Thanks to advances in medicine and technology, people are living longer today than ever before. However, living long does not always mean living well. Texas Health and Human Services encourages people and communities to take action today to help ensure a healthy tomorrow. Easy steps and resources that can help individuals and communities to age and live well are listed below.
How to Be Healthy
Seek Regular Preventative Services
Identifying a health condition before it becomes critical is one way to age well and work toward a longer, healthier life. Regular preventive measures include screenings, counseling and preventive medications. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force makes evidence-based recommendations, broken into age groups, on types of preventative clinical measures and when to seek them.
What Communities Can Do
Community organizations can help residents get preventative screenings by holding health fairs and offering basic health screenings. Another step communities can take is promoting an awareness campaign that communicates the importance of regular preventive screenings and where to get them. You can double the impact of your work by pairing the campaign with a health fair.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources to help communities provide and market preventative services to older adults.
- The Texercise Health Chart (PDF) is a free resource that Texans can use to track their health numbers (blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.) as well as their health screenings. Communities can offer this resource to residents to encourage them to get regular preventative screenings.
- Texas Department of State Health Services Work Well Texas provides employers with health screening resources and best practices to create a healthy workplace.
Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve overall health and lower the risk of developing chronic diseases. The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. There are many ways to incorporate activity into your everyday life, whether it is following along to a fitness DVD, walking in the park, or taking classes at a senior or community center.
Texercise, an HHS health promotion initiative, encourages people and communities to adopt healthy habits. Through its educational and motivational resources, Texercise can help Texans 45 and older improve their health, and to age and live well.
What Communities Can Do
Communities can support their residents' health by ensuring there are safe, accessible places in the community that encourage physical activity. Accessible hike and bike trails are one easy way to encourage safe outdoor activity. If your community frequently experiences inclement weather, consider developing indoor trails. Use the easy-to-follow Texercise Trail Toolkit (PDF) to develop both indoor and outdoor trails.
- Age Well Live Well statewide partners offer free or low-cost health and wellness programs that are easy to implement.
- Area agencies on aging provide older adults and their caregivers with health resources and programs to help them age their best. Call 800-252-9240 to find the AAA near you.
- Walk Across Texas is a free, eight-week fitness program that allows people and teams to be physically active and track their progress online.
- Go4Life offers information and resources on healthy habits, including steps to start being physically active.
- Texercise provides a variety of fact sheets that focus on physical activity.
Complementing regular physical activity with a proper diet is essential to overall health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose MyPlate initiative provides nutrition recommendations and resources. Knowing current nutrition recommendations and learning how to incorporate them into your everyday diet can help you age and live well.
What Communities Can Do
Communities can support healthy eating by giving residents access to fresh and affordable local foods. By helping older adults use programs such as the Texas Department of Agriculture's Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, communities can help older residents eat better. Community gardens are another way for organizations to work together to give older adults access to healthy foods. The Texas AgriLife Master Gardeners are great to partner with when creating community gardens.
- Texercise provides a variety of fact sheets that focus on healthy eating.
- AAAs can help you locate a congregate meal site or arrange for home-delivered meals. Call 800-252-9240 to find the AAA near you.
- Choose MyPlate highlights the 5 major food groups, how to portion food for optimal eating habits and other useful nutrition resources.
- Texas AgriLife Extension provides research-based resources to help people eat healthy.
Stress is part of life but too much stress can affect both physical and mental health. Learning to manage stress will help alleviate its negative effects. Stress management starts with identifying what triggers stress for you and then developing a strategy to deal with it.
Relaxation is a great way to manage stress. Meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, yoga or getting out in nature are great, healthy ways to relax. Others methods include talking with friends, watching a movie or laughing.
What Worksites Can Do
Worksites can provide employees a stress-free space and time to decompress. The Texas Department of State Health Services offers employers information on worksite wellness and stress management techniques to provide in the workplace.
- The Texercise Stress Management fact sheet (PDF) highlights the negative effects of stress and provides stress reduction tools.
- The CDC provides information on reactions to stress and healthy coping methods.
- The American Psychological Association offers stress-management steps and coping mechanisms.
- AARP resources include stress management.
Tobacco has been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Quitting tobacco is one of the most important things you can do to improve overall health. Avoiding tobacco can lower the risk for lung cancer and many other types of cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and reduce respiratory problems.
What Communities Can Do
Communities and worksites can support tobacco reduction by implementing tobacco-free policies. The American Lung Association provides a sample tobacco-free policy for worksites. Organizations can effect change by not selling tobacco products, and developing their own organizational tobacco use policy.
- The Texercise Tobacco Cessation fact sheet (PDF) provides information about tobacco use and a resource to help people stop using tobacco.
- DSHS Tobacco Prevention and Control provides information and resources to help in tobacco cessation.
- CDC Smoking and Tobacco Use offers information on tobacco use, the benefits of quitting, and methods for quitting.
- The American Lung Association website offers information on tobacco cessation and programs that can help in quitting tobacco use.
- The Community Guide provides the Community Preventive Services Task Force's research on tobacco use, prevention and cessation.
Understand Behavioral/Mental Health Issues
Mental health issues can happen to anyone. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness annually. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and getting mental health checkups can detect problems early and provide timely treatment. Mental illness can manifest many ways, so talking with your doctor about any new symptom is important in aging and living well. Take NAMI's Stigma Free Pledge to commit to breaking the stigma associated with mental health.
What Communities Can Do
Communities can develop mental health awareness campaigns to reduce the stigma and highlight services, supports and resources. There are many ways communities can work to address mental health issues through providing local programming or by starting a conversation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a toolkit for community conversations about mental health to help communities start the dialogue on mental health.
Texas HHS provides mental and behavioral health services and supports, as well as information and resources related to dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
- The Texercise Mental Health fact sheet (PDF) provides information on how exercise can help improve mental health.
- Mental health and substance abuse website includes information on where to get help.
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia care webpage includes links to evidence-based resources and training.
Federal and non-profit resources include:
- The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides educational resources, programs and campaigns that individuals and communities can use to raise awareness of mental health issues, services and resources.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers educational resources and access to services.
- National Council on Aging, Behavioral Health Programs for Older Adults provides a list of behavioral health programs for older adults.
- Mental Health America provides educational resources, mental health screenings, and information on support services.
Care for the Caregiver
Caregiving is the act of helping another person with activities of daily living; e.g. bathing, eating, dressing, and hygiene. Older adults may need caregivers to help with these activities because of a surgery, limitations, Alzheimer's or dementia. While caregivers can be paid staff, many caregivers are family members and friends who do not receive payment.
Recent studies estimated that there are 3.4 million caregivers in Texas, with most receiving no payment. In addition, close relatives (particularly female spouses and daughters) are much more likely to be informal caregivers.
Being a caregiver can be physically and emotionally demanding and can take a toll:
- 22 percent feel that their physical health has suffered because of caregiving
- 38 percent feel that their situation is emotionally stressful
- 18 percent say their caregiving affects their finances. Caregiver burnout is physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that can result from providing caregiving without enough support. Burnout may manifest as fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety. Prevent caregiver burnout by also taking care of yourself.
Respite programs might be an option. Respite programs are programs where someone else looks after your loved one while you take a break. There are programs, agencies and community initiatives that can help with the challenges associated with caregiving. Some are free or low-cost and can help prevent caregiver burnout.
What Communities Can Do
Caregiving also affects employers and communities. More than 50 percent of caregivers work full-time, and more than 60 percent of caregivers say their work has been affected to some extent. Furthermore, approximately 50 percent of the workforce believes they will be caregivers within five years. Employers can support their employees by providing caregiving benefits, such as referrals to caregiver supports, flexible schedules, support groups and discounted home health services. Communities can support caregivers by making sure there are respite resources to meet their needs. To find out more about how your community can support caregivers, see this helpful Respite issue brief (PDF).
Area agency on aging staff can provide caregivers with assistance and referrals, as well as information about evidence-based caregiver programming and support groups; call 800-252-9240 to find the AAA near you.
- Aging and disability resource center staff can provide referrals to caregivers.
- Take Time Texas provides orientation, information, and education to caregivers and has a searchable database for caregiver respite services in Texas.
- Family Caregiver Alliance provides classes for caregivers, fact sheets on caregiving for different types of patients, and referrals to respite services.
Be Financially Healthy
Financial readiness for retirement is based primarily on three components: age; income and access to a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k). Having access to a workplace retirement savings program can help people save for later years. There also are several income sources that affect whether an older adult will have an economically secure future. Social Security Income, income from asset ownership, salary from current jobs and pension plans are the main earning sources for older adults. However, the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances found that 52 percent of U.S. households age 65-74 had no retirement savings.
Money is something everyone has to deal with and learn to manage, yet most people are not comfortable talking about it and get overwhelmed by investment and saving options. Talk to a trusted financial advisor or your retirement plan administrator if you are confused or need guidance. Regardless of where you are on the path to retirement, educate yourself on financial tips and resources.
If you have trouble with your finances, reach out to a local organization that might be able to help:
- For help finding a local eligibility office for help with food stamps, cash benefits, Medicare or Medicaid, call 2-1-1 Texas or visit the 2-1-1 website.
- Area agency on aging – 800-252-9240
- Aging and disability resource centers – 855-937-2372
What Employers and Communities Can Do
If you are an employer and do not provide a retirement plan for employees, consider starting one.
Communities that provide access to housing equity and tax benefits can help people maintain financial independence.
- The National Committee to Prevent Elder Abuse provides a list of common elder financial abuse.
- Use this quick fact sheet to learn more about what elder financial abuse is and how to prevent it.
- The National Council on Aging's Debt Hotline, 866-217-0543, lets older adults talk with certified financial counselors. The NCOA also provides a toolkit to help market the hotline in local communities.
- The Social Security Administration provides online tools to help you plan your retirement and manage your finances. You also can call 800-772-1213.
- The AARP retirement calculator can help you plan your finances for your retirement.
- The U.S. Department of Labor provides a retirement toolkit to help with planning.
Prevent Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation
Every year at least five million older Americans are subjected to abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, and only one in 25 cases are reported to social service agencies. Perpetrators are most likely to:
- Be adult male children or spouses
- Have mental or physical health problems and/or a history of past or current substance abuse
- Be socially isolated, unemployed or having financial problems, and experiencing major stress
A National Center on Elder Abuse study of elder abuse by family members found that the most frequently reported types of abuse were verbal mistreatment, followed by financial mistreatment and physical mistreatment.
Regardless of the type of abuse, who the perpetrator is, or why they are doing it – ANE is a serious human rights issue and public health concern. People, communities and professionals can intervene to educate residents about the signs and symptoms of ANE and stop it.
All concerned people have a role in preventing ANE and should report abuse when they see it. If the situation is life-threatening, call 9-1-1 immediately. Report urgent abuse concerns to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Adult Protective Services at 800-252-5400. Learn the warning signs and stay connected to older adults in your life and community.
Communities can establish marketing and awareness campaigns to educate residents, alter ageist attitudes and change behaviors. Creating social support options that connect older adults to their community not only reduces the likelihood of ANE, it helps with mental health issues as well.
Professionals should establish multidisciplinary teams – medical, enforcement, social workers, lawyers and community participants – to coordinate communications and services for victims of elder abuse, and implement rigorous reporting to local APS to ensure accurate data collection and tracking methods.
- Increase knowledge and awareness of an issue, problem, or solution
- Influence perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes that may change social norms
- Prompt action
- Demonstrate or illustrate healthy skills
- Reinforce knowledge, attitudes, or behavior
- Show the benefit of behavior change
- Advocate a position on an issue or policy
- Increase demand or support for services
- Refute myths and misconceptions
- Strengthen organizational relationship
- Contact DFPS Adult Protective Services
- The State Long Term Care Ombudsman can provide assistance for long-term care facility interventions
- The National Center on Elder Abuse provides research-based information, policies and support for enforcement officials
- Use the NCEA's Red Flags of Elder Abuse flyer (PDF) to help educate others on the importance of detection and prevention of elder abuse