Healthy Aging

Story by Bethany Vonseggern

Mind, body, and soul. These three focal points seem to be a mantra that never stops being said. We are to make sure our minds stay sharp, our bodies stay fit and our souls stay fed. Many of us may be able to make this a reality, while the rest of us, myself included, simply see a glimpse of this reality from time to time. However, as someone traveling on their own fitness journey while also finding myself surrounded by an aging family I am reminded of the importance of this mantra. Mind, body, and soul; the root of healthy aging.

Healthy aging is much more than simply understanding and managing your health conditions. It’s about creating healthy habits and connecting to your community which hopefully contribute to living a meaningful and productive lifestyle. For some this may only include a nutritious diet or workout routine while others may participate in mindfulness meditation or therapy practices. Regardless of which approach one makes, daily choices do make a difference.

Both my parents have been retired for several years and to watch them adapt to their new lifestyle has been what I would imagine it was like for them to watch me find footing as a teen. It’s a new chapter of self-discovery. Their career-driven parenting minds were now on mellow autopilot, making us all more aware of their restlessness and lack of mobility. They went from “This is amazing, look at all of this freedom to do anything,” to “I’m bored and tired; what should I do now?” Sometimes their lack of motivation was surprising and I found my worries growing.

According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), lack of healthy eating, minimal physical activity, and social isolation can lead to higher health risks, cognitive decline, and depression. Seeing this take place firsthand, made my decision to have an open conversation about a balanced diet and workouts with my parents easier and I was lucky enough to have it well received. With knowledge of aging health risks, like many other older adults, my parents decided it was time to manage their mental health, engage in physical activity, and volunteer within their local community.

Over time, I could see the differences in their mental and physical well-being. My mother regularly speaks about her yoga outings and small get-togethers with the girls. Being the social butterfly of the two, I could see her spirit lift as she made new friends with similar interests. The positive chain reaction from one small activity to the next improved her quality of life and supports her new healthy lifestyle. NIA states older adults who have an active lifestyle are better prepared to cope, may have improved thinking abilities, and are happier. These attributes can lead someone to be a strong influence and support in a volunteer environment.

Our mission at Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care (KCH) is to bring expert care, peace of mind, comfort, guidance and hope to people who are affected by life-limiting illnesses or by grief. One way we are able to provide our community with this support is through our volunteer efforts. Research suggests using volunteers elevates the level of service in hospice and is a meaningful opportunity for adults of all ages. Many have experienced first-hand the positive impact on families that hospice can have and they, in turn, become inspired to help other families.

KCH values skill-based volunteerism and honors the wishes of each individual dedicating time to help us fulfill our mission and vision. Volunteers may choose to dedicate time at Kansas City Hospice House, Northcare Hospice House, KCH Solace House, in-home hospice, events, Story Boutique, or Heart & Soul. Each position varies, providing volunteers the opportunity to tap into their personalities and skills. Many volunteers have been pen pals to our patients, provided cheerful artwork on our sidewalks and windows, and quilted or knitted blankets for hospice patients and their families. During the pandemic when our in-person visits were limited, our team excelled by making Message Books, Memory Books, Memory Keeper envelopes, Kid Activity Baskets, Memorial Hearts, and hot/cold packs. Each opportunity makes a lasting impact on our community and helps the volunteer develop the healthier lifestyle they seek.

For my father, the 74-year-old eclectic introverted explorer, he found passion in volunteering with his local hospice thrift store, which he was already frequenting. When we speak I can always hear a hint of excitement when he says, “Can’t talk long, I’m off to work.” Not to mention the photos I receive of the unique donations or books they receive – let’s say our family fiction collection is growing! To listen to him speak of his volunteer work makes me feel further connected with my job at Kansas City Hospice, specifically with our resale boutique, Story Boutique (StoryB).

At StoryB our mission can only be achieved with the commitment of dedicated, compassionate volunteers who help us provide a welcoming and comforting environment for our donors and shoppers. This is a unique opportunity for volunteers to customize their experience while highlighting their skills. Like my father, many of our StoryB volunteers started off as shoppers who now graciously give their time and talents to help support the programs offered by Kansas City Hospice.

My parents’ experiences of healthy aging are twofold. They are continuously making mindful choices to improve their health through diet, exercise, and social activity which in turn makes them healthier cognitively and physically. For me to see this happen not only makes me happy for them, but it also makes me aware that I too am aging and need to make the appropriate steps to stay healthy through connection, education, and health.

No better time than the present, take care of your mind, body, and soul. Take the time to have those meaningful conversations with your family, physician, and friends to find out how you can improve your physical and mental well-being through positive social interaction.