Chapter – 14
When the body is shriveled
And another steps falter;
When the teeth are decayed
And the face smeared with slobber,
When sight fails
And the figure is no longer trim;
The Kinsfolk find no time for conversation
Even the son despises the man
Overcome by old age, alas!
-The Panchatantra 200 BCE?
More people than ever before are enjoying relatively good health and living longer. Experts predict that life-expectancy for men and women with the healthiest lifestyle will continue to increase. Although most people over 60 have some form of chronic disease, these disorders are often less debilitating than in the past, thanks to new ways to treat and control them.
Older people are more likely to have chronic diseases and associated disability. The most frequently reported conditions in elder population are arthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease,hearing problem, bone and joint disease and cataract (opacity of lens).
How The Body Changes With Age
As we age, our body undergoes changes. For example, muscle strength can diminish, bone can weaken, and movement may become limits. But our lifestyle choices – especially what we eat, how active we are, how much we weigh, and whether we smoke – can slow or speed these changes. Here are some of the ways our body may change as we get older.
- Bone loses calcium and may become more brittle, which can lead to fracture.
- The gel-like disks between the vertebrae of the spine lose fluid and get thinner; the vertebrae themselves can collapse, causing the spine to curve and become compressed. Height decreases and person may look stooped.
- Joints become less flexible. Cartilage starts to rub against the bone inside the joints because of reduced joint fluid and tissue breakdown. They lead to pain and stiffness (Osteoarthritis).
- The nervous system declines, making movements, sensation, balance, and memory less sharp.
- More fat gets deposited around the middle of the body, especially around the abdomen. Fat in the abdominal area raises the risk type – 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Muscles lose tone and cannot contract as well – even with regular exercise. Loss of lean muscle lowers overall strength.
- The immune system declines, increasing susceptibility to infection.
- Hair turns gray and thinner. Many men and women may develop hair-thinning and baldness.
- Hearing and vision decline.
While some of these changes are genetically determined, people can often control the extent and the speed at which they occur by living a healthy lifestyle. Health-promoting life style factors – including eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and not drinking excessively – can overcome many genetic susceptibilities.
A diet rich in colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low in saturated fat, low fat milk products, beans, peas, nuts, fish, poultry and lean meat is good for all age group.
Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that are essential for strong bones and teeth and for reducing risk for osteoporosis. As you grow older, your need for vitamin D increases. People ages 51 to 70 should consume at least 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily.
Herring, sardines, salmon, tuna, liver, eggs, and fortified milk and foods are good sources of Vitamin D.
Men between the ages of 51 and 70 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day and women 1,200 mg / day. Dairy products, fish with bones, soybean; nuts such as almond, and dark green vegetables are good sources of calcium.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Exercise and physical activity are the corner stone of healthy aging. People who exercise not only live long, they live better. And, being physically active – doing everyday activities that keep your body moving, walking, taking the stairs instead of the lift (elevator), doing household works and gardening. Regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing diseases like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis (bone thinness) depression and memory loss. The best is to mix your exercise routine – aerobic, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening and balance. (See the Chapter on Exercise).
Exercise is also an effective treatment for many chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and high blood pressure.
Pay Attention To Your Weight And Shape
People who are overweight (Body Mass Index 25 to 29) or obese (BMI over 30) are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, sleep apnea (forgetting to breath during sleep) and osteoarthritis. People with “pear” shape, with fat deposit around the hips and thighs, are generally healthier than people with the “apple” shape, with fat mostly around the waist. Belly fat increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The best is to maintain an ideal body weight and avoid belly fat.
Regular Health Screening
Health Screenings are tests that look for diseases before you have symptoms. Screening tests can find diseases early, when they are easier to treat. Some conditions that doctors commonly screen for include:
- Breast cancer (mammogram) and cervical cancer for women (Pap smear).
- Colorectal cancer (colonoscopy, stool test).
- Diabetes (fasting blood sugar and HbA1C)
- Osteoporosis (bone density test).
- Overweight and obesity (BMI).
Which screening you need depends on your age, your sex, your family history and whether you have other risk factors.
Immunization for adults 50+
Here is a list of immunizations adults 50 and older should consider.
- Get a flu shot every year. The flu viruses change every year.
- Get a shot for shingles if over 60. People who had chickenpox as a child can get shingles (Herpes zoster) at any age. It is a very painful disease. Get the shot.
- People 65 and older need a series of two different vaccines for pneumococcal disease (Pneumonia). They will prevent you from getting pneumonia.
- Get a tetanus booster if it has been more than 10 years since your last shot.
Staying Mentally Active
In the past, the loss of ability to remember, learn, think, and reason – skills referred to collectively as cognition – was considered a normal part of aging. Doctors now know that most people can remain both alert and mentally able as they age. Severe mental deterioration is the result of disease – not an inevitable part of aging.
Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including brain. As a result, some people don’t remember information as well as they did, or they lose things like glasses and keys. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems. Healthy adults, as they age, improve in certain areas of mental ability such as vocabulary.
Some memory problems are related to health issues that may be treatable. For example, medication side effects, Vitamin B12 deficiency, chronic alcoholism, tumors or infections in the brain or blood clots in the brain can cause memory loss or possible dementia. Some thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders also can lead to memory loss.
Emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, can make a person more forgetful and can be mistaken for dementia. This memory loss or confusion forgetfulness is temporary. They get better with treatment.
For some older people, memory problems are sign of a serious problem, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia. People who are worried about memory problems should see a doctor for further evaluation.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
People with MCI have more memory problems than normal for people their age, but their symptoms are not as severe as those of Alzheimer disease. They are able to carry out their normal daily activities.
Signs of MCI include losing things often, forgetting to go to important events and appointments, and having trouble coming up with desired words. The person and his / her family members worry about the memory loss. Researchers have found that more people with MCI than those without it go on to develop Alzheimer’s. There currently is no standard treatment for mild cognitive impairment.
Dementia is the loss of thinking, memory and reasoning skills to such an extent that it seriously affects a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Dementia is not a disease itself but a group of symptoms caused by certain diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s. People with dementia lose their mental abilities at different rates.
Symptoms of Dementia May Include
- Being unable to remember things.
- Asking the same question or repeating the same story over and over.
- Becoming lost in familiar places.
- Being unable to follow directions.
- Getting confused about time, people, and places.
- Neglecting personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition.
Two of the most common form of dementia in older people is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. These two types of dementia cannot be cured at present.
To Keep Your Memory Sharp
- Engage in physical activity
Several studies have associated exercise with better brain function.
- Limit alcohol use
Although some studies suggest that moderate alcohol use has health benefits, heavy or binge drinking over time can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage.
- Develop interests or hobbies
Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
Can We Prevent Aging?
People are living longer. Views on aging are also changing. Disease and disability once considered an inevitable part of growing older but that is no longer true. Many potential agents to reverse the aging process are being studied including human growth hormone; sex hormone like estrogen, caloric restriction and antioxidants.
According to National Institute of Aging (USA) – “Finding a ‘fountain of youth’ is a captivating story. The truth is that, to date, no research has shown that hormone therapies add years to life or prevent age related frailty. National Institute of Aging does not recommend taking any supplement touted as “anti-aging” remedy because there is no proof of their effectiveness and the health risks of short-term and long-term use are largely unknown.”