How to Talk to Older Adults About Exercise
Some people are active in retirement, eager to check off all the items on their bucket lists. Others look forward to finally getting a chance to rest. In either case, many older people experience pain, mobility issues or chronic health problems that cause fatigue or shortness of breath, such as heart and lung diseases, making physical activity more difficult than it once was.
One of the most important reasons to encourage your loved one to exercise is to reduce their chances of osteoporosis (brittle bones). Osteoporosis is a major risk factor for hip, spine and forearm fractures, which can lead to mobility loss. Some research estimates that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will sustain an osteoporotic fracture after age 50.
Studies show that older people who exercise for an hour or more two to three times per week, including strength training, are most likely to improve bone density. Regular exercise also helps maintain muscle mass and preserve balance, which can help prevent falls. Here are some ways to start a conversation about exercise with your aging parent or loved one:
- "I read that more than 40% of people over age 50 have low bone mass, and it made me think about my bone health — and yours too. Have you ever had a DEXA scan? It's a special X-ray that checks your bone density."
- "I'm going to start using weights during commercial breaks while I watch TV to keep my bones healthy. Do you want me to pick some up for you, too?"
- "I saw that there's a senior exercise class near you, and it looks great. You can even take virtual classes right here at home if you prefer. Can I help you get that set up?"
How to Talk to Older Adults About Nutrition
Eating well can be increasingly difficult as you age. Older adults who live alone may feel that shopping, cooking and cleaning up the kitchen is just too much effort for one person. Others may lose the ability to drive, making grocery shopping inconvenient. Some older adults may also have dental or digestive issues, which can make eating balanced, nutritious meals challenging.
Preventing malnutrition in older adults is key to supporting their overall health and well-being. Older people are particularly at risk for inadequate protein intake, which can contribute to low muscle mass, known as sarcopenia. Adding an oral nutritional supplement like Ensure® COMPLETE with complete, balanced nutrition, 30 grams of high-quality protein, and 25 essential vitamins and minerals can help address nutrition gaps. Here are some ways to get the conversation started:
- "I noticed you haven't been eating as much lately. I'm wondering if your appetite has changed."
- "I want to make food shopping as easy as possible for you. Would grocery or meal delivery services take some of the stress out of that chore?"
- "I know there are times when you just don't feel like cooking. What do you think about keeping some Ensure® on hand for when you want something quick and easy?"
How to Talk to Older Adults About Social and Emotional Wellness
Older people experience repeated loss through the death of family, friends and possibly a spouse or significant other. These repeated losses, often combined with reduced mobility and relocation, can contribute to or exacerbate loneliness. Loneliness can be thought of in two ways: social and emotional. Social loneliness is the lack of a social network, whereas emotional loneliness refers to the absence of a particular person as well as feelings of isolation.
In one study, emotional loneliness was linked to higher rates of heart disease and death among older people living alone. It can help to think of emotional loneliness as the feeling of being alone in a crowded room, disconnected from those around you. Depending on your relationship with your parent or loved one, this may be the hardest topic to surface. Here are some conversation starters that might help:
- "I know it's probably been hard for you since you moved. I'm wondering if you feel a little isolated in your new location."
- "I was thinking about how many loved ones you've lost this year. I can't imagine what that must feel like. Do you want to talk about it?"
- "I know I've been really busy, but I'd like to spend more time with you. What are some activities you'd like to do together?"
When considering how to talk to aging parents about their future, the most important thing to remember is that they deserve their independence, even if they need a little help now and then. You can offer suggestions, but you can't force anyone to change their behavior until they're ready. Leading by example and encouraging your loved one to join you in healthy activities may be the best way to get them to adopt new behaviors that will help them thrive.