Education prepares for the aging process

Addressing change improves quality of life

For successful aging, people need to know what to expect so they can prepare, says Sandra Fong, MS, administrator at Gramercy Court, a skilled nursing facility in Sacramento, CA.

Understanding the physical and psychological changes that often accompany aging helps the elderly as well as their family members take the maturing process in stride. People adjust throughout their lifetime to the stages of life; and if they look at the aging process in a positive manner rather than in a negative way, they will adjust better, Fong says.

For example, if arthritis prevents a person from playing the piano, he or she still can appreciate music by listening, she explains.

It’s important that families become familiar with the aging process because people are living longer. When Leesa Wilson, RN, director of nursing at Gramercy Court, first began working with the elderly, most residents in a skilled nursing facility were in their 70s. Now the average age is 93. Having residents celebrate their 100th birthday is no longer unique, so people need to learn how to prepare and cope with aging, she says.

Families often are frightened when they first bring a loved one to a skilled nursing facility, says Janet Hamil, director of marketing for Gramercy Court. "The reaction is probably from not being aware of the aging process and understanding that what is happening to Mom or Dad is typical. It doesn’t mean the end. It just means that things are changing, and their lives will be a little different," she explains.

Families can prepare for aging just as they make preparations for other stages in their life such as the birth of a new baby, the empty nest when children grow up and leave home, or retirement.

For example, as people age, it becomes more difficult for them to see nearby objects clearly. They also have difficulty seeing well in dim lighting conditions. Therefore, changes in the lighting fixtures at their house might be in order. Large-print books and good reading glasses would prove beneficial as well.

Motor coordination declines with age, and with advancing years, people move more slowly and are less agile. Therefore, it is important that the elderly remove throw rugs and other household hazards that could cause them to fall.

The life changes that occur with aging can be stressful, so it is important to have a support system, says Wilson. "It’s important to be involved with others that are dealing with the same issues," she says. This might be accomplished by attending programs designed for seniors such as exercise or dance classes or by joining a support group.

Preparation helps skirt problems

When people understand the aging process and adjust their lives accordingly, many problems are avoided. For example, safety proofing the home will help prevent falls and keep the elderly out of skilled nursing facilities longer. A gradual loss in ambulatory skills is much easier to adjust to then a sudden loss from a trauma, says Fong.

Safety is a key issue and community outreach classes on the prevention of falls would be helpful, says Wilson.

Remaining independent is another key issue, she says. People usually age better if they are able to keep their independence for as long as possible. "A lot of times when our loved ones age and their eye sight is poor and they can’t walk as well as they used to, we want to do everything for them. But that is not what we should do," she explains. Instead, make the necessary changes in their environment so that they can remain self-reliant for as long as possible.

People who take care of themselves also age better, says Wilson. Drinking enough water, eating nutritious foods and exercising will keep bones healthier and improve general health as well. In addition, the elderly should not smoke. If they drink alcohol, it only should be consumed in moderation.

Socialization is important as well. The elderly should stay involved in activities they enjoy and socialize regularly.

Signs of confusion, dizziness, and other physical symptoms that often lead to placement in a nursing facility can be due to the misuse of medication, says Wilson. Therefore, the elderly need to know that it isn’t wise to take a lot of over-the-counter drugs including herbs and vitamins without consulting their physician to see if there is an adverse reaction with any of their prescribed medicines.

Elderly couples generally have the most difficult time when one spouse must care for another. The caregiver often neglects him or herself because all energy is focused on the loved one. It is important for the caregiver to learn where to get support because the stress is deadly. "Often the caregivers pass before their loved one does because of the stress and the fact that they have not taken care of themselves," says Wilson.


For more information about successful aging, contact:

  • Sandra Fong, MS, Administrator, and/or Janet Hamil, Director of Marketing, and/or Leesa Wilson, RN, Director of Nursing, Gramercy Court, 2200 Gramercy Drive, Sacramento, CA 95825. Telephone: (916) 482-2200. E-mail: