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Originally published: 2014-05-03 16:36:34
Last modified: 2014-05-03 16:37:19

'Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.'

by Sherrie Norris

May is Older Americans Month and statistics tell us that we have a lot to celebrate - not only in 2014, but also in the coming years.

According to the latest data available from the United State Census Bureau, 43.1 million people 65 years of age and older were living in the U.S on July 1, 2012, accounting for 13.7 percent of the total population.

However, 92 million is the projected population of people 65 and older in 2060, which would include more than one in five U.S. residents at that time. Of this number, 18.2 million will be 85 or older.

Older Americans Month has been observed since 1963, thanks in part to the contributions and sacrifices made by senior adults to ensure a better life for future generations.

This observance recognizes those contributions and demonstrates the nation's commitment to helping seniors stay healthy and active.


Safety first

The 2014 theme - "Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow." - focuses on injury prevention and safety to encourage older adults to protect themselves and remain active and independent as long as possible.

Statistics indicate that older adults are at a much higher risk of unintentional injury - and even death - than the rest of the population, resulting in at least 6 million medically treated injuries and more than 30,000 deaths every year.

According to the Administration for Community Living, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this month is an opportunity to raise awareness about this critical issue, stressing that by taking control of their safety, older Americans can live longer, healthier lives.


Aging in the High Country

Nowhere do seniors strive for the aforementioned goal any more so than in the High Country. From May through late October, especially, rarely a day will pass during which local greenways and fitness centers do not experience significant increases in senior presence and participation.

As the majority of local citizens already know, the High Country is the perfect place to grow old, especially if you enjoy being active and involved.

Community activities and celebrations are gearing up for the month, with special events filling the calendar.

As coincidence might have it, seasonal residents - most older than 65 - are also migrating back to the area as May arrives.

On a regular year-round basis, many hometown seniors actively participate in physically and mentally stimulating events, individually or through group events at local health care centers, churches and community and senior centers.

Fortunately, as the life expectancy of seniors continues to rise, there seems to be a more concentrated focus on enhancing the golden years - and more attention given to such observations as Older Americans Month.


Celebrations

The following events are just a few of several public opportunities being planned in the area to honor Older Americans Month.

The annual Adult Services Expo, scheduled for Friday, May 9, at the Boone Mall, is one of the area's anticipated events during this special month. Hosted by the Adult Services Coalition, the event not only gives seniors the opportunity to learn more about agencies that provide services designed specifically for their needs, but also to honor five adults for their contributions to life in the High Country. The awards ceremony will be held at noon.

The High Country Senior Games officially kicks off on May 9. Area seniors from Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, Yancey and Ashe counties will be joining together, as will others across the state in numerous areas of competition. The competition includes numerous physical sporting events, as well as poetry, needlework, art and nearly everything in between that encourages movement and serious play.  Numerous area seniors have regularly progressed onto the final state games and, in come cases, the nationals.

On May 1, a group of local cyclists took part in a related event in Morganton, Holly Gates, games coordinator, said, but the local action gets under way next week with a kickoff breakfast at Appalachian Brian Estates.

"We will start accepting entries on Tuesday, May 6, for the visual arts entries at ABE," Gates said, "but the fun really begins on Friday, May 9, with breakfast followed by horseshoes, table tennis and corn hole."

The games continue through June 14.

Good news for some this year is that anyone 50 or older may now participate in senior games. For more information, call (828) 264-9511.



At the senior centers

While the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center in Boone and its sister center in Cove Creek provide services, support, and resources to older adults year-round, Older Americans Month offers an opportunity for both to provide specialized information and services around the important topic of injury prevention, Jenn Teague, director of the Boone senior center, said.
 
"We also plan to have a good time, too," she said.


The following events are scheduled at the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center:

- A "Fun Walk" will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, May 1. Participants will be encouraged to walk one mile, with each walker entered into a drawing for a door prize.

- "Smart Choices for a Leaner You," a six-week nutritional course, will begin at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 12. Led by Margie Mansure, registered dietitian and extension agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension, the series will explore all aspects of a healthy, balanced diet with correct portions for ultimate vitality.

- On Wednesday, May 28, also known as National Senior Health and Fitness Day, seniors have a chance to participate in a health fair at the center. Co-hosted by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the event will offer hearing, visual, weight and blood pressure checks, with affordable vouchers for blood work available for purchase. Pricing for lab work is availing by calling (828) 265-8090. Information booths will also be set up to answer any questions seniors may have about hospice, adult care homes, Medicare and more.

- AARP Safe Driving Class will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday May 29. Cost is $15 per person for AARP members; $20 for nonmembers. The course will help participants learn to compensate for changes in vision, hearing and reaction time, as well as what to do if confronted by an aggressive driver, when to use a car phone, how medications may affect driving and much more information. Coffee, water and a light snack will be provided. Auto insurance discounts may be available for participation in the course by checking with one's auto insurance agent. For more information or to reserve a seat, call the senior center at (828) 265-8090.

- Be a CHAMP: On one Friday a month, beginning on May 30, and ending Nov. 7, the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center will be partnering with Appalachian State University to offer Community Health and Mobility Partnership. CHAMP is designed to help older adults avoid falls and stay independent and active for life," Teague said. Monthly screening appointments are available and screenings will include fall risk and balance testing, balance and strengthening exercises, a review of medical history, education about assistive devices and appropriate community referrals. Screenings will be completed by the CHAMP team, which includes a nurse, physical therapist , and EMS first responder. Screening dates will be on the following Fridays: May 30, June 13, July 11, Aug. 22, Sept. 19, Oct. 18 and Nov. 7. For an appointment, call (828) 262-7674.

- Learn about SCAMS: The local Elderly and Disabled Adult Abuse Prevention Team will be providing a presentation known as "Seniors Can Avoid Money Scams" during Older Americans Month. SCAMS will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, at the Courtyard Marriott. For more information or to reserve a seat, call Teague at (828) 265-8090.
 

Western Watauga Community Center:

- Blood pressure and an oxygen saturation level clinic will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 13.Complementary handouts will be given to participants. It is sponsored by Linda Bretz, RN, a clinical home health specialist with Gentiva Home Health.

- Arthritis Foundation Fitness: A free nine-week exercise program begins on Monday May 5; held from noon to 1:15 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. It is great for anyone with limited mobility or those who just need to begin a good exercise program, according to organizers. Instruction will be by certified nurses from the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. The program is designed to build strength, increase flexibility and range of motion. Attending twice per week is recommended. Exercises are gentle and low impact. A fun relaxation activity follows each session. Sign up through May 7 at the senior center.

- Free creative writing and discussion group facilitated by Emery Pavel will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. on Fridays, May 2 and 16. The gatherings are informal sessions requiring no literary skills or experience. No evaluation of work is given. It's a great way to stimulate friendly thought and conversation, make new friends and have fun, organizers said. It's open attendance. A topic will be set at the beginning of each class, and participants will then write a brief essay in their own words. Afterward, essays will be read aloud and the group will have the opportunity to express views for discussion in a comfortable environment. No controversial topics will be discussed. Notebook and pen or pencil are required.

- Senior and Pets, a program sponsored by North Shore K-9 partners and the Watauga County Humane Society, will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 8. The presentation will be given by Eva Hyatt on North Shore K-9 partners, a nonprofit group that facilitates dog and puppy transport from shelters in the Southern states to the North Shore Animal League in New York, where the animals are adopted. The K-9 partners are looking for local foster homes to keep pets for 10 to 14 days prior to transport to their new homes. Seniors who may not want a permanent pet are perfect for this program, since companion visits are temporary, according to North Shore K-9.

Serving the senior citizens in the western part of the county, the Western Watauga Community Center is located in the Cove Creek Community at 1081 Old Hwy. 421, Sugar Grove.

For more information, contact director Toni Wait at (828) 297-5195 or email (toni.wait@watgov.org)
       
For more information about the Watauga County Project on Aging, which includes both senior centers, visit http://www.wataugacounty.org
.


Note: Long-term care and adult care facilities will also be having special events for their residents and families.


Safety tips for seniors

In keeping with the theme for the 2014 Older American's Month, the Administration for Community Living, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has provided the following tips to help seniors and their families become more aware of measures to help ensure their safety.


Talk to your health care provider:
Discuss physical activities that are appropriate for you. Regular exercise helps to improve endurance, strength, balance and coordination.
Have your vision checked regularly. Your sight plays a large part in preventing injuries at home, on the road and in the community.

Manage medications
Be aware of how your medications interact with other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, certain foods,
Alcohol and other medical conditions.
Learn how medications may make you unsteady on your feet or impact your ability to operate a motor vehicle.
Create a medication schedule or use a scheduler box to make sure you take no less or more than prescribed.
Ask your pharmacist for help. Large-print labels, medication-tracking devices and easy-open containers may be available.


Prevent falls
Install handrails and grab bars wherever they are helpful, especially around stairs and in bathrooms.
Ensure ample lighting inside and outside of your home, particularly around frequently used walkways.
Add one or more nightlights between your bedroom and bathroom.
Choose shoes with nonslip soles that provide support without bulk that could cause you to trip.
Use a walking aid, if needed, to improve balance and stability.


Prevent fires and burns
Set your water heater to 120 degrees. You can also install anti-scald devices on sinks, tubs and showers.
Test smoke detectors regularly. Be sure you have a smoke alarm in or very near your cooking area. Alarms should also be installed in all bedrooms.
When cooking, wear snug-fitting or short-sleeved clothing and high-quality oven mitts that cover the lower part of your arms.
Do not smoke in your home, especially if oxygen therapy is used.


Drive wisely
Plan your route before you drive and use the safest routes that are well lighted, familiar and offer easy parking.
Daytime driving in good weather conditions is best.
Wear your seat belt, even during short trips.
Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle and stay focused on the road. Know when it might be time to limit or stop driving, and learn how to get around town without driving.


For more information and resources, visit http://www.acl.gov/olderamericansmonth.