Seniors, your habits may be ruining your health

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Heart Health | Wednesday, September 03, 2014 - 05:04 AM

habits affecting your healthIt’s easy to fall into a habit. Every day, doing the same thing can be a comfort.

It could be anything from tying your left shoe before your right to having a boiled egg and toast for breakfast. These are the things that we feel safe doing and that make us who we are. Seniors, especially, when they’re retired and living without kids in the house, can fall into a routine that makes them feel safe and comfortable, knowing what to do and what to expect.

But would you ever consider that some of your daily habits may actually be harming your health?

Here is a list of habits you might relate to, without realizing they are affecting your health in a negative way.

Biting your nails

You may not think much about it, but nail biting isn’t the best way to spend your time. People who bite their nails often do so because of anxiety or as a stress-reliever. With seniors, stress and even depression can stem from feelings of isolation and being disconnected from working society. And you might not even realize how often you’re nibbling on those finger nails.

Men, it turns out, are more likely to bite their nails than women. So how can something so small and insignificant be doing you harm?

Not only does biting your nails make for an ugly appearance, but you can cause deformities in the nail, damage the outer layer of your teeth, and – the kicker – harmful bacteria lingers underneath your nails. Ingesting these bacteria can cause long-term illness like vomiting, staph infections, toxic shock syndrome and even blood poisoning.

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So how can you kick the common habit? You may want to invest in a good manicure every few weeks (who wants to ruin nice nails?) or some over-the-counter products can make your nails taste bad. If these don’t seem to work, your anxiety and stress may be the bigger issue you need to deal with, so consult a health care professional.

Lying to your doctor

No one likes to feel judged, especially by a doctor. You may think it’s only a small fib when you say you only drink alcohol twice a week (when really you open up a bottle of wine every night after dinner) but even something you deem insignificant can impact your health.

This can be a problematic habit for seniors because this age group consumes the most prescription medications, which can interact with each other in a bad way. So you should never lie about what medications you take, how you are taking them, or any lifestyle choices you partake in.

Nobody wins when you don’t tell your doctor the whole story. This can lead to misdiagnosis, negative drug interactions and unnecessary testing.

Always make sure to let your doctor know what supplements or other programs you’re following and everything you’re feeling. An easy way to make sure you get all the information across is to prepare a list so nothing is left out.

Not sleeping enough

Maybe last night your favorite show was having a marathon and by the time you hit the sack it was somewhere close to sunrise. Sure, if you do this once in a blue moon it may not affect you too badly, but if you find yourself dodging the bed covers, this can have major consequences.

Sleep deprivation is common among seniors. In fact, they tend to sleep an hour less in their 70s than they did in their 20s. New research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has identified why seniors are most at risk for sleep disorders like insomnia and night wandering: Diminishing brain cells.

Scientists analyzed data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project out of Chicago, which includes nearly 1,000 people who enrolled at age 65 and are being followed until death, when their brains are donated for research.

They found seniors and Alzheimer’s patients have a substantial decline in “ventrolateral preoptic neurons.” Loss of these brain cells is associated with sleep problems.

Lack of sleep can lead to drowsiness during the day, and lack of focus and attention. It can even make your ability to learn or complete tasks diminish, almost “dumbing” you down.

But the greater risks lack of sleep poses are heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. It’s estimated that 90 percent of people with insomnia also have another serious health problem.

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So how do you get more sleep? If it’s technology keeping you awake, power down 30 minutes to one hour before sleeping. This will put your mind at ease and prepare you to sleep. Make sure your room is dark and the temperature is comfortable, on the cooler side.

Even meditating before sleep will calm you down and prepare you for better rest. If sleeping seems impossible, you may have underlying issues which should be addressed. Talk to your doctor. Good sleep is essential!

Getting too much sun

Who doesn’t love that sun-kissed glow? Everyone wants it, but it can be harmful to attain. Seniors are most at risk because skin thins as we age, making it more susceptible to sun damage. Other risks are heatstroke and dehydration; if you’re going to spend time outdoors, make sure to take breaks inside and drink plenty of fluids.

Immediate dangers from the sun are burns, which can vary in severity depending on your skin type. Continuous sun damage affects the skin, causing it to become weaker and more prone to wrinkles and bruising. Ultimately, long-term exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer.

Whenever you’re heading out, apply a sunscreen and carry around a rimmed hat. Make sure to re-apply sunscreen, especially if you’re perspiring or splashing around in water outdoors. Self-tanners can also be helpful to achieve the perfect shade of bronze without the heat and UV exposure.

If you’re concerned about any damage you may have already caused, see a dermatologist; they can take an ultraviolet image of your skin so see what’s really going on.

Although these habits seem easy enough to drop, the nature of a habit is that it’s hard to break. Make a plan (and follow through) to end these health-harming habits once and for all.

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