Elderly Care: For a happy second innings

Ageing can be a positive experience if you know how to deal with it

silhoutte of winnerNo matter how much we want to stay young forever, ageing is inevitable. We get so busy in our lives chasing success that it's only when the first signs of ageing like white hair and wrinkles start to show that we realise that years have gone by. There is no one set age which marks the onset of ageing. We must realise that we begin to age when our body starts showing the signs. These include loss of muscle and bone mass, loss of strength, and loss of energy potential. Increase in body fat and frequent mood changes are also other signals. With time, many involuntary physiological changes also occur in our body.

Ageing becomes a problem when the effect it has on our cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, digestive, muscular, skeletal, or neurological system starts affecting our daily routine, sometimes seriously. Familiarising yourself with the process of ageing will help you accept it and deal with it better.

Cardiovascular and respiratory systems

Hearty matters: As age advances, the elasticity of the lungs, blood vessels and heart valves may decrease, and the walls of the blood vessels may thicken due to fatty deposits. This could diminish the ability of the lungs to utilise oxygen and the ability of the heart to pump out blood normally, resulting in feeling fatigued and breathless.

If a clot develops in the coronary artery, it could reduce supply of blood to the heart causing a heart attack. Hence, you need to go for regular check ups and tests. If you are a smoker, quit smoking completely. Change your diet and increase physical activity, apart from medication. Those who have already suffered a heart attack, worry about having another one. At such a time, the affection of family and friends plays a big role in mitigating depression, loneliness and anxiety.

Pressure pains: Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries, each time your heart pumps blood. The systolic and diastolic pressures both are important and are written one above or before the other. If your blood pressure is the normal 120/80, 120 is systolic and 80 is diastolic pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is indicated as systolic pressure—140 mmHg or more and the diastolic pressure—90 mmHg or more. If a patient has hypertension, doctors recommend lessening the salt intake. Having a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active helps keep pressure in check.

Muscles and bones

The gradual loss of muscle tone and strength results in decrease in your endurance and ability to perform certain tasks. Also common is the degenerative change in the skeletal system. Normally, everyone loses some bone mass with age. But for people with osteoporosis, their bones thin at a faster pace. There is a substantial loss of density and calcium in the bones [more pronounced in women]. They become porous and brittle making them prone to breakages and fractures. This is very painful and devastating.

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis found among the elderly. The symptoms range from stiffness and mild pain to severe joint pain. Osteoarthritis affects hands, low back, neck, and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips and feet.

Regular exercising, walking and cycling helps improve the strength of the muscles and the bones. Have a balanced diet. Consume a diet high in calcium and vitamin D to retard the degeneration of bones and joints. Start calcium and vitamin D supplements under medical supervision.

Metabolism and digestion

Age slows down the digestive system. The decreased production of digestive juices and enzymes results in indigestion and problems of elimination of body's waste. There is a gradual decline in the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin. The thyroid gland slows down resulting in less utilisation of the fats and sugars to convert into energy. This may lead to increased body weight and blood sugar level leading to adult diabetes.

Diabetics must follow a meal plan to keep their blood glucose level under control. They should include foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar and high in fibre, such as beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try and stay at an ideal body weight. Regular exercise is a must.

Neurological system

With age, the time taken for the transmission of messages from the nerves to the muscles is longer. The muscles take longer to react too. There is a decrease in the perception of pain, hence a delay in the reaction to an injury. Do not put off going to the doctor for something that hurts; the injury or pain could be serious. There could also be a perceptible change in your wake-sleep cycle.

Brain disorders like Parkinson's and Dementia occur in people above the age of 60. Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that affects the speech and physical movement of a person leading to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty walking, balancing and coordinating.

Dementia, on the other hand, affects the memory and reasoning skills of a person. People with dementia have trouble thinking and speaking clearly, remembering recent events, and learning new things. The most common cause is alzheimer's disease. The first sign could be just forgetfulness. It could proceed to forgetting basic tasks like brushing teeth or combing hair. The patient then starts having problems while speaking, understanding, reading, or writing. In severe cases, individuals with alzheimer's disease may become anxious, agitated or aggressive, or wander away from home. At this stage total care is needed.

Stroke [often termed as 'brain attack'] is another probability in old age. It occurs when a clot halts the flow of blood to the brain. Stroke causes serious long-term disabilities like paralysis and difficulty in thinking and speaking.

The family's role

Caring for a person with alzheimer's is difficult, especially in severe cases. Continuous monitoring of the patient's activities is important even at home. This can be taxing for the caregiver, more so if s/he is juggling nursing along with daily home chores. The caregiver should take outside help or delegate tasks to others members in the family.

Diseases affecting old people, be it osteoporosis, diabetes, heart attacks or alzheimer's, can throw their normal life completely out of gear.

Change is the essence of ageing, and you have to understand that it is inevitable. Learn to accept these changes and welcome the golden years of life.

Be proactive

  • Quit unhealthy habits like smoking, chewing tobacco and consuming heavy alcohol.
  • Avoid eating junk food. Instead, have a mix of healthy foods every day. This may help prevent many diseases including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
  • Follow a moderate and consistent exercise regimen to suit your age and body.

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