What We Don't Know About Healthy Aging Might Hurt Us

Senior man who is perplexed

How much do Americans know about their own health and safety? During the past year or so, researchers have conducted a number of surveys to find out. The results show that many of us have a way to go when it comes to being up to speed on our own risk factors and lifestyle choices! Here are six questions where most of us got a failing mark:

1. What’s a healthy weight for me? A Gallup poll showed that the rate of obesity in the U.S. is higher than it's ever been—and yet, fewer people describe themselves as "overweight." Being overweight raises our risk of heart disease, arthritis, cancer, disability and even dementia. Talk to your doctor about a healthy weight goal, and how to get there.

2. What's my blood sugar level? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently noted that one-third of Americans have elevated blood sugar that could progress to diabetes. Yet only 10 percent of these people were aware that they had this condition, called prediabetes. Ask your healthcare provider to test your blood sugar, and follow their instructions on how to keep it at a safe level.

3. Am I getting enough exercise? Exercise lowers the risk of just about every health problem. That's why doctors ask patients about it. But recent studies show people often overestimate the amount of exercise they get, describing themselves, for example, as "moderately active," when in reality (as revealed by fitness tracking devices) they are spending most of the day sitting around. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that’s right for you.

4. Is my car safe for me to drive? Many seniors—and their families—are concerned about whether it's safe for them to be behind the wheel. Seniors might take a driver safety class, but what about their cars? In 2017, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety noted that only 10 percent of older drivers equip their vehicles with inexpensive safety adaptations that could prevent a crash, such as pedal extensions, improved mirrors and steering wheel covers.

5. Is it safe to drive and take my medications? Many of the prescription drugs seniors take to control pain, treat depression or help them sleep can cause drowsiness, dizziness and confusion. A 2017 survey from West Virginia University showed that many people who take these drugs are unaware that these side effects could make it unsafe to operate a vehicle. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the risks.

6. Am I drinking too much? As reported in the previous issue of this publication, experts usually recommend that men drink no more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week, and women no more than 7. But an April 2018 study published in The Lancet suggests that even that much can raise the risk of stroke, heart failure and other health conditions. Talk to your doctor about your drinking, and ask for help if you’re having trouble cutting down to a safe amount.

Source: Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency (KIPDA) in association with IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2017 IlluminAge