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Partner With an Advocate for a Healthy Holiday

November 8, 2012

Most seniors won't be dashing through the snow like they did during their younger days, but with a little pre-planning, many seniors can still enjoy this special time of year. In fact, the holiday season is the perfect time of year to focus extra attention on living a healthy lifestyle.

Right now is a great time to consider asking a loved one to become your health partner. A health partner is someone you choose to designate as an advocate for your care and to help you navigate the health care system. The goal is to formally connect caregivers to seniors they care for in order to obtain the appropriate care and help them stay as healthy as possible. Your health partner should have access to resources to support you, including care and case management, condition management and wellness programs.

Although it can be beautiful to spend time outdoors, seniors must think safety first to eliminate their risk of falling. Falls are one of the major reasons seniors are admitted to the hospital and pose a significant threat to maintaining their independence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the most common reasons for traumatic brain injuries among older adults. In fact, in 2000, traumatic brain injuries accounted for 46 percent of fatal falls for older adults. Do what you can to keep yourself safe by keeping walkways free of ice and snow.

Healthy diets are always encouraged, but now that the holiday season is approaching, it's even more important to watch the consumption of those second helpings of food and desserts. The average person gains between five to 10 pounds during the holidays. To avoid gaining weight, make sure that you limit your servings and watch the sweets. Also watch out for those hidden calories in your favorite dishes as traditional family recipes often contain rich ingredients; these can easily be replaced with more diet-friendly ingredients. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends older adults consume anywhere between 1,600 to 2,800 calories per day based on their activity level.

You can give your diet an extra boost and continue good health habits by exercising and staying committed to a fitness routine. Give walking with family or friends a try after meals to help ease digestion and maintain your weight. Even if you are less mobile and not able to get out and walk, you should still try to take part in some form of exercise, whether it's lifting your feet repeatedly while sitting in a chair or raising your arms several times in a row.

Remember to keep in mind that many seniors may feel alone and depressed during the holidays. The memories of lost loved ones may bring back emotions that are difficult to deal with. If you notice feelings of loneliness or depression, push yourself to engage with other people during this time, whether through phone calls, crafts or social activities. Even visiting others who are confined to nursing homes or volunteering to help others in need can do wonders for chasing the blues away.

The holidays are hectic enough, and if keeping up with daily medications are causing you concerns, try keeping a complete list of all your medications and the dosing schedules close by for reference. Also keep a list of your health care provider, specialist, eye doctor and dentist in case you need to share this information with someone else. Be sure to monitor your medication schedule and watch your consumption of alcohol during family and social gatherings. Remember to also get your flu shot to prevent serious health complications.

Because your health matters, I encourage you to do all that you can to stay healthy and safe during the upcoming holiday season. Consider adding a health partner to ensure you have someone to watch over your health affairs and help in the planning of your medical care.

Dr. Judith Black is the medical director for Senior Markets at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia.

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