How to Become a Coastal Grandma for Dummies
August 12, 2022 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I've been helping an aging relative to get better control of his health and life in general (which feels like a Sisyphean task) and this is really making me think hard about how I want to age and what I should be doing/not doing to get there. What are some habits/routines I need to adopt so I can remain relatively healthy (physically and mentally) and happy?

I've been trying to help out an aging relative (emphasis on trying) who once was a healthy, active, and happy-go-lucky person but has somehow turned into a bitter, fragile person who needs help with everyday tasks such as shopping and driving and hates his dependence on others so, so much. This makes him more bitter and more likely to exert himself to do things on his own and in turn he ends up injuring himself and less capable to do things on his own, and in turn, this makes him more dependent on others and more negative about everything around him in general. It's a vicious cycle I would like to avoid for myself - what are some concrete steps that I can start taking now so I can become one of those coastal grandmas who seem to be active, independent, and enjoying their lives (other than retiring with a shit ton of money)?

There are some obvious ones that comes to my mind:

-Not watch Fox News 24/7
-Be nice to people around so you don't ostracize yourself
-Exercise regularly
-Floss regularly and go see a dentist regularly
-Don't eat too much sugar/processed food
-Keep in regular touch with your family/friends

Do you have any other suggestions? Or more concrete routines/habits? For example, for exercising regularly, what kind of exercises so you don't become so frail? or reduce the risk of fall?
posted by Sparkling Natural Mineral Water to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
- especially if you’re female, weight bearing exercise! Reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
- wear sunscreen
- beyond purposeful exercise, keep up an active lifestyle. Walk after dinner, walk to run errands when you can, go on bike rides, chase kids around, garden, etc. etc. etc.
- build your community, whatever that looks like for you: church/religious community, social groups, lifelong hobbies, gym buddies, online friends, whatever. Gives routine, social engagement, and a community of people to watch out for you and be there for you when you need help (as we all do) as you age, especially if your family isn’t local.
posted by MadamM at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

Not just exercise: LIFT. Lifting heavy weights is good for you and helps maintain your mobility -- squatting and deadlifting, for example, mimic the every day movements you need to get down on the same level as little kids, or pick literally anything up. Lifting heavy has all kinds of benefits, here is one article.

If you have never lifted before, or need a plan to start back, may I recommend Couch to Barbell.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yeah, lifting weights, especially for women, is super important. I am not always consistently good at this but I know it's essential. And it's never too late to start. Also, figure out what lifestyle you want when you are older and start working to create it now, before you are old. Which is to say, don't plan on moving at retirement and building an entirely new life.

I'm definitely worried about driving. I've seen not be able to drive (temporarily) be a huge hurdle for my dad and stepmom in their very car-dependent location, in addition to the cost of cars and gas and insurance. Right now I have a low car life and I do things like bike and walk to get groceries. My goal is to do that now and in the future. However, this also requires me to live in town in a more expensive neighborhood, so that needs to be part of the cost equation.

I also know I want to be in an intergenerational community as I age, as I like being around kids and people of all ages. So I think about where I might live where there's a good a community with people of all ages, where I can bike and walk. That's mostly my current neighborhood, but I don't necessarily think my house would be a great one for me for aging in place, so I've thought about cohousing and other options I might pursue in a few years.

Also, deal with any little nagging injuries before they get worse. That wonky knee or shoulder won't get better as you age without care and recovery, so go to physical therapy and learn how to take care of it.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Have your A1C tested and unless it is perfect - I think that's 5.7? - get a continuous glucose monitor, a cgm, and learn how your body handles carbs and get your A1C to perfect.

if it is high and you can't get it down get an ultrasound to find out if you have fatty liver.

Consult your doctor about this first - but consider intermittent fasting.
posted by cda at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As others have said, lifting weights. Also balancing. There's an article in today's NYT (gift article link) about how important this is in later life. I'd add stretching to that as well, making sure you keep your back flexible, doing not just forward/back and side-to-side bending, but twisting, as if your spine is a pearl necklace, and hip flexor exercises. You can combine all these stretching and balancing exercises if you do yoga.
posted by essexjan at 12:34 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Others have listed great tips on exercise. Load bearing, balance and strength are important for bones, muscle mass and brain health.

-Learn how to ask for and accept help.
- Create the infrastructure for aging at home before you need it. So that may mean grab bars in the bathroom, or not putting things you need regularly on high shelves. Having a safe & stable stool for changing light bulbs or air filters.
- Learn about how to monitor your own health at home. Telemedicine is here, but you have to give them the data. So get a blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter, thermometer, perhaps even a glucometer if you've been told you're pre-diabetic. Use them regularly (so you know how they work) and keep a diary so you can tell when something's off, even by a little. (Smart watches are good for logging this data too.)
- Clear clutter, make sure there isn't furniture within pathways, you'd be surprised at how debilitating it is to trip over your own coffee table and need PT when you're still in your fifties.
- Get your hearing tested regularly and then take action when it needs to happen - not getting hearing aids creates frustration in daily socialization and mis-understood interactions. (No one is yelling at you, you can't hear them when they speak in their regular volume and now they're frustrated. I've known a lot of elderly folks who get paranoid but I think part of that is that they actually can't hear what's going on and it looks like people are talking about them because they can't hear it.)
- Keep up with technology ... it's a weird thing, but things like banking. I still write checks, but my younger relatives are positively put out when you send them a check. I should be using venmo or whatever it is that's the new hotness. Easing that friction will make the other stuff more fun.
- Learn where the classes are ... most communities have places where you can learn new things, keep up with advances in things like how to use an induction stove, whatever the new community recycling rules are. Community centers are great for that.
- Learn new things, it keeps your brain healthy and helps you form new community bonds.
- Teach things as well, as you get older, the community center or community college may want your experience.
- Learn how to get around without driving. Find out about the public transportation options, and learn them. Get a transit card so that you can use it any time. Have at least one taxi service or lyft/uber account you can use. Connect with dial a ride in your area when you reach the appropriate age.
posted by typetive at 12:35 PM on August 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

No. 1 on my list would be to always have a living thing that needs to be cared for. It could be a pet, it could be a garden, it could be houseplants, it could be a volunteer gig related to caring for others, it could involve being a necessary component in the lives of family or friends. It really doesn't matter what but it needs to be something that requires you to regularly show up and provide kindness and care.

If you do that, a lot of other things will just naturally fall into place.
posted by nanook at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2022 [12 favorites]

N’thing all the things that previous replies have noted. I would add that you should start thinking about who will manage your estate and start gathering data to have accessible to them in case of sudden injury or illness on your part. We have given our financial manager permission to contact our offspring if he/she notices a notable decline in our mental faculties. I have made lists of all our accounts and contact info and passwords. I also listed local charities that would take nice clothing, especially our local university which has a “business dress for success” closet for students about to go out and interview in the business world. Local real estate and auction house preferences would help ease the chore of getting rid of our possessions. We are in our 70’s and are active and still in very good health but have seen things go sideways within our peer group in a very short period of time. Think ahead and stay healthy!
posted by serendipityrules at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some recent Asks speak to this question (though sometimes the original Ask was not specifically about these topics):
• About sunscreens
• Eye cream / skincare for the clueless and aging
• Making friends with my middle-aged self
• Leading a more intentional life
Augmenting Long-term Memory
posted by StrawberryPie at 1:08 PM on August 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

-Exercise regularly
- Learn how to get around without driving.

Keep your bike ready by the front door, and use it for short errands.
posted by Rash at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I worked in a non-profit that had seniors’ housing and dementia groups and also spent 8 years editing a website for seniors, so I have opinions.

1. Physical activity. Lots above but I want to add in waking, preferably around both people and nature where possible. Pretty much all the spry 80+ year olds I have known walked outdoors in most weather for at least an hour a day. It’s both the movement and then inputs (visual, social, feeling connected to space.)

2. Try. New. Things. There are so many ways - classes, hobbies, online programs, self-taught, puttering, volunteering, travelling, small part time jobs, whatever.

3. Build a bridge to retirement. We joked but not really when I was running a big website/forum for seniors that the men (almost always men) who were on the forums working out super detailed financial plans, said they were going to relax/golf at retirement but mostly we’re just at work counting the days…died in their first year or two of retirement. Totally unscientifically, I think they didn’t have social supports and things to de stress by looking forward to. The people who had the easiest time had a whole whack of “stuff in my life” that was growing as they retired. Sometimes that was a whole other, calmer, career.

4. Play. Like, have fun. Make messes. Fear kills.

All of this is helped by having secure housing and food, good walkable communities, strong healthcare, social safety nets, and people who care about each other. One reason for some of my career shifts has been that the older I get, the more my neighbourhood and the health of those in it - kids, immigrants, you name it - has mattered to me. I want a great retirement right here.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are starting to lift weights in mid-life, be careful and maybe take a class. I started lifting heavy weights at about 40 (as opposed to doing a little bit with fifteen or twenty pound dumbbells) and I really, seriously screwed up my spine and now can't do any real lifting while standing, plus I have a lot of pain and some mobility limitations. Some of those were probably coming anyway, but there was a critical small-seeming injury which triggered everything. I was used to being strong, active and healthy and while I tried to use correct form and pace myself, it is a lot harder to do correctly for yourself as a novice than to have someone else help you.
posted by Frowner at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Funny enough just before opening mefi, I had just read the NYT article that EssexJan linked to above.

Here’s the link to the study. They do mention flexibility as something that hasn’t been studied but they believe is important.
posted by AMyNameIs at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2022

Lately I have also been helping elderly relatives whose care needs are changing and increasing. One thing that has been absolutely clear to me: It’s better to get assistance earlier if it means you will retain more independence later, for longer.

I’ve had a number of elderly relatives/family friends who have struggled with falls, social isolation, and daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance. Family, friends, and medical professionals recommend things like a fall detection device, a housecleaning/yard service, Meals on Wheels. The person perceives these suggestions as an attempt to take away their independence and refuses the fall detection device, the house cleaners, the meal service.

Or, it’s suggested they go into an assisted living residence, where they would still have their own private 1 or 2 bedroom apartment, but would have help with meals/cleaning and access to social activities and an on-call nurse. The person refuses or says “I’m not ready right now, ask me again in 5 years.”

But because they need help and aren’t getting any, their health and home deteriorate quickly. Usually there’s a catastrophic event (fall, etc.) and then it’s too late for independent living with assistance and the person has no alternative to permanent hospitalization/going to a care home.

This means that by postponing the transition stages of more assistance in the home or an assisted living residence, they actually unintentionally completely forfeit that option and are forced directly into what they were trying to avoid: complete dependence, worse health outcomes, and much less privacy.

I’m sure when I am elderly I will also be affronted when my family and friends suggest I need more help, but hopefully I will remember what I have witnessed in others. I hope I’ll actually realize that I need help in order to avoid or postpone the total dependence I’m so afraid of.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:41 PM on August 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

Not mentioned yet is the power of habits. I see my mom going longer and longer without bathing because it's so much trouble, or taking weird housekeeping shortcuts, and I totally get how this happens, but I also know how it ends.

The force of habit is what makes you do something even when you're too tired to do it. Like brushing your teeth. So I'm trying to form some rigid habits for myself now, way ahead of when I'm really going to need them.
posted by HotToddy at 1:50 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Your goal of aging well, with health, agility, etc. is wonderful. Keeping strong and healthy will certainly prolong your decline, and probably make you better able to manage chronic diseases, cancers, etc.. Lots of advice in this thread to support that....

But, as your relative's experience shows, growing old often does include unavoidable loss of independence and the subsequent feelings of frustration and depression.

The medical industry exists to support itself, not prolong your life and quality of life. So, as you get older you need to be very skeptical of interventions, medications, and all the testing they offer. Keeping old people alive is not always the best outcome. I say this as a caretaker to a beloved elderly person, who used to be fit, strong, and capable. There was really not much he could have done to prevent his current situation, he's freaking old.

Yes, stay strong, hydrate, have hobbies, etc.. But my advice is live a great life now and cultivate your friendships and family ties.
posted by rhonzo at 1:53 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Start seeing a physical therapist now. It’s very likely that some muscle in your body (likely more than one, actually) is compensating for weakness in another muscle.

These problems accumulate over time.

But stepping back a bit from that, physical therapy can evaluate your core and breathing, and set you up for success in getting or maintaining good posture and alignment. Strong knees and ankles may make you less likely to fall, and easier to recover if you do take a tumble.

I’m 40 and I only learned how to actually control my breath and core this year!

I also started actually using my inhaler for my asthma and now I don’t feel like I’m dying when I jog or swim. Because now my lungs have the support they need to do their damn jobs.
posted by bilabial at 1:58 PM on August 12, 2022

Oh, and talk to a financial professional about long and short term disability insurance for the likelihood that you will age into needing significant care.
posted by bilabial at 1:59 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

People have brought up figuring out how to get around without driving — I would consider moving to someplace walkable if it’s at all practical. I am (in my early fifties) currently furious with my father (now in his middle eighties) who moved from a city apartment to a suburban house twenty years ago, and now he can’t drive and he can’t keep the house up and the situation is becoming untenable but he won’t accept help. I have been mad at him about this for twenty years, because I saw it coming and tried to talk him into moving back to someplace he’d be able to live easily without driving for the entire twenty years, but did he listen? No.

Anyway, I realize this isn’t practical for everyone, but if you can get yourself to someplace where it’s normal to run errands on foot, you’ll stay fitter and you’ll be able to live independently much longer.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of excellent advice above!!

I've been diving head-first down the rabbit hole of the "natural movement" concept, which talks about how our bodies developed to move all these different ways (walking, climbing, hanging/swinging, etc), and how incompatible our modern lives are with that (wearing heeled shoes that throw out body geometry off, sitting all day for work/commute/relaxation, etc). It's really reinforcing the fact that what we don't use, we lose. So the idea of moving stuff off of high shelves so things are more easily accessible means you lose that natural movement opportunity to lift your arms over your head and bring a load down with control, as an example.

Some changes I've made since learning more about natural movement:
-sitting on the floor (or yoga block, or cushion) to eat dinner instead of the couch
-transitioning to minimalist foot wear for at least some of the time
-walking more
-when hiking, taking the opportunity to climb up a rock or balance on a log, and when passing by a playground, swinging and hanging on the monkey bars
-placing more emphasis on yoga as a well-rounded movement/health opportunity

If any of this resonates with you, I would look up the work of Katy Bowman (she has so many great books about it, a blog, and a podcast), Petra Fisher (she has a great Instagram presence and some virtual workshops you can take), or MovNat (a more intense level of all of this, but just food for thought). This whole concept is such an essential component in aging well!
posted by carlypennylane at 5:11 PM on August 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Wow there's some great advice here. I'm here to Nth the idea of habits: establish habits and if possible times for daily routines. When I retired, my daily schedule started to slide around - rather than showering and shaving every morning at 7, like when I worked, sometimes it'd be 7 and other times I'd eat breakfast first, read the paper, wait til 9. Then I started staying up later ("no work tomorrow" - plus my wife is kind of a night owl), shorting myself on sleep a bit or I'd sleep late before starting the other - whoops! there goes half a day!

I'm now trying to get back that daily schedule because it works better for me.

Maybe not for everyone, but because I am extremely nearsighted, I always figured I might have vision problems when I got "old" but I also know the importance of vision in our daily lives. So, I started teaching myself to shave with my eyes closed, in case I became unable to see my face in the mirror or became blind. I know people who learned to lip read because there's a family history of deafness in aging. In other words, you can prepare for some things even if they never happen
posted by TimHare at 7:28 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

The most active and happy senior I know is my great aunt, who actually went almost blind unexpectedly in her old age and has had other medical problems. I think looking at her life one thing that's really helped was that she's been consistently active and involved in volunteering with older people and people with disabilities since she was younger herself. It's given her a sense of purpose and community (and what does that for YOU is whatever is right for you) but many people really fear loss of independence and aging and delay getting home help, occupational therapy assistance, altering activities so they can do them safely. And my great aunt as a disability ally of sorts, when vision loss came for, grieved about it but was also 100% ready in her 90s to reset her house to voice commands and textured stickers over oven dishes and screenreaders and Alexa to her phone, and to get people in to clean what she couldn't clean any more, because she knew so many people living great disabled lives and she could imagine that for herself, past the grief. Being able to see life as good even without 100% physical function, and practising solidarity and self acceptance, is a huge help in ageing, I think.
posted by MarianHalcombe at 2:10 AM on August 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Highly recommend the book Better Balance for Life: Banish the Fear of Falling with Simple Activities Added to Your Everyday Routine. I'm on my third copy (to give away to parents, older relatives).
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:27 PM on August 13, 2022

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