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How to Manage the 5 Most Common Health Issues as You Grow Older

Disclaimer: None of this information in this article is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

The population of the elderly has increased in recent decades, particularly in developing countries. At the moment, the population of people aged 65 and above, termed the elderly, is 8.5%, approximately 67 million. And the number is estimated to keep growing with time. While improvements in medical science has attributed to this, helping to prolong the average human lifespan, there is no denying that as we grow older, we still must face the harsh realities of aging.

Our bodies undergo various changes such as a decline in the immune system (a poor immune system could cause cancer or autoimmune diseases), physiological changes, changes in the nervous system and anatomical changes. Additionally, certain conditions predispose the elderly to an increased number of health issues like polypharmacy which exposes one to drug interactions and side effects.

Certain disorders that the elderly are most commonly predisposed to include;

  1. Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is defined by the WHO as an involuntary loss of urine. It can affect people of all ages but its prevalence increases with age. There are five types of urinary incontinence which are; urge, mixed, overflow, stress and functional incontinence. Various risk factors can predispose one to the development of urinary incontinence such as; obesity, smoking, drugs (e.g. diuretics, antidepressants and certain antihypertensive drugs), age, gender, disease conditions (like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal injury) among others. As one grows older, muscles such as the bladder grow weaker and this could result in urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence can be a very uncomfortable and embarrassing condition which can greatly affect one’s quality of life. There are several ways in which one can manage urinary incontinence in old age such as;

  • Bladder training- this refers to setting a bathroom time- table in order not to have bathroom emergencies
  • Double voiding- this is a system where one empties the bladder twice within a short period to ensure they completely empty the bladder.
  • Doing kegel exercises which have been shown to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This has especially been proven to help when managing stress urinary incontinence.
  • Use of washable incontinence underwear that are specially designed underwear which helps manage incontinence by absorbing urine. They maximize comfort by preventing leaks and odor.
  • Lifestyle changes- making modifications such as reducing the intake of caffeine and fizzy drinks, reducing alcohol and cigarette consumption, minimizing the intake of fluids a few hours before bed and weight loss in those who are obese has been found to help in the management of urinary incontinence.

In case the use of certain drugs causes debilitating incontinence, one should seek a doctor’s/ pharmacist’s counsel.

  1. Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome refers to a set of conditions that occur together and expose one to Diabetes Mellitus (DM), stroke and heart disease. These conditions include; hypertension, high blood sugar, high levels of cholesterol or triglycerides and excess body fat around the waist. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome varies among different populations and ethnicities and this is due to the differences in the lifestyle. Its incidence is however becoming more prevalent due to the increase in obesity numbers globally. The risk factors that could expose one to metabolic syndrome include; age (its incidence increases with age), ethnicity (Hispanic women are more likely to get metabolic syndrome than Caucasian women are), obesity (being overweight increases one’s chance of developing metabolic syndrome), diabetes (a familial history of DM increases one’s chance of developing metabolic syndrome).

Leading a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep metabolic syndrome at bay. Some of the recommended changes include;

  • Exercise- light exercise such as walking or beginner’s yoga to help keep the muscles active.
  • Eating healthy foods and making sure one eats fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Reduction in alcohol consumption and tobacco use.
  • Seeking a nutritionist’s advice on the best way to modify one’s diet is also advisable.
  • Additionally, keeping tabs on one’s blood sugar and blood pressure by periodic measurements is advisable in order to catch any irregularities early enough.

 

  1. Arthritis

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 49.6% of people aged 65 and above have reported doctor- diagnoses arthritis. Arthritis is defined as the inflammation of one or more of your joints. There are two main types of arthritis;

  • Osteoarthritis– it is the most common type of arthritis, affecting approximately 27 million people. It occurs as a result of breakdown of cartilage within the joints resulting in the rubbing together of the joints in the bones. This results in pain and tenderness in the joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis– it is a type of autoimmune disorder where antibodies attack the healthy tissues in the joints. It can eventually result in joint deformities.

Some of the signs and symptoms associated with the development of arthritis include; pain in and around the joints, inflammation in and around the joints, weakness, muscle wasting, warm red skin around the painful joint and decreased range of motion. Older people are more likely to suffer from arthritis than younger people are. It can result in a lot of discomfort leading to depression or sleep disturbances. It should therefore be managed as soon as it is caught. Some of the pharmacological and non-pharmacological ways of managing arthritis include;

  • Use of NSAIDs- drugs such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen provide relief by managing the pain and inflammation. They should however be used with caution as they can cause stomach irritation, worsen symptoms of Asthma and increase the likelihood of bleeding especially among the old.
  • Use of DMARDs- examples include methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine. These drugs slow or stop the effect of the immune system on the joint muscles.
  • Use of corticosteroids- these class of drugs works as an immunosuppressant and also helps reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. One should however seek the doctor’s advice before taking them. Examples of these drugs include; prednisolone and cortisone
  • Physical therapy- this can be helpful for some types of arthritis and may help increase the range of motion. It should however be conducted by a professional as it can be very painful for an individual.
  • Surgery- joint replacement or repair may also be considered if the condition causes extreme pain or disability.

 

  1. Memory loss

As we grow older, certain conditions may result in memory loss such as Vitamin B12 deficiency (Vitamin B12 maintains healthy never cells), hypothyroidism, brain injury or use of certain medications. Some of these memory problems could be reversible and may be caused by certain factors. It is important to properly investigate the older person’s surrounding in order to eliminate any factors that may cause memory loss. Dementia is a term used to define a set of symptoms that include impairment of memory, thinking and language, planning and reasoning. Several disease states have been seen to cause progressive damage to the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. The development of memory loss and dementia can be a scary process for the elderly and it is therefore important to ensure they are well catered for. Some of the ways to manage memory loss include;

  • Eating a healthy diet- a diet that encompasses all-important food groups is necessary for a healthy brain
  • Physical activity- exercise is recommended as physical activity increases blood flow to all parts of the body especially the brain.
  • Socializing- it is important to socialize regularly to avoid staying alone and help ward off depression and anxiety, both of which could contribute to the development of memory loss.
  • Managing other chronic conditions- managing other disease states such as diabetes and hypertension helps reduce one’s stress. Additionally, seeking medical advice is important as some of the drugs used to manage these conditions could cause memory loss.

 

  1. Sensory changes

Changes such as loss of hearing and loss of sight may occur in old age due to development of cataracts, increased cerumen production amongst others. Such changes may make day-to-day life harder as certain tasks become harder such as driving, communicating with loved ones, and performing tasks such as going grocery shopping. It is therefore important to ensure the comfort of the elderly by managing these conditions. Management of hearing loss depends on the cause and type of hearing loss, however; hearing aids could be used to improve their hearing. Managing a loss of sight also depends on the causes, it is, therefore, important to seek a doctor’s advice early enough. Use of corrective spectacles and surgery could be used to manage the condition. It is important to ensure the comfort of the elderly if they experience such disease conditions.

REFERENCES

  1. Evidence profile; urinary incontinence https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/worlds-older-population-grows-dramatically
  2. Metabolic syndrome https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916
  3. Arthritis https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350777
  4. Memory loss https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046326
  5. Medication that may cause memory loss https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/8-medications-that-may-cause-memory-loss
  6. Healthy aging https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046518

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