Changes in sensory capabilities: As a person reaches old age, their sensory capacities begin to decline. Hearing loss is common with about 30% of those above the age of 60. The elderly may find it difficult to hear high pitch sounds and the hearing loss may interfere in his day to day communications. He may have to ask others to reappear what was said or may misunderstand the information given. This could lead to embarrassment and hence withdrawal of verbal communication – the most common way of communicating.
Changes in eyesight begin to take place by the age of 40, when most of us may feel the need for spectacles. Degeneration of the eye muscles may cause difficulties such as blurring of vision, dimness in vision, cataract, glaucoma and even blindness. This may be a debilitating change for some, as impairment in vision may obstruct day to day activities to a great extent. One may find it difficult to read, write, move, bathe, eat, recognize or use objects, or pursue any hobbies such as painting, knitting, sewing, visiting friends, watching TV or films and so on. This could possibly affect their confidence and lead to social isolation, anxiety or even depression.
In some cases, a person may experience a loss of taste and hence find it difficult to enjoy even their favourite food items. Additionally, some may find chewing difficult or require dentures. This may even lead to a reduction in appetite or refusal to eat food. As a result the person may become frail and weak.
Degeneration of muscles and organs:
As we begin to cross over to old age from adulthood, our tissues, muscles, and even organs begin to degenerate. The issues arising because of this degeneration could be as diverse as reduction in heat sensitivity, in ability to maintain body temperature, skin that is more prone to tearing, scaling, drying and wrinkling to more serious concerns like loss of grip, joint pains, frequent falls, and frequent fractures. Many of these issues may be a cause for embarrassment and affect self-esteem, in addition to the health risks. Owing to old age, the recovery period may also be longer.
Along with the physical body, the personal and social life also transforms to a great extent. The first major transition is often retirement. From a financially independent person with responsibilities of the home and work, a person suddenly becomes financially dependent with little or no responsibilities. Challenges such as finding ways to fill the additional leisure time, making lifestyle changes so as to be able to live off the pension, dealing with the lack of work responsibilities are commonly found in retirees.
Another important concern is ageism. Picture an elderly person in your mind. What image did you see? Did it consist of a frail, wrinkly skinned old man or woman, who looks like they would possibly need assistance in their work? Such stereotypes are common place in the society, and they not only influence what others expect from the elderly, but also what they should expect from themselves. This stereotyping of and discrimination against the elderly on the basis of their age is called ageism. Even healthy older adults are expected to act “old”, which may prevent them from doing activities they’re fully capable of doing. Research suggests that ageism may impact an older person’s confidence, productivity as well as cardiovascular health.
In old age, the chances of losing a friend or spouse increases manifold. The resulting grief may have a profound impact on an individual’s psychological well-being. Typically following a loss, a person may experience sadness, tearfulness, thoughts about the deceased, difficulty in sleeping, changes in appetite, irritability as well as difficulty in day to day tasks. In some cases, unhealthy ways of dealing with grief may cause further problems. Men show a higher mortality within 2 years of the loss of their spouse.
The aged often experience abuse in its various forms. Statistics suggest that, worldwide, 1 in 10 people over the age of 60 experience abuse in a month. The possible risk factors include poor physical and mental health, shared living, familial problems, and financial dependence. Abuse could be in any of the following forms:
- Physical: Inflicting physical harm by violent acts such as hitting, shoving, etc
- Psychological: Verbally or nonverbally causing pain, anguish, or distress
- Sexual: Non – consensual sexual act of any kind
- Financial: Improper or illegal use of the elderly’s financial funds, assets or properties
- Neglect: Refusal or failure to fulfil the duties towards an elder
Abuse can have a lasting damage on a person’s physical as well as mental health. It may result in injury, disability, depression, anxiety and even death.
Falls are a very common hazard to the health and safety of an older individual. Falls could occur due to any number of reasons, ranging from dizziness, vision problems and disorientation due to delirium, muscle weakness and frailty. The after effects of falls may be difficult to deal with, as it could often lead to serious injury as well as affect the confidence and autonomy of an individual.
OTHER LIFESTYLE DISEASES:
Diseases such as diabetes have the highest prevalence in older adults. Nearly 347 million people in the world suffer from diabetes, a majority of them being from the ‘old’ category. Diabetes may, in the long run, cause problems with the heart, kidney, liver, eyes and even brain cells. When a person detects earlier on that they are at risk for diabetes, preventive measures can be taken to delay the onset, if not prevent the disease entirely .
Another condition that is common in old age is heart disease. Hypertension (high blood pressure) or high cholesterol can lead to problems such as stroke and heart disease. High blood pressure affects more than two out of 3 people over the age of 75. Stroke and heart disease in turn can lead to certain kinds of dementia.
ENSURING HEALTHY AGING:
- Stay active, physically and mentally
- Keep your mind active by activities such as learning new languages, doing complex tasks, educating yourself
- Maintain a social circle, be it with family or friends
- Eat well-balanced and nutritious meals, so as to reduce the risk of nutrient deficiency
- Ensure good sleep each day
- Prevent falls by taking simple precautions like fixing handle-bars, removing mats or rugs and de-cluttering the home
- Avoid smoking
- Get regular check-ups to detect and treat any issues that may arise at an early stage.