Four O.C. medical experts offer advice and suggest preventive measures for taking care of body, mind, and spirit in every decade. Here they focus on specifics for those in their 70s.
“This is when we’re really concerned with mobility and balance. You hear about people falling quite a bit. Balance requires practice. You have to work on your balance. You have visual and audio changes in your 70s and 80s, so your senses aren’t as sharp as they used to be. We encourage patients to continue to do exercise that they feel safe doing: tai chi, chair yoga.
All those things that you’ve hopefully been doing—stretching and strengthening—are even more critical now. And we want to make sure our patients are safe walking, getting up from the floor. We encourage them to look at their home and see, are there rugs or steps you can trip over? Can you navigate stairs safely or do you need to start thinking about ways to avoid them? How do we problem-solve the things that you want to do in a different way? How can you travel safely? What are some resources? So it’s not just physical therapy that we do but helping patients accomplish activities that bring them joy.
Being in your 70s is not what it used to be—especially in Orange County. People are very active. We get a lot of folks from Laguna Woods who are incredibly active and busy. They’re on the go, and they want to be independent. We want you to be able to save your energy for the things you love most. So we look at shortcuts for things that don’t bring you joy. Maybe that means using a delivery service. Or sitting down to do meal prep instead of standing. Again, it’s about pacing yourself.”
Dr. Van Thi Nguyen, physical therapist at Kaiser Permanente Orange County
“Some of my older patients come in saying they’ve never liked to use chemicals. They like to keep things simple. Lifestyle changes, like using warm instead of hot water, or exchanging that bath brush (which can irritate fragile skin) for a soft washcloth are the best and safest bets.
Continue to apply sunscreen daily, seek shade when outdoors, and wear clothing that protects skin from the sun. You can always do things to improve your skin. However, you have to be realistic. There’s no harm in starting sooner, but if you show up at 70 for the first time, you may not get the results you want. You have to be practical for what results you’re looking for.”
Dr. Azin Meshkinpour, dermatologist at Saddleback Dermatology Laser + Cosmetic Center in Lake Forest
Diet and Gut Health
“Many patients at this stage might be doing different things with their lives. Some people might be living in older communities. Some people have significant medical problems. Some of the things we see as we age is we’ll have a decreased sense of smell and taste, and we’ll also have a decrease in appetite at times because of that. People also start to have problems with chewing if their teeth haven’t been taken care of. Those are things to be mindful of because it’ll alter the amount and the types of foods you’re eating. If you don’t eat a lot of fiber, your stools might not pass as easily, and your gut health might not be as good. If patients are living in a community where they’re all served the same institutionalized food, a lot of times it’s low in fiber and probiotic content. What we find when we analyze that stool is that we’re lacking the diversity of bacteria that we had at a younger age because we’re lacking diversity in the amount of foods we eat. This can contribute to things like flatulence because you have an imbalance in the diversity of bacteria that can help with that.
Recognize that you still want to eat that plant-focused diet. If you have challenges with chewing and eating, prepare the food differently—cooked, sauteed, or in soups. Eat the rainbow—foods of different colors—because that’s guaranteed to lead you toward eating food that has good phytonutrients. They’re very helpful for vitamin metabolism and biochemical processes. Don’t just rely on taking a multivitamin; eat the plant stuff. We don’t want to lose that interest in food.”
“When you get to a certain point in life, you have to have a sports mentality, like a constant farm system of recruiting new friends. People move away, life changes, and you need a system to make new friends and recruit new people. It’s common for older people to have fewer friends. As you get older you need to have people from multiple generations. Historically we’d have that, but as we become more mobile, we’ve lost some of those vertical connections in society.
Look to community centers or senior centers; take a class. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute has local classes for seniors. Find informal ways to stimulate minds and provide social connections such as neighborhood organizations and other inexpensive ways to meet people.
If you do something repetitively, people will see you and learn more about you. We make friends with familiar cycles, not abruptly.”
Dr. Jody Rawles, psychiatry & human behavior professor at UCI School of Medicine