Keeping fit and healthy
Keeping as healthy as you can is an important part of maintaining your independence.
In the first place, prevention is always better than cure. Eating well is important, as is getting some regular exercise. For older people, Age UK runs a number of programmes and groups under the title of 'Fit for the future'. There are also some useful Elderly fitness books and manuals available that have ideas for keeping fit, no matter your age or ability. Increasingly leisure clubs and gyms are also offering deals to people with some form of disability, with reduced membership rates and fully accessible facilities. Flu vaccinations can also be an important precaution and these will be available free each winter through your GP for anyone considered vulnerable.
Catching any problems early is also worth the investment of time and effort, particularly as you get older. It is important to take advantage of the various check-ups available such as sight test, hearing tests, cancer screening and now screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms (a condition that is linked to heart problems). For older people these will tend to be free, but you should consult the relevant regulations.
A particular health danger for older people is the danger of falls, with up to 30% of people over 65 having a fall each year. There is a lot that can be done to minimise the risk involved – from taking regular exercise as already explained, to ensuring that shoes and slippers fit properly, to removing trip hazards around the home. There may well be a voluntary organisation near you that can help with each of these factors.
A wide range of health professionals exist to improve your health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists (OTs) are an important group to help people who have a disability or health condition, which makes it difficult to manage day-to-day living tasks. OTs can play many roles including assessing your need for assistance, providing advice on aids and equipment that may help, recommendations to the Council on adaptations that should be provided in your property or where you should be provided with specially adapted housing. OTs can be employed by health, in which cases their services will normally come free, or by Social Services, in which case there may be a charge. Not everyone will be eligible for this help but private OT services exist everywhere that can be purchased.
More serious health problems
With more serious problems it may be necessary for a team of professionals to get involved. For example, someone who has suffered from cancer may have contact with a physiatrist (who treats injuries and illnesses that affect how you move, including to relieve pain), a rehab nurse (who helps people to restore physical functioning and/or adapt to their new condition), a recreational therapist (who helps to restore people’s confidence through activities), a dietician (who provides advice on meal plans etc) and a speech-language therapist (who restores your power of speech after certain operation/interventions). These are just examples of the medical specialisms available, and the examples you could give would be different if you looked at a different condition. Your GP or consultant would obviously be an important source of advice on this, but you can also get very good advice on what is available by consulting the wide range of support groups for the different medical conditions either by contacting them or looking on their website.
If you do have serious health problems that impact on your need for care to assist with daily activities such as washing, dressing etc, then it is very possible that you might be entitled to something called 'continuing healthcare'. This is important because it means that you are unlikely to be asked to pay for the care that is provided. You should be aware, however, that this will inevitably require you to have to answer quite a few questions in an assessment, before this can be agreed.
Most sources of help available will be very locality-specific, and you are likely to need to make enquiries locally to follow up on any of these ideas. If you do want to find out more we suggest that you look at sources of advice and information first.
As with everything else, the important thing is to carefully consider what the consequences of your situation are, what you want to do about it, what you want to achieve, and what resources you have available. With this information, you can then start to make a plan.