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 communities and people age well and be healthy are listed below.
How to Be Healthy
Seek Regular Preventive 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. Preventive Services Task Force makes evidence-based recommendations, classified into age groups, on types of preventive clinical measures and when to seek them.
What Communities Can Do
Community organizations can promote the importance of regular preventive screenings and where to get them by creating an awareness campaign. To help residents get preventive screenings, community organizations can host health fairs, which can help highlight an awareness campaign, and offer basic health screenings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides resources to help communities provide and market preventive services to older adults.
- The Texercise Health Chart (PDF) is a free resource 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 preventive screenings.
- Texas Department of State Health Services Work Well Texas provides employers with health screening resources and best practices to create a healthy workplace.
- This Chronic Conditions and Texas’ Aging Population issue brief (PDF) highlights the prevalence of chronic conditions, barriers to accessing care older adults might experience, and strategies to increase health provider access.
Engaging in regular physical activity can help improve overall health and lower the risk of developing chronic diseases. The CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. There are many ways to incorporate activity into a daily routine, whether it is following along to a fitness video, 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 age and live well.
What Communities Can Do
Communities can support its residents' health by ensuring there are safe, accessible places nearby that encourage physical activity. Accessible hike and bike trails are one easy way to encourage safe outdoor activity. If a community frequently experiences inclement weather, consider implementing indoor trails. Use the easy-to-follow Texercise Trail Toolkit (PDF) to implement indoor and outdoor trails.
- Age Well Live Well statewide partners offer free or low-cost health and wellness programs that are easy to implement. To learn more, read the Be Healthy (PDF).
- Area Agencies on Aging provide older adults and their caregivers with health resources and programs to help them age their best. To find a nearby AAA, call 800-252-9240.
- 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.
- This Evidence-based Programs issue brief (PDF) by the Aging Texas Well Advisory Committee highlights what evidence-based programs are, advantages and disadvantages, the need for evidence-based programs and resources.
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. Using healthy eating habits (for example: portion control, making half your plate fruits and vegetables, decreasing the amount of saturated fat and sodium you eat) are important for healthy aging. Knowing current nutrition recommendations and learning how to incorporate them into a daily diet can lead to a healthier lifestyle and well-being.
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 Texans locate a congregate meal site or arrange for home-delivered meals. To find the nearest AAA, call 800-252-9240.
- Choose MyPlate highlights the five 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.
- This Aging Texas Well Nutritional Health issue brief (PDF) provides a look at common concerns older adults can experience regarding nutrition and offers resources to learn more about specific issues.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Food Benefits are available for Texans and families that have trouble buying enough healthy food every month. There are income limits and program rules that must be followed to be eligible for SNAP benefits. For more information or to apply, visit Your Texas Benefits.
Stress is part of life but too much stress can affect physical and mental health. Learning to manage stress will help alleviate its negative effects. Stress management starts with identifying what triggers stress 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 Communities 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.
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 a person can do to improve their overall health. Avoiding tobacco reduces the risk for lung cancer and many other types of cancer, heart disease and stroke, and 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 (PDF) for worksites. Organizations can affect 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 provides information on tobacco use, the benefits of quitting, and methods for quitting.
- The American Lung Association website provides 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 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; be sure to talk with a doctor about any new symptom. Take NAMI's Stigma Free Pledge to commit to breaking the stigma associated with mental health.
When thinking about an older adult’s mental health, is important to include Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. To learn 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website. Knowing what to look for can help when it is time to talk with a doctor about testing for memory loss.
What Communities Can Do
Community organizations 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 & Substance Abuse webpage includes information on where to get help.
- Alzheimer's disease and dementia care webpage includes links to evidence-based resources and training.
- This Aging Texas Well Behavior and Mental Health Needs in Older Adults issue brief (PDF) provides an overview of the prevalence of mental health and behavioral conditions in older Texans and resources for maintaining well-being.
Federal and non-profit resources include:
- The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides educational resources, programs and campaigns people and communities can use to raise awareness of mental health issues, services and resources.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides 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 (bathing, eating, dressing, and hygiene). Older adults might need caregivers to help with these activities because of a surgery, limitations, Alzheimer's disease or dementia. While caregivers can be paid staff, many are family members and friends who do not receive payment.
Recent studies estimate there are 3.4 million caregivers in Texas, with most receiving no payment. Close relatives (particularly female spouses and daughters) are more likely to be informal caregivers.
Being a caregiver can be physically and emotionally demanding and can take a toll:
- 22 percent feel their physical health has suffered because of caregiving.
- 38 percent feel 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 can manifest as fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety. To prevent burnout, caregivers must not neglect their own needs.
Respite programs might be an option. Respite programs are programs where someone else looks after a caregiver's loved one while they 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 say their work has been affected to some extent. About 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 a community can support caregivers, view this Respite resource sheet (PDF).
Area Agencies on Aging staff can provide caregivers with assistance and referrals, as well as information about evidence-based caregiver programming and support groups. To find the nearest AAA, call 800-252-9240.
- 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.
- This Aging Texas Well Respite Care for Older Texans issue brief (PDF) provides a review of the demographics and trends of family caregivers in Texas and highlights the need for respite care 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. Supplemental Security Income, income from asset ownership, salary from current jobs and pension plans are the main earning sources for older adults. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances found 52 percent of U.S. households with residents 65-74 had no retirement savings.
Learning to manage money is essential, yet most people are not comfortable talking about it and get overwhelmed by investment and saving options. To seek guidance, talk to a trained professional such as a banker, a trusted financial adviser or a retirement plan administrator. Consider visiting the AARP Foundation website to access resources for help understanding a personal financial situation. It is important to get educated on financial tips and resources, regardless of retirement savings or not. To learn more on how to get started, visit The Texas Talks webpage on retirement and financial planning.
If you have trouble with your finances, reach out to a local organization:
- 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 Communities Can Do
Employers that do not provide a retirement plan for employees should consider starting one.
Communities that provide access to housing equity and tax benefits can help people maintain financial independence. Communities can also launch an awareness about financial abuse.
- 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 flyer to help market the hotline in local communities.
- The Social Security Administration provides online tools to help plan for retirement and manage finances. For more information, call 800-772-1213.
- The AARP retirement calculator can help planning finances for retirement.
- The U.S. Department of Labor provides a retirement toolkit to help with planning.
Prevent Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation
Every year at least 5 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.
The National Center for Elder Abuse 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. Texans should learn the warning signs and stay connected to older adults in their 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 might 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.
Visit the Texas Abuse Hotline webpage or call 800-252-5400.
- 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.