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Health Issues Common With Aging

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You may look at the lives of retirees and think that they are now care free. Their education is complete, children are raised, and no longer must work five days a week.  While these things are often true, it is important to consider the many stresses you may face as you age.  You may experience some memory problems, common as you age, that may be associated with atrophy in a part of the brain.  You may feel stress, anxiety and/or depression associated with life changes such as retirement, the death of loved ones, increased isolation, or medical problems.   And these feelings can lead to even more issues such as a lack of ability or desire to get the physical activity you need, eat right, and make and keep important appointments.  These common health issues can improve with a better understanding of their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Memory Loss

As early as our young adult years, we begin to lose brain cells a few at a time. Our bodies begin to make less of the chemicals our brain cells need to work. The older you get, the more these changes affect memory. Your short-term and remote memories aren’t usually affected by the aging process. But your recent memory may be affected. These are normal changes. But if memory loss begins to affect daily living, such as forgetting how to do things that were previously easy to accomplish or forgetting how to go somewhere you go often, talk with work doctor regarding management options.  There are also assistance aids, such as those that provide reminders that can be of great benefit.  Even use of a programmed GPS to help with directions for common destinations can really help.

Large Screen GPS with Lifetime Maps

Depression is not necessarily the result of aging, but it is common for those 65 and over.  Retirement, health problems and the loss of a loved one are things that can lead to depression. Depression can be overwhelming and make daily activities difficult to accomplish.  And if left untreated, depression can even lead to thoughts of suicide. Reportedly, the rate of suicide is higher for elderly white men than for any other age group. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor for appropriate treatment.   Some activities that people use to reduce their level of depression are talking a walk or spending time on other activities outside in fresh air, caring for a pet, getting a part time job, volunteering, and joining groups or clubs.  

Environmental Quality

Even though pollution affects all of us, compared to the general population, a higher percentage of seniors are living just over the poverty threshold or on a fixed income and may be subject to lower quality environments.  This can be a major issue if you believe expensive home improvements are the only solution.  But making sure you have high air quality can improve your overall health and help prevent illness.  There are some low cost, highly reliable and effective products on the market.  If you want to read about what the federal government is doing in this area, go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44193/ and read Ensuring Healthy Homes: Taking Action for the Future from The Surgeon General’s office.

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Home air purification

Immunization

Influenza and pneumonia are among the top 10 causes of death for older adults. Emphasis on influenza vaccination for seniors has helped. Pneumonia itself remains one of the most serious infections, especially among women and the very old.  Medicare covers both immunizations so be sure you either get the shots, get  family or friend to help you get to an appointment, or call senior service organizations in your area about assistance in getting the immunizations.

Physical Activity

Research shows that staying physically active can help prevent or delay certain diseases, including some cancers, heart disease and diabetes.  Physical activity is also shown to reduce depression, reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia, and improve your overall mood.  As you age, the aches and pains may reduce your level of physical activity, but you can still remain active.  Check with your local churches or synagogues, senior centers, and shopping malls for exercise, waking programs and other low impact exercise programs such as balance exercise programs and yoga. Exercise programs at your local YMCA and available via CDs, found at Amazon.com (for use at home), are great options for maintaining your physical activity.  A few suggesgted CD selections are listed below.

Food and Nutrition

Like exercise, healthy eating habits may suffer if you live and eat alone.  And physical limitations and health issues may take away the desire to cook and/or eat healthy.  Since you may eat less often or not take the time required to prepare food large meals, it is a good idea to eat foods rich in nutrients and avoid the empty calories in snacks, candy and sweets.  Your body has daily dietary requirement for a certain amount of energy obtained through ingestion of carbohydrates, protein and fats.  Because no single food provides all of the nutrients your body needs, eating a variety of foods if important to get all of the necessary nutrients and other substances you need for good health.  Eating well doesn’t have to be difficult.  unless you need a special diet for a specific health problem or you need to lose or gain weight, the best idea is to follow the national dietary recommendations.  The most recent recommendations come from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute f Medicine.  If you are simply unable to personally get the required daily nutritional needs, consider use of meals program such as Meals on Wheels (or other meal programs in you area) or utilize home meal delivery services such as those available through Click Here For Moms Meals or Tasty and nutritious MagicKitchen.com Meal Plans.

Balance Problems

As people grow older, they may have difficulty with their balance.  Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities and also to prevent falling and tripping.  Among senior citizens, falls are the leading cause of injuries, hospital admissions for trauma, and deaths due to injury.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults ages 65 years and older fall each year.  My dad had numerous falls despite all of our efforts to prevent them.  So taking precautions and planning ahead is really important.  Home modifications and use of mobility aids can help reduce the potential for injury.

Fall Prevention

  • When you first wake up, sit on the edge of the bed and make sure you are not dizzy before getting out of bed.
  • Be sure to eat your meals.  Skipping a meal could make you dizzy.
  • Be careful not to trip over pets that can get in your way on the floor.
  • Have a cane or walker handy if you are unsteady.
  • Only use grab bars that are properly installed for stability.  Misuse of items not intended for that purpose is dangerous.
  • Rinse soap from the bathtub down the drain before trying to get out.
  • Move and turn slowly.  No sudden movements.
  • If you are prone to falling, use a shower chair and a handheld shower attachment.
  • Do not leave water or other liquid on the bathroom floor or kitchen floor.
  • For safety, it is not a good idea to look interior doors.
  • Do not carry bulky items up stairways as it can block your view.  You also need a hand for the handrail.
  • Stay focused on what you are doing.  Distractions can easily lead to a fall.
  • Make sure to arrange and organize your closet, kitchen and laundry room for ease of reach so you will not lose your balance.

You may need to utilize a mobility aid to prevent you from falling and getting injured.

Caregiver Stress

When you are responsible for caring for a loved one, it is not unusual to feel stressed or anxious. If you want to provide good care, you have to take care of yourself first. Caregivers tend to deny their own needs. The best way to prevent the depression, frustration and resentment that cause caregiver burnout is to hold back some time out of every day for yourself. Don’t wait until all of your chores and care giving tasks are done before doing things for yourself. You will run out of time. Instead, decide on the minimum amount of time you need each day to meet your basic personal needs. Carve that time out of your schedule. Then figure out how the chores and care giving will get done.