includes a video and brochures. The video ran continually, drawing a lot of attention from people who weren’t used to seeing seniors in their 70s running marathons.

The letter-writing book was used on the geriatric psychiatric unit during group-therapy sessions. "We used the book with group therapy to get people to focus on the healthy aspects of aging," says Nichols.

The ideas from the Healthy Aging Month promotions work all year long, says Crystal Young, RN, BSN, health education coordinator with Southern Illinois Healthcare Senior Membership Program in Carbondale. She frequently holds group discussions on the various aspects of healthy aging that include physical, mental, and social wellness, as well as financial fitness. "People share what has worked for them and what hasn’t. I find it is successful, especially in smaller groups because people really open up," she says.

In commemoration of Healthy Aging Month, Young held an ice cream social where everyone discussed the myths of aging and drew pictures of what they thought was old such as someone in a rocker. "We will probably do the ice cream social again this year," she reports.

There are multitudes of ways to promote Healthy Aging Month, says Worthington. Run a contest on the secrets of healthy aging, plan a seminar, host a healthy aging night with an inspirational movie or motivational speaker, or design a bulletin board with the myths of aging, she suggests.

"We encourage health care providers to use the concept that September is Healthy Aging Month and then tailor ideas to fit their own needs," says Worthington.

Sources

For more information about Healthy Aging Month activities, contact:

  • Kelly Nichols, MSW, Assistant Program Director, Lourdes Behavioral Health Center, Paducah, KY. Telephone: (270) 444-2758.
  • Carolyn Worthington, President, Educational Television Network, P.O. Box 442, Unionville, PA 19375. Telephone: (610) 793-0979. Fax: (610) 793-0978. E-mail: etnet@discovernet.net. Web site: www.healthyaging.net.
  • Crystal Young, RN, BSN, Health Education Coordinator, Southern Illinois Healthcare Senior Membership Program, Carbondale, IL. Telephone: (618) 457-5200, ext. 67868.

Resources for healthy aging

Here are resources for Healthy Aging Month from Educational Television Network that can be ordered on-line at www.healthyaging.net or by calling (610) 793-0979:

Book: Healthy Aging: Inspirational Letters from Americans. Cost $24.95

Brochure: Healthy Aging: It’s Never Too Late! A 16-page brochure that discusses the issues of growing older. Single copy free, plus $1.50 shipping and handling. Pack of 20 brochures $9.95, plus $1.50 shipping and handling.

Educational Kit: Healthy Aging Discussion Guide. Tool for conducting a seminar. Cost: $49.95.

Videos:

Healthy Aging: Redefining America. Inspirational profiles of middle-aged Americans planning for what lies ahead. Cost $19.95.

A Question of Choice: Our Nation’s Health. How Diet and Fitness Can Help Prevent Heart Disease. Cost $19.95.

Our Nation’s Health: Healthy Aging. Dispels myths of aging by profiling older adults. Cost $19.95; with educational kit, $49.95.

Workshop Kit: Healthy Aging: Write from the Heart. Materials to conduct a creative writing workshop for older adults.