Each New Year is a gift. It’s another opportunity to take stock of our lives and decide what we’d like to change. We can make changes large and small. We’ve gathered here 12 New Year’s resolutions specifically for seniors, including practical resolutions – not as fun but bound to bring peace of mind – and more attitude-oriented resolutions, which remind us that every day can be a good day. There are even a couple from my mom!
Resolution 1: Review your legal documents. Getting organized is a common New Year’s resolution, and getting your legal documents in order is a critical spin on the idea. “This is really more for your loved ones than for yourself,” says Brien Kinkel, a retired teacher in Washington, DC, who spent years caring for his parents. “You may have a will, a living will, and advanced directives in all their various forms,” he says. “Resolve to meet with a lawyer and make sure each document is current, legal, and reflective of your personal desires.”
Resolution 2: Get up to date on your vaccinations. “It’s easy to put these things off when your doctor recommends them,” says Fadia Zawaideh, a pharmacist in Silver Spring, Md. “But they’re important.” Zawaideh recommends you talk with your doctor or pharmacist at least once a year about what you may have missed. “Flu, pneumonia, shingles, these are all important vaccines and can save your life.”
Resolution 3: Inventory medications. As a pharmacist, Zawaideh tells the surprisingly common story of a woman whose doctor prescribed 50mg of her medication to be taken every morning. “For years, she took five 10mg pills every single morning.” But one month her prescription was refilled with 50 mg pills, so she would only have to take one per day – except she missed that part. “She unknowingly took a nearly toxic dose until she realized what had happened.” Ask your pharmacist to email you a list of all the meds you’re on and the dosages, send a copy to a friend or family member, and keep a copy on your cell phone. You might also consider a medication dispenser, especially if you or your partner has any cognitive challenges.
Resolution 4: Try something new. This year, try something that takes you out of your comfort zone. “Make a new friend,” says my Seattle-based mom, Mary Ann Andersen. “Learn a new game. See a movie or read a book you know nothing about. Adventure doesn’t have to involve physical risk or danger. Every day can be an adventure if you simply resolve to try something new.”
Resolution 5: Challenge yourself. Mental and physical challenges motivate us to change behaviors and do more, according to Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers in Towson, MD. Mental challenges like Sudoku, quizzes, crossword or jigsaw puzzles “will improve mental strength, which can improve memory,” he says. Physical challenges enable you to gradually improve things like balance, endurance, strength, flexibility and overall health. Talk to your doctor about physical activity that’s right for you, set a goal and then work with her or him to devise a plan to gradually and safely increase it.
Resolution 6: De-clutter. We can amass a lot of stuff over a lifetime. Holding on to some of it makes sense because it increases your quality of life and reminds you of happy times and great experiences. But there’s likely a lot of stuff that you don’t need, and that your children may not want. Commit to begin divesting yourself of items that don’t have special meaning, and to organizing what you do keep. That will make it easier for you day-to-day, and for your children later.
Resolution 7: Understand your fall risk. “Falls are the leading cause of injury for Americans over 65,” says Steven Loewy of FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers in Sarasota, FL. “One in four older Americans fall each year.” Even if you’re an active, steady senior, you could be at an elevated risk for a fall because of medications you’re on or because of underlying medical conditions. Make a resolution to talk to your physician about your risk of falling, investigate how to re-arrange things in your home to make it safer, and consider a personal medical alert device with fall protection.
Resolution 8: Forgive the people in your life who deserve it. Grudges, slights and old scores weigh us down. Forgiveness makes us lighter and happier. This year, choose one person and work to let them off the hook. Then make the same commitment to yourself. “Take stock of who you are, and remember you’re a better person than you give yourself credit for,” says Ralph Higgins, a retired ship captain in San Francisco. “Understand that and internalize it. Too often we taunt ourselves with, ‘If only I had…’ and ‘If only I hadn’t….’ You don’t have to do that anymore.”
Resolution 9: Embrace technology. Technology can be daunting, or it can be a gateway to a higher quality of life. This year, resolve to try one new technology. Video chatting with far-flung family and friends is more satisfying than a phone call, text or email. Social media makes it easier to stay connected to the people you care about on your own schedule. eBooks, games and other apps put amusements and favorite hobbies in the palm of your hand. There are even online support communities for people with certain medical conditions, or who are caring for spouses with chronic physical or cognitive conditions.
Resolution 10: Keep laughing! Many seniors find themselves in different places, surrounded by different people, carrying out a different daily routine. Don’t let that disconnect you from the things that have made you laugh. “Find the friends, movies, comedians, books, and other things that have made you laugh throughout your life,” says Higgins. “Go back and reestablish those connections. If something made you laugh before, chances are it’ll make you laugh now.” And we all know laughter is the best medicine.
Resolution 11: Share memories. You’ve lived a great life. Reliving those memories can lift your spirits and others’. Make a resolution to capture those memories in a more lasting way by making audio or video recordings on your cell phone, tablet or laptop. Maybe even engage your grandchildren or nieces and nephews in helping you. If writing is more your style, start a journal of your favorite memories or important facts and dates you want your family to know about. Feeling crafty? Make a scrapbook. If you’re really serious, contact a personal historian, who works with you to tell your story and then creates a digital or hard copy book telling your life story.
Resolution 12: Revisit your old resolutions. “Go back and look at some of the things you’ve resolved in the past,” Andersen suggests, “and ask yourself if they’re still necessary.” Give yourself permission to repeal the ones that aren’t. “Sometimes we hold ourselves to strict standards that quite frankly have outlived their usefulness. Giving up fried chicken might have been a really good idea when you were in your 50’s,” she says, “but if you’re in your 80’s and you really miss it, maybe you could revisit that.”
At any stage of life, the New Year is a convenient opportunity to take stock of what we’re doing, and to make the changes we’d like. But you’ve earned the privilege of making any change you want, any day of the year. After all, there’s no law saying we can only improve our lives on the first day of January. If making a new resolution will improve your life, isn’t every day the right day?