Many of us brush away the changes we experience as we get older, figuring it’s just what happens at our age.
Some are pretty harmless, like when the time comes that you find yourself needing reading glasses. But some aches, pains and things we tend to laugh off like “senior moments” might actually stem from conditions that are treatable. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss these changes; seniors shouldn’t suffer in silence when these symptoms strike.
As we age it’s definitely true that we’re more likely to develop specific health conditions, including diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and heart disease.
We tend to think of aging as a steady decline—almost predictable—that affects our mental and physical abilities. Anyone who is experiencing loss of appetite, mental fog, dimming vision, pain or joint stiffness might just chalk it up to aging and consider it inevitable.
But what if you could treat, or in some cases even halt or reverse, these symptoms? Rather than simply accepting these changes as a normal part of aging, heed the advice of geriatricians and see your doctor instead.
Five changes to be on the lookout for
It can be upsetting to notice changes in your memory, whether it’s taking longer to recall a word or a person’s name. You might forget where you left something or the reason why you came into a certain room. Experts say these kinds of changes are normal; they’re simply due to the fact that our brains contain so much information that it can take a little longer to access it. You needn’t automatically worry that you are developing Alzheimer’s disease, even though the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia does increase with age.
Some memory problems come from treatable causes. These could include vitamin deficiencies, sleep problems, urinary tract infections, chronic pain, depression, alcohol abuse, metabolic disorders and delirium resulting from hospitalization. Many medications can also cause memory problems. Be sure to have your doctor or pharmacist (or both) review all of the over the counter and prescription medications that you take.
Vision changes as we age are common; most of us will have difficulty focusing on things close up. Several conditions exist that can rob you of your sight, however, such as cataracts, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Be sure to get regular eye exams and stay on top of them, as you can actually prevent and even reverse certain types of vision loss.
For example, you can treat glaucoma before any serious damage is done. You can prevent some damage caused by macular degeneration. Many seniors have their sight restored through cataract surgery; some even leave with better vision than they’ve had their entire lives.
The National Institutes of Health has reported that 25 per cent of people over the age of 75 have lost all of their teeth, though modern dentistry can help many seniors keep their natural teeth longer.
Poor oral health has been linked to heart disease, dementia, poor nutrition and social isolation. Regular dental care can help treat dry mouth, gum disease and everyday wear and tear, and help seniors avoid tooth loss.
Unfortunately, many dental treatments, including restorative care such as bridges, implants and crowns, can be very expensive. Geriatricians warn that the cost of dental treatment may be the biggest obstacle of all when it comes to achieving good oral health.
Seniors are at highest risk of depression. It could be caused by a change in life circumstances, such as grief and the loneliness that can happen as a result of losing a spouse, suffering health challenges, having chronic pain or losing independence. Some health conditions also raise the risk, and depression can worsen them. Medications, either alone or in combination, can worsen depression too. Other factors to consider include alcohol abuse, poor-quality sleep and poor nutrition.
Seniors who lose interest in things they once loved and who are experiencing a persistent sadness should see a healthcare professional. Depression can be treated with counseling, medication, lifestyle changes such as increased social connection and exercise, and managing underlying health conditions.
Some experts have estimated that after the age of 50 we lose more than 10 per cent of our muscle strength every decade. Genes play a large part, but the old “use it or lose it” adage also applies. Follow a good exercise program that includes aerobic and strength-training activities and make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
Exercise reduces the risk of falling and promotes independence. When a senior who feels tired spends more time sitting, that inactivity creates greater fatigue; exercise can combat this. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that’s right for you and that takes into account any health conditions you may have, such as heart failure or arthritis.
It’s important to remember that everyone ages in their own way. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t assume that nothing can be done to help what might feel like a common complaint. Many ailments can be treated.
For more information, visit Right at Home Georgian Triangle or call 705-293-5500.