Healthy Ageing

healthy-ageing
Healthy Ageing

Introduction

 

Ageing is an inevitable process of our life. Life expectancy is gradually increasing due to factors like reduction in infant, child and maternal mortality, control of infectious diseases and other medical advances. Presently, average life expectancy is estimated as 78 years for males and 81.9 years for females. The percentage of people over 65 years of age in U.K. is 15.7 as per 2006 figures and is expected to rise to 19.2% by 2020, with an increase in 85+ age group from 2% presently to 2.5%. by 2020.

 

Ageing is associated with progressive and generalised loss of function, reduced ability to respond to stress and growing likelihood of clinical diseases. There is increased incidence of degenerative conditions like, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, Parkinsonism, Dementia, Falls, Stroke and Cancer, etc. All these cause a great burden on the health and social services of the nation.

 

People obviously like to live longer, but at the same time one should endeavour to live a healthy and disease free life, so as to enjoy a good quality of life. One’s aim should be to add life to years and not just years to life.

 

Physiological changes of ageing

 

These are changes that occur normally due to ageing process and not necessarily due to disease. Through the passage of years and cellular decline, body’s organs start to decline in their functions.

 

Hearing

 

About 30% of people over 60 have impaired hearing and almost 50% over 85 have a hearing loss. This obviously affects normal conversation, which becomes embarrassing at times. Cochlear degeneration can cause high tone loss. Timely assessment of hearing impairment and remedial measures, e.g. hearing aid, will prevent the elderly person becoming isolated and getting frustrated.

 

Vision

 

Far sightedness, due to changes in the ability of the lens to change its shape to accommodate to distance. Hence, the need for reading glasses.

 

Adaptation to dark is slower, and it takes an older person more time to accommodate to changes in light.

Smaller pupils require bright light to read.

 

Peripheral vision is reduced.

 

Adequate lighting in the rooms and staircases and passages is important to prevent hazards, like falls and banging against objects.

 

Taste and Smell

 

  1. There is some loss in taste and smell sensitivity takes place with ageing, but not severe.

 

Touch and Ageing skin

 

  1. Outer layer, i.e. epidermis gets thinner and fragile.
  2. Dermis looses some of its elasticity and flexibility.
  3. Senile purpura is common in people over 75.
  4. They develop greater sensitivity to cold temperature and drafts.
  5. There is decrease in ability to maintain a normal body temperature.

 

Also due to reduced sensitivity, heat sources , like hot water bottles or heating pads can hurt the skin before the person realises the damage caused.

 

Musculo-skeletal system

 

  1. There is continual loss of bone mass from 4th decade onwards.
  2. Hormonal changes lead to more bone resorption than bone formation.
  3. Because of thinning of bones, especially vertebrae, there is some loss of height and tendency to stoop.
  4. Bones get brittle, hence risk of fractures increase.
  5. Cartilages in joints get thinner, joints stiffen and connecting ligaments between bones lose their elasticity.
  6. Calcium absorption from the gut is reduced.
  7. There is gradual loss of muscle mass.

 

Nervous System

 

  1. 30,000 TO 50,000 neurones from brain die each day with diminishing reserve.
  2. Short term memory may be reduced.
  3. Retrieval ability is decreased.
  4. Reduced pain, touch, temperature and vibration senses.
  5. Reduction in postural control and balance, predisposes to falls.

 

Cardio-vascular system

 

  1. Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) gradually sets in.
  2. Systolic blood pressure tends to rise with age.
  3. Irregular heart beats become more common.
  4. Heart gradually becomes more rigid and cardiac output decreases, which results in the elderly having less energy and stamina for physical activity.
  5. This decreased circulation contributes to cold sensitivity particularly in hands and feet. Because oxygen necessary for proper physical and cognitive function is carried through blood, poor circulation makes the elderly more prone to forgetfulness and other symptoms of poor cognition.
  6. Venous return becomes less efficient which makes the elderly more prone to postural hypotension.

 

Lungs

 

  1. Become more rigid and there is less efficient gas exchange.
  2. Chest wall becomes more rigid.
  3. Cough reflex is less effective.
  4. Reduced ability to cope with challenges like climbing stairs and running, etc.

 

Digestive System

 

  1. Elderly are more likely to loose teeth and thinning of gum margins.
  2. Salivary glands secrete less saliva causing dryness of the mouth.
  3. Stomsch muscles are weakened and elderly may feel less hungry.
  4. Small intestines absorb less Calcium, Vitamin B12 and Folic acid.
  5. Large intestine muscles are weakened and secrete less mucus, making one more prone to constipation.

 

Kidney and Bladder

 

  1. There is reduction in renal function, reduction in glomerular filtration rate, hence reduced ability to excrete water, waste products and drugs.
  2. There is reduction in the capacity to tolerate water depletion, making one prone to dehydration.
  3. Bladder gets smaller and less expansible causing increased frequency.
  4. Reduced ability to suppress bladder contraction causes urgency.

 

Reproductive Organs

 

  1. Menopause sets in with hormonal changes and symptoms.
  2. Vaginal mucosa becomes dry.
  3. Low sperm count and reduced viability.
  4. Delayed ejaculation and decreased libido.

Immunity

 

  1. There is a decline in cellular and humoral immunity, making elderly more prone to infections.
  2. There is reduced effectiveness in detecting and destroying cancer cells, hence increased incidence of Cancer in the elderly.

 

Summary

 

The ageing body does change. Some systems slow down while others lose their ability to cope with stress and infections. Sudden and dramatic changes might indicate serious health problems. With a healthy life style, a person can expect to age with a sense of well being and continued enthusiasm for living. Ageing process can be retarded.

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