Populations around the world are rapidly ageing. Ageing presents both challenges and opportunities and it is an inevitable and an irreversible process. Ageing can’t be defined exactly, but the most widely accepted idea is that it is just a part of the life cycle. The ageing process doesn’t start at the same time for everyone, and not even all the organs in the same person age at the same rate. Some people age more quickly, and others slowly.
Ageing can also be defined as a progressive functional decline, or a gradual deterioration of physiological function with age. Ageing is an unpredictable process. Chronological age is the number of years we have lived. It’s the only objective measure. On the other hand biological age is the age we appear to have. Ageing has a wide-ranging phenomenon such as a physical process, psychological and social etc.
Many people age gracefully and some not so pleasingly. As a person grows older, will acquire positive values such as knowledge and experience. In addition a wide range of changes can happen in the body with age. These changes are not necessarily indicative of an underlying disease but they can be distressing to the individual. Even though the aging process cannot be stopped, being aware of these changes and adopting to a healthy lifestyle can reduce the impact on overall health.
Although some of the variations in elderly health are genetic, much are due to physical and social environments. There are many expected bodily changes, which affect the life and health with age. These issues can have a significant impact on life, both physical and mental health of seniors. Some of the major contributors are as follows:
• Problems with memory are common.
• Body’s immune system can get weaker.
• Sleep patterns can significantly change.
• Eyes can become drier and the lens can lose its accuracy.
• Sense of smell and sense of taste may fade.
• Hearing losses may arise
• Teeth would become more weaker
• Hair can become thinner and weaker.
• Wrinkles, age spots and more dry skin are noticeable.
• Skin becomes less flexible and more fragile.
• Poor appetite and weight loss can be seen.
• Bones typically lose density and shrink in size.
• Muscles shrink and joints can suffer from normal wear and tear.
• Joints become inflamed, painful, and less flexible.
• Body stature can become shorter and curvature.
• Mobility and balance can be affected by various age related changes.
• Maintaining an ideal body weight becomes more difficult.
• Fatigue, forgetfulness, medication side effects are frequently seen.
• Cardiovascular disease and poor kidney function can cause problems.
• Hormonal changes are seen commonly.
• Sexual hormones reach a low level.
• Bowel and bladder control can cause problems.
• Urinary frequency and difficulty initiating urine can cause problems.
The above changes are different in every individual. Some people may experience more changes in a particular area compared to others.
In addition there are so many social issues, which effect the life and health with the age. These issues can have asignificant impact on life, both in physical and mental health. Some of the major contributors to social and psychological problems for elders are as follows:
• Inability to independently manage regular activities of living.
• Difficulty coping and accepting physical changes of aging.
• Feeling inadequate from inability to continue to work.
• Boredom from retirement and lack of routine activities.
• Financial stresses from the loss of regular income.
• Social isolation as adult children are engaged in their own lives.
• Frustration with ongoing medical issues and increasing number of medications.
• Loneliness from losing spouse and friends.
These factors can have a negative impact on overall health of an older individual. Addressing these psychosocial problems will help to overcome age related issues.
According to the World Health Organization, over 15 percent of adults over the age of 60 suffer from a mental disorder. A common mental disorder among seniors is depression, occurring in seven percent of the elderly population. Promoting a healthy lifestyle such as betterment of living conditions and social support from family, friends or support groups can help to treat depression.
Environments also influence on the development and maintenance of healthy behaviours. Maintaining healthy behaviours throughout the life, particularly eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity, will improve physical and mental capacity.
The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends meeting with a physician for an annual checkup, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping an exercise routine to help manage or prevent chronic diseases.
Obesity is a growing problem among older adults and engaging in these lifestyle behaviors can help to reduce obesity and associated chronic conditions.
Some of the ways to deal with the painful emotional challenges that come with old age are:
Active aging is a term used to describe the maintenance of positive subjective wellbeing, good physical, social and mental health and continued involvement in one’s family, peer group and community throughout the agingprocess.
Finally, I would like to say successful or ‘good ageing’ is also culture dependent. Fry and colleagues (2007), for example, noted that different cultures have different understandings within each community and interact in different ways to promote or detract from a ‘good old age’. Also caring for the elderly can no longer be the responsibility of the immediate family alone, but has to be a prerogative of government or the society.