We all want our parents to live long and healthy lives. Thanks to modern medicine, more people are living longer. But a longer life doesn’t always equal a healthier one.
About 77% of people diagnosed with cancer are age 55 or older, according to the American Cancer Society. You can help reduce your parents’ risk of cancer and improve their quality of life by encouraging them to make choices that will have a huge impact on their health.
And participating with them will be good for your health as well.
Help them stay physically active
Regular physical activity plays a major role in preserving a person’s health. Retired seniors can lead sedentary lives. Here’s how you can get your parents moving.
- Educate parents about the benefits of exercise. Increasing physical activity can lower a person’s chances for many cancers, including breast, endometrial, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers. 150 minutes of moderate physical activity – like walking or water aerobics – or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week can help lower cancer risk.
- Encourage parents to do activities they enjoy and that will keep them active. Gardening, golfing, playing tennis and swimming are all great choices. Your parents can talk to their doctors about what types of activity they should do.
- Exercise with them. Suggest going for a brisk walk together during your next visit. This is a great way to jumpstart increased activity.
- Find free, local fitness programs for seniors. Look online for programs that offer free gym memberships to seniors who want to become more active but may have a limited income.
Encourage healthy food choices
Many seniors, especially those living alone, don’t cook much because they think it’s too much effort to make a meal for one or two people.
This may keep your parents from getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy and lower their risk of esophageal, stomach and colon cancers.
Make sure your parents are eating nutritious meals daily by:
- Learning about healthy diets for those older than 50. Share information on how many calories they should be getting and the types of foods they should be eating.
- Sharing leftovers. Make enough healthy food at home so that you have extra to package and freeze. Then, when you visit your parent, take those leftovers with you.
- Joining a Meals on Wheels program. If your parent is homebound or disabled, this national program provides nutritious meals for a small fee.
Discourage smoking and secondhand smoke
Quitting smoking is the most important thing anyone can do to improve their health. It’s never too late to quit. It reduces the risks for cancer and other diseases, such as heart and lung disease. And avoiding secondhand smoke can greatly improve one's health.
If your parent smokes, encourage him or her to get help by calling one of these free smoking quit lines:
- Call 800-784-8669 (800-QUIT NOW)
- Text Quit to 47848
- Visit www.smokefree.gov
Encourage parents to get involved
Almost 10 million Americans older than age 65 live alone, says the U.S. Census Bureau. For many, living alone can lead to loneliness and depression, which has a negative impact on a person’s overall health, says the World Health Organization.
Becoming a volunteer at a local community organization keeps seniors active and engaged, and gives them a chance to help others.
Talk with your parents about volunteer opportunities in their area. AARP provides a list of volunteer opportunities for seniors to work with community partners.
Reduce financial stress
Many seniors experience financial stress due to money management issues. Stress can affect the immune system, the body’s defense against infection and disease, including cancer.
You can help your parents cope with financial stress by:
- Offering advice. Work with your parents to set a budget and payment system for bills. Encourage them to work with the bank to set up automatic bill payment to relieve some of the financial responsibility.
- Looking into the “representative payee” alternative. If your parents receives income from Social Security, they can ask the Social Security Administration to appoint a representative payee to receive the monthly checks and use the money to pay for living expenses.
Encourage regular check-ups and screening exams
Cancer screening exams are medical tests done when you’re healthy, and you don’t have any signs of illness. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for curing the disease are greatest.
Learn what screening exams your parents should be getting and make sure they schedule their appointments on time.
Take an active role in keeping your parents healthy.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 855-668-8897.