Last year, my grandmother, who is one of those people, had a stroke and went into a near-fatal diabetic shock. I became terrified at the thought of losing Abuela. She was sad, too, saying things like, "I just want to die already."
Thankfully, Abuela recently celebrated her 82nd birthday, and I'm so grateful that she's around to spend time with Equis, her great-grandson. No words can explain how scared I am right now, though. Abuela continues to suffer from diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma and high blood pressure, and her carotid artery is 95% blocked, which puts her at risk for another stroke. She needs to have a surgery soon to remove the blockage.
Sadly, in reviewing UHF America's Health Rankings Senior Report, which states that older Hispanics (28.2%) were less likely to rate their health as excellent or very good than were older Whites (42.8%) or older Asians (35.3%), I am sure many Hispanic families are experiencing similar health challenges with their loved ones. It worries me that my home state of New York ranks 23rd in the report when looking at rates of obesity, smoking, diabetes and physical inactivity.
Now is a critical time to study senior health at the population level because we know that America’s senior population will grow by more than 50 percent in the next 15 years and that Americans are living longer but sicker lives. Mortality really hits home when a loved one is sick, and such situations motivate us to promote healthier lifestyles for them.
Here are three ways in which we promote a healthier lifestyle for her:
- Encourage her to walk and socialize - My grandmother used to be an avid walker when she was younger. Independent woman that she is, she went everywhere by herself. Now that she is weaker and prone to dizzy spells and falling, it's our responsibility to make sure she is safe when she walks around the neighborhood. Being that Grandma hates the winter and essentially refuses to go during the winter, I try go on walks with her as much as I can during warmer weather. During the colder months, my son gives her plenty of running around to do inside! One thing my Grandma never forgets to do is go to church, where she gets her spiritual food and socializes with her best friend.
- Encourage her to eat and take her medicine - Grandma is such a strong-willed Puerto Rican woman, that caring for her can be difficult at times, especially when she doesn't want to eat or take her medicine. My parents often take her food shopping to make sure she has the food she needs at home. I gently tell Abuela that eating and taking her medicine will help her and that I want her to continue being around for me and my son. Other times, she genuinely forgets so we must go with her to pick up her medicine and remind her to take her slew of pills or use her asthma pump. One of the biggest obstacles is the fact that her medicine is so expensive. "I don't want to buy it!" she'll say, but I tell her that there's nothing else I'd rather her spend her money on.
- Encourage her to keep her doctor's appointments - My mom cracked everyone up with a Facebook status a few weeks ago that said, "My mom is up and dressed at 6:30 am for a 10:00 am doctor's appointment. Why?" Without my mom being there, though, it's likely that my Grandma would forget her appointment. She writes all of her appointments down on a calendar in Abuela's kitchen and is sure to accompany her to them.
Even though I am only 26 years old right now, I will one day, hopefully, be a senior like Abuela, and I want to live a longer and healthier life. If I want that to be true, I must take active steps now and not later.
- For information about the America’s Health Rankings Senior Report visit www.americashealthrankings.com/senior.
- For more information about Latino health visit www.UHCLatino.com.
- Check out the video below on how Latino culture affects health.
How do you address the health challenges seniors in your life may face?