Tips for safe and healthy aging

As we get older, we need to be more conscious of taking care of ourselves. Here are some hints on living well into the golden years.

The eyes have it

Eye Care America and the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology offer some tips for better vision:

Eat foods rich in vitamin A, such as carrots, yams and spinach.

Learn your family’s history of eye disease. In many cases, having a family member with an eye disease greatly increases your chance of getting the disease.

Wear protective goggles when working with machinery and engaging in athletic activities.

Protect your eyes from the sun. Overexposure to the sun’s rays can lead to cataracts.

Good night

Sleep problems grow more common as we grow older, according to AARP. A 2001 National Sleep Foundation poll reported that seven out of 10 people said they have frequent sleep problems.

Lack of sleep can make it hard to concentrate and reason, weaken the body’s immune system and increase the risk of falling or having an accident at work or in a car. It may also increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Sleep problems can result from chronic pain, certain medicines, restless legs or muscle spasms, hot flashes and snoring. They may also result from sensitivity to time changes or as a result of major life changes such as retirement, a move or the loss of a spouse.

Sleep apnea, which causes sleepers to stop breathing for short periods of time, is a very serious cause of lack of sleep.

Tips to sleep better include:

• Regular physical exercise, a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

• Have a set time to go to bed and wake up.

• Keep the room at a comfortable temperature.

• Invest in a good-quality mattress and pillow.

• Resist the urge to climb into bed with your laptop, cell phone or mystery thriller you can’t wait to finish.

• Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and heavy meals later in the evening.

Getting behind the wheel

How do you approach a family member when age-related changes affect driving ability?

Elinor Ginzler of AARP, an authority on older driver safety, encourages families to talk openly with loved ones about safe driving practices.

These are her top 10 indicators that it’s time to talk about limiting driving or handing over the keys:

• Frequent “close calls” or near accidents.

• Dents or scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.

• Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance/exit ramps.

• Other drivers honking at you.

• Getting lost.

• Difficulty seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead.

• Slower response time; trouble moving foot from gas to brake pedal or confusing the two pedals.

• Getting distracted easily or having trouble concentrating.

• Difficulty turning your head to check over shoulder while backing up or changing lanes.

• Traffic tickets or warnings by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two.

Look at the bright side

Perhaps one of the most interesting things to come out of a Harvard study of adult development is the finding that stress itself is not necessarily bad, according to Dr. Michael Seabaugh in a Healthspan column.

What was predictive of longevity was how well a person adjusted to or coped with the stressful event. Modifying stress reduces one’s chance of cardiac events by a significant 30 percent.

In a survey of 200 centenarians, researchers found that they shared “the sterling quality of optimism.” They were able to take advantage of new opportunities that came their way. And perhaps most importantly, according to Seabaugh, they almost never saw their age as a limitation.