For African American seniors who want to maintain their health and improve their quality of life, Dr. Sharon Allison-Ottey has one motto to share: If you don't move it, you will lose it.
"During my geriatric fellowship, I had a patient who was 101 years old and still walked two to three miles a day," said Allison-Ottey. "We need to continue to change our views on elderly care to reflect the active lifestyles of today's seniors."
Seniors need a holistic approach to care, according to Allison-Ottey. "It's important that African American seniors have access to the information and tools they need to live healthful lifestyles; along with medical care, medicine and programs for their wellness," she said.
Through the COSHAR Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals understand and access health information and improve their health literacy, Allison-Ottey focuses her efforts on teaching about preventive care and early disease detection in geriatric populations. "It's all about arming yourself with the best possible information and opening dialogues with health care providers," she explained.
To prevent disease and prolong health, Allison-Ottey believes it is important that seniors get proper nutrition -- fiber, fruits, vegetables and a low-fat diet -- and exercise regularly. Other preventative measures include drinking in moderation, and getting flu, pneumonia and other vaccines. Seniors also need to have a strong support system.
"Seniors need to designate a family member or primary caregiver. They should identify a health care power of attorney and have a living will -- something that can speak for them when they can't speak for themselves," she said.
Although the Alzheimer's Association estimates that Alzheimer's disease is anywhere from 14 percent to 100 percent more prevalent among African Americans than among whites, Allison-Ottey dismisses the belief that seniors automatically will develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease. "It's important that seniors recognize their own cognitive changes and are open to them. They should seek early diagnosis, because it will make a difference in their quality of life and their ability to navigate the health care system."
Allison-Ottey's goal is to empower African American seniors and help them understand their health care options. "With geriatric populations, family members -- and the patients themselves -- often don't know all the benefits they're entitled to. Through the COSHAR Foundation's health outreach and education initiatives, I am able to impact the lives of families and generations by helping them decipher the language of health."
Allison-Ottey, who recently completed her first novel, All I Ever Did Was Love a Man, believes life doesn't end until the last breath is taken, and up to that point we all want life to be fulfilling. "Seniors are an integral part of our society, and if we listen to them, we can avoid many of life's pitfalls."