By Beth Lueders
Many changes in physical condition and ability gradually occur, and what is considered a 'minor health issue,' a cut on the skin for example, can be a serious health risk to an elderly person.So how can older Australians ward off the common health issues of ageing and remain healthy overall in later life? Are certain declines in health inevitable or actually preventable? The following are five age-related health changes in older adults and prevention measures for each condition.
Dryness, wrinkles and age spots can all occur as the skin ages. Older people have fewer oil glands and perspire less, increasing skin dryness. Ageing skin also thins and loses fat, so the skin appears less supple and smooth. Smoking is detrimental on the skin, harming skin's elastin proteins and increasing facial wrinkles. Taking a number of medications or dealing with medical issues such as an underactive thyroid or cardiovascular or renal conditions can also stress and dry out the skin.
Children are not the only ones who can get cavities. As the teeth's outer protective enamel layer wears down, bacteria in the form of sticky dental plaque can cause tooth decay and cavities. Plaque that remains on teeth too long builds up into hardened tartar, which brushing cannot clean. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis, can cause gums to swell, recede from teeth and form pockets that can become infected. The infection can deteriorate gums, bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
The elderly may also experience a problem with dry mouth, which makes a person more cavity prone. Dry mouth is a side effect of more than 500 medications, including those for allergies, anxiety, high blood pressure, pain and high cholesterol. Oral cancers are another problem that increases with age. The Government of Canada cites that "people who are over the age of 60 have the highest incidence of oral cancer."1
Vision and hearing are two of the body's main senses that are affected by age. For many people, eyesight begins to diminish around age 40. The Survey EuroTrak Netherlands 2016 finds that 18.4% of people in The Netherlands aged 65 to 75 report hearing loss and 35% of those age 75 and older cite hearing loss.2 Similar hearing loss prevalence in elders is reported throughout other countries. Problems with vision and hearing can lead to depression, withdrawal, anger and loss of self-esteem, especially in the elderly.
Vision loss with age includes presbyopia, a slow loss of the ability to see close up. Cataracts, glaucoma and retinal disorders such as macular degeneration also increase with age. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is gradual but should not be ignored if left untreated. Many elders also encounter tinnitus, which causes a ringing, roaring or other bothersome noise in the ears. In many cases of eyesight or hearing loss, corrective lenses, hearing aids, medications or surgery are treatments that can help.
4. Bones and Joints
The body's weight-bearing bones and major joints take considerable wear and tear over the years. By the time a person reaches their 60s, they face two of the most common forms of age-related health conditions: osteoporosis and arthritis. Osteoporosis is a gradual process of a person's bones thinning, losing density and becoming fragile to the point of easily breaking. Women are the most susceptible to this bone weakening, and the bones typically affected are the hip, spine and wrist.
The World Health Organization notes that globally almost 10% of men and 18% of women age 60 and older show symptoms of osteoarthritis and 80% of those with osteoarthritis will experience limited movement. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, including gout and lupus. Osteoarthritis, the joint wear-and-tear condition, is the most common form of arthritis in older adults. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person's immune system attacks the body's healthy tissues, eroding the lining of joints (synovium) and triggering painful inflammation.3
The ageing process also creates less-talked about problems with both men and women: urogenital symptoms of urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections and an enlarged prostate. With age, the bladder's elastic tissue may toughen and stretch less, limiting the amount of urine the bladder can hold and prompting the need for more frequent urination. In older adults, the muscles in the pelvic floor and bladder wall may weaken, causing urine to leak or difficulty in fully emptying the bladder.
Older women are more likely to encounter issues with bladder control, while elder men may struggle to even pass urine because the prostate gland tends to grow bigger with age and can constrict the urethra tube that directs urine out of the body. In addition, prostate cancer is another typically age-related disease for men.
The bottom line for lowering one's risk for common health problems of aging?
Throughout one's adult years, stay intentional about a healthy diet, exercise and regular health exams. The effects of ageing do not happen overnight.
1. Government of Canada. Oral Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/oral-diseases-conditions/oral-cancer.html.
2. Hear-It.Org. In the Netherlands, One in Ten Say They Have a Hearing Loss. Retrieved from https://www.hear-it.org/netherlands-one-ten-say-they-have-hearing-loss.
3. World Health Organization. Chronic Rheumatic Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/chp/topics/rheumatic/en/
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