How to become an Age Warrior (and the Occupational Therapist’s role in the process).
We all fight different battles in life. Life is often referred to as a battlefield. But as we fight our different battles we also find meaning in life. We start to appreciate the things we are fighting for. We fight for hope and happiness and peace. We are on this quest to find meaning in life, even though we don’t always understand why it sometimes must be such a struggle.
While everyone’s battles might be different, becoming older is a battle for most people. There are so many changes and some of them you can feel in your body and others you feel on a deeper level. Suddenly the children are out of the house and you don’t have the role as parent anymore (at least not in the same way as for the first 18 – 20 years) and then you face retirement and loss of identity when you suddenly don’t know who you are without your job. At a certain age, you start experiencing losses in terms of loved ones who die and who you can never see again. Your physical abilities change, your memory and ability to concentrate change. Your ability to contribute to society change. The way people view you change.
And yet, this article is not to tell you about the battle of ageing, but rather to tell you about the joys that comes with the added grey hairs. And to encourage you to keep on fighting for hope and happiness and peace. To continue to find meaning in life. It is to prepare you for the battlefield of ageing and guide you on how to become an Age Warrior and to celebrate this next phase in your life. It is a beautiful phase, despite the difficulties it may bring. You are worth so much! You have had years of refining and shaping this person that you are. You need to share it with the world.
What is Active Ageing:
Active ageing is a term that was adopted by the World Health Organization in the late 1900’s. It conveys a more inclusive message than “healthy ageing” as it not only shows the variety of factors that contribute to “healthy ageing”, but also the continuing participation of the ageing individual in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs. Active ageing aims to extend healthy life expectancy and quality of life for all people as they age, including those who are frail, disabled and in need of care.  Maintaining autonomy and independence as one grows older is a key goal and this is where the role of an Occupational Therapist becomes very important.
What is an Occupational Therapist:
– Occupational Therapy involves helping people live more independent and productive lives by the use of meaningful activities to promote participation in everyday life. It is focused on improving life skills which can lead to better quality of life. 
· “Occupational therapists facilitate optimal occupational performance and community participation across the full spectrum of ability, from healthy adults actively engaged in their communities to those who are coping with serious physical and mental health conditions in more supported environments like assisted living facilities and nursing homes” (Ad Hoc Group on Aging, 2007, p. 1).
A program will be run by an Occupational Therapist on Active Ageing that will be presented in the form of groups. The aim of this program is to guide you to become an Age Warrior. It will equip you to promote and maintain your health, abilities and function. It will prevent and slow down loss of independence. It will improve quality of life and help you to continue finding meaning in your life. It is aim at empowerment through knowledge. Remember, knowledge is power!!! And yet knowledge is only half the battle. You will only become an Age Warrior if you do something about the knowledge you are given.
What is often a problem for senior citizens is the fact that they need a lot of information whether medically, legally or about preventative measures, but that there is not always a single health professional willing to look at all the information and not just the symptoms and exploring an action plan with and not for the individual. This program will aim to provide that supportive environment, giving relevant information, individualized planning sessions and intervention strategies.
The program will be divided in different themes, exploring the different aspects that are important in the active ageing process. Here are a few tips taken from the program on how to start the process of becoming an Age Warrior:
– Change your mindset.
We want the world to change their mindsets about ageing and tear down the stereotypes and ideas that are common to ageism. But have you changed your own mindset? Do you believe you are capable and still has a valuable contribution to make to society? The changes that comes with age, will only limit you as much as you allow it to. Did you know that there is growing literature pointing to the unique strengths of older adults? Our knowledge continues to grow as we get older and we have a better understanding of the world. Studies show that senior citizens have more creative problem solving skills in everyday life and that emotional experience and emotional balance improve with age. This improved perspective of the world, is what gives elders wisdom, that cannot be attained at younger ages. 
– Be informed.
We live in a world that is full of information. You can self-diagnose from the internet these days and every person can instantly become an expert on certain topics. It is however important that the information you find is reliable. Make sure your information comes from established institutions that have been around for a while. Non-profit organizations that are specializing in the information you are seeking is a good place to start. Reliable health websites of organizations like WHO and National Institute on Aging can give valuable information or use MedlinePlus to look up a specific condition. Keep record of the information together with your action plans that you want to take to apply the newly learned info. Discuss these plans with trusted family members and friends to hear different opinions on the matter.
– Accept and Adapt.
Even Age Warriors will experience some functional losses as part of the ageing process. Warriors are known for their wisdom. This includes knowing how to fight the different battles. Off-course the biggest technique to avoid functional loss will be prevention and this is part of a life-course method. Avoiding health risk behaviors like smoking and excessive drinking, being physically, socially and spiritually active are all things that can decrease the amount of functional loss as you become older. There is however a circle of life process that we cannot deny. If you start to experience functional loss, remember that early screenings and treatment has proven benefits of slowing down the process. The next step is to accept and adaptWe all need help and support from time to time. You might need help more often as you get older – either using assistive devices, aids, or sometimes from a person. Allow yourself to find the balance between accepting help and living as independently as possible.  You are not putting yourself in a box by accepting help. If you make the decision to seek help, you are taking control of your live and health.
– Use your Senses.
We receive sensory input every second and we are often not even aware of this process as it is our bodies natural way of understanding our environment. But why not purposefully start stimulating your senses more and more? Most older adults will experience some changes in their sensory capacity (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch sensation) as a normal part of ageing. Why not counteract some of these changes, by increasing your exposure to sensory stimulation. Sensory stimulation is a method of therapy often used by health care professionals for people with dementia or cognitive deficits as their opportunities for using their senses are limited. However, the times we are living in, often restricts us from experiencing those very beneficial stimuli that we need. We almost never walk barefoot and therefore don’t get much sensation under our feet. This is something that is important as we have reflexology points under our feet that benefit from stimulation. We don’t have time to just take in the smells and sounds and beautiful images we are surrounded with. Sensory stimulation is something that we all need to seek out and enjoy every day. Think of creative ideas to stimulate your senses everyday
There are many aspects of wellness that is important to consider. Taking wellness domains into consideration when thinking of our health and quality of life means that we make use of a holistic life approach. Look for organizations that promotes wellness and make sure that any health care professionals you see and their prescriptions considers you holistically and aims to achieve wellness in the different areas. Meditate! There are recent studies that show that long-term meditation may slow brain ageing.  Meditation is also known for its effects on reducing stress and anxiety levels which contributes to overall better health and quality of life.  Meditation does not only have to be seen in a traditional aspect, but can mean any time set aside for relaxing, thinking and contemplating. Our minds need shutting down from time to time and this can be achieved through active meditation. Find a quiet spot on your own, or put on some calming music while meditating. Start with a few minutes a day and try to increase this as you continue. Avoid distractions like mobile phones, or thinking about to-do lists.
– Make memories:
When you reach a certain age, you start worrying about your memory. You get worried when you can’t remember people’s names or important dates and even forgetting where you put your keys. What is important though is to be able to determine what is part of normal ageing and what is not. A good question to ask yourself (or even a trusted friend or family member) if you are worried about your memory is: Is this “memory loss” affecting my everyday living in any way? (for instance, forgetting where you put your keys vs forgetting what you use the keys for) Even if there are small ways in which it does affect your daily functioning, then you still don’t need to immediately panic. There are many ways of improving and maintaining memory and many memory aids to use to help you remember important information. If you do feel worried about your memory or your family/friends have mentioned this to you a few times, you could get an early memory screening test done and then be well-prepared for the future. Another important thing to remember is to make new and special memories every day. You don’t need perfect memory in order to make memories.
– Get moving!
There are few things as important as exercise, not only as we age, but throughout our lives. This does not only contribute make us feel good and improve our quality of life, but is also one of the biggest factors of preventing disease, functional loss and mental decline. Find an exercise program that works for you and that is within your abilities and try to stick to it. Walking has many benefits and can be enjoyed by most people without any equipment. You could either walk for longer periods at a steady pace or try shorter bursts of more intense walking, adding some stairs or hills etc. There are also many other exercises that can be adjusted to suit your needs for instance yoga, tai chi and water gym. If you have some loss of mobility, then you can still move your limbs and joints even when sitting or lying down to get some stretching done and prevent the joints from becoming stiff. Start slow and then move forward.
– Connect! “The most important thing in life is the connection we make with others.” Tom Ford. Our connections change throughout the course of our lives, and due to circumstances or different life paths we lose connection with some people. The important thing is to keep on being connected in some or other way. Social isolation is a serious health risk and can increase the chances of mortality.  The three plagues that causes the bulk of suffering in older people are loneliness, helplessness and boredom.  Age Warriors need to fight these plagues through staying connected in various ways. Think of different ways to stay connected by joining a class, volunteering, or get connected on social media. Stay spiritually connected. Find ways to stay connected spiritually depending on your religion or different beliefs. Having a rich spiritual life contributes to meaning to life.
– Don’t ignore signs of depression and/or anxiety.
Depression is not a normal part of ageing. It is a medical and treatable condition. The symptoms are often seen as typical problems of ageing. Be aware of the difference. Anxiety is known as they silent Geriatric Giant. It is twice as common as dementia and 4 – 8 times more common than major depressive disorder. Do not overlook and neglect symptoms of these disorders. Rather seek help. Think about whether any of the symptoms you experience from time to time affect your functioning and quality of life. Even though there are many different activities that can improve mood and help you feel more relaxed, it is important to know that there are also medical help that can make a big difference.
– Think about the Future.
This does not mean that you need to worry constantly about the future, but Age Warriors fight the battle by being prepared for the future. When thinking of the future it is important to be informed, to find someone that you trust to be part of the process, to be realistic and to make wise decision.
– Remember who you are.
Think about how you want to be remembered. Write some of your stories from the past down. Have moments of reminiscing with friends or family, sharing old photos or keepsakes with them. Write down things about your personality, your likes and dislikes, taste in music, favourite food, music, movies etc and this could form part of your care plan if needed in the future. Remind people that you are more than your age, show them the person that you have always been. Be proud of that person!
– Celebrating the Third Age.
You have come so far! This is just the next chapter in your book. And it is not always about the happy ending. It is about the story.
(Keep an eye out for follow-up articles and helpful tips on the different aspects of active ageing mentioned in the article.)
 WHO: Active Ageing; A Policy Framework
 ASCS Senior Care: Occupational Therapy for Seniors has many benefits (website)
 World Economic Forum: Global Population Ageing, Promise or Peril? Chapter 1
 The University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell. Handout on Aging and Loss of Independence.
 Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Eileen Luders, Nicoals Cherbuin and Florian Kurth.
 A Place for Mom: 20 Facts about Senior Isolation that will stun you.
 Eden Alternative ™ 10 Principles