Aging is a biological process in every individual's lifespan. In each individual, aging occurs in a unique way. Usually, as we grow older, degenerative changes take place in normal cellular processes and body's essential functions start working at a suboptimal level. But normal aging is not necessarily related to disease. Since, the regenerative process becomes limited; an older person becomes more prone to disease. Therefore, health problems and disability issues become common in elderly. Health in case of elderly person would mean performing his normal bodily functions at the best of his ability in spite of age related changes. An elderly person would enjoy a long and healthy life if he has a regular physical activity, maintain balanced diet, a socially active life with no bad habits like smoking and drinking.
A normal aging process involves many bodily changes. Like the skin losses elasticity and collagen leading to wrinkles, loss of underlying fat gives hollow cheeks and eye sockets; loss of melanin gives grey hair, loss of bone minerals make bones brittle and prone to fractures and degenerative joint changes cause stiffness, pain and limited movement around joints. Besides the physical changes, there are many systemic changes that take place in the body because of which many health related problems arises with aging. Common health issues found are hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes, lung diseases, arthritis, cataracts, macular degeneration and hearing impairments. Routine assessment of blood pressure is important as uncontrolled hypertension can become risk factors to stroke, congestive cardiac failure and kidney failure. Early diagnosis, regular medication, exercise, being stress free and dietary changes like low fat, low salt can reduce the risks in a big way and also give good prognosis. Another important disease common in elderly is cancer. Breast cancer in case of women and prostate cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer are found to be more common in elderly males. Therefore, a regular check up, eating high fibre contents, lots of fruits, vegetables, maintaining fitness and staying away from smoking and alcohol can help from preventing such disease.
Age related changes in the nervous system lead to problems in mobility, coordination and cognitive ability making elderly people prone to certain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and depression. Reduced oxygenation to brain can lead to slowing of transmission of nerve impulses which causes difficulty in coordination of balance and fine motor activities like opening bottles or buttoning of buttons etc. A healthy social environment with meaningful activities likes being self sufficient, engaging in social activity, being physically active and positive frame of mind can help to stay away from mental disease and disabilities. People who are already affected with such illness need a long term home care, accessibility to good medical facilities and a strong family support system. Long term illnesses like diabetes, lung and kidney diseases need a routine medication and regular assessment to keep a control of the progression. Urinary incontinence and bladder control problems are also seen in elderly people following nerve damage due to diabetes, stroke, infections and prostatic issues. Menopausal women have this problem due to weakening of bladder muscle following lack of estrogens. Depending on the cause, treatment is required.
Ideally, aging is a phase where the person attains great wisdom through his life experiences. So, this is a phase where the person should feel happy and contented. Therefore, aging gracefully with routine healthy lifestyle can help him lead a long life. Disease and disabilities that come along with aging should be dealt efficiently with the support of medical aids and professionals. Being proactive by undergoing regular health checks up and routine medication can help keep a control of the disease condition. There are certain healthy tips that can be beneficial to the elderly are eating food less in animal fats but rich in fibre and antioxidants , plenty of water intake, keeping the weight low (leanness is good), mental calmness (avoiding anger and stress), regular walking (light exercise) and taking supplements of vitamins and minerals. Aging reduces the muscle mass of our body. So, doing a bit of muscle strength training or lifting weights 2-3 times a week can help to replace the loss. Pursuing hobbies like growing plants or owning a pet can prove to be rejuvenating and help in recovering from stress and illness. Somehow, our society always points out the negative aspects of aging, but as time goes by, we need to understand that it is a natural process which each one of us has to go through because we cannot stop the clock from tickling away. Accepting this fact, would surely help us aging gracefully with dignity.
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A Medical Professional who likes writing on health related issues.