July 31st, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Lack of regular routine: risk to elder’s health?

by Dorian Martin

Like many elders, my father’s daily routine has become much looser since he retired. Take several naps a day? Dad would say he earned it. Limiting how often he takes a bath? Dad may say he’s not going anywhere or seeing anyone and adds that he does take a sponge bath. Leaving food out of the refrigerator after making lunch and then deciding to take a nap? He would say he just forgot. Leaving a mess of newspapers, magazines and bills lying around his office space work area and floor? “I’ll get to it soon,” he promises.

Small oversights, large consequences

Most of these situations — other than leaving perishable food out for a long period of time — don’t seem particularly dangerous on their own. That is, until Dad fell after tripping on his briefcase, which he left jutting in the walkway because of the boxes of newspapers and bills he had amassed in his office area.

And not showering can potentially pose a threat as well. Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician at Children’s Medical group, pointed out to CNN that poor hygiene has been associated with both skin infections and soft tissue infections. Bathing removes germs from the skin as well as odors caused by sweat and dirt. Dr. Shu does note that bathing once a week may be enough for an elder depending on overall hygiene and health.

Regular eating schedule

Some changes in daily routine may be more dangerous than they seem on the surface. Take eating a regular breakfast, for instance. Dad usually wakes up around 8 a.m., but doesn’t eat breakfast until closer to noon (if at all). And that may be taking a toll on his heart. A large longitudinal study found that out of male study participants between the ages of 45 and 82, those who reported skipping breakfast were at a 27 percent higher risk of a heart attack or death from coronary heart disease.

The researchers found that not keeping a regular eating schedule seems to trigger adverse metabolic changes that can result in coronary heart disease. “Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time,” said Dr. Leah E. Cahill, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

Routines for staying healthy

So maintaining a regular routine — whether it’s eating breakfast, taking showers or picking up after one’s self — can help to support an elder’s effort to remain healthy and to keep his or her independence.

I’ve also written about how important it is to set up a routine for physical activity. Caregivers can encourage elders to become more active or return to their exercise schedules if they have taken a break. Of course, seniors should talk to health care providers before beginning a new exercise routine.

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