There is talk of a “gray tsunami” – the aging of the U.S. population. We see this happening all across America – especially in rural and small towns – and it’s important to understand what this will mean for the health and functioning of the population.
Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., Regents Professor in the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health, wants the public to know that healthy aging is possible, but it depends on how older people live and the support provided by family and community.
“First, having a positive attitude about aging has been related to better health in old age,” Dr. Ory says. “Think positively about what you can do – not what you can no longer do.”
Dr. Ory also recommends keeping socially connected by being close to family or friends or by volunteering. Engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors such as being physically active and eating a varied diet of fruits and vegetables can help reduce chronic diseases that can cause disabilities and lack of independence in later life.
The community you live in can also be a critical factor. Having access to places and programs where you can engage in safe and enjoyable physical activity can make a difference in the lives of older residents.
“We may not be able to turn back the ‘gray tsunami,’ but we can prepare for it, and at the Program on Aging at the School of Rural Public Health, we are doing just that by developing and disseminating programs that can help older adults live healthier and fuller lives,” Dr. Ory says. “In every Texas community, there are Area Agencies on Aging that can help older people locate services they need. Many of these agencies also offer evidence-based programs to help older adults manage their chronic illness, prevent falls or reduce medication mismanagement problems.”