Recognizing the difference between what is a normal aspect of aging and what is a troublesome symptom can be complicated. The assumption used to be that aging equaled a steady and predictable decline in our physical and mental abilities, but we have found that this is not always necessarily the case.
Aging does not inevitably come with a slow and steady decline in our physical and mental abilities. We are more likely to develop certain health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis, but geriatricians emphasize that not all changes are age-related; some changes may be caused by treatable conditions.
There are going to be times when you misplace your glasses, or it takes longer to remember someone’s name; experts tell us that these changes are normal due in part to the fact that your brain contains more information as you age.
Only 6-8% of people over 65 have memory challenges due to dementia, so don’t go jumping to conclusions. If you notice you are having many “senior moments” or are experiencing confusion along with more serious memory loss, this may come from a treatable condition. A variety of conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, depression, sleep problems, chronic pain, changes in medication, urinary tract infections, and metabolic disorders can all cause forgetfulness or confusion. Discuss your memory challenges with your doctor and your pharmacist to review your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
Diligent tooth care and regular check-ups play an important role in maintaining good oral health amongst seniors. Compared to the oral health of citizens in other developed countries, Canadians have good oral health and it continues to improve. With that being said, 20% of Canadians 62-79 are without teeth (edentulous) and 30-35% of Canadians have no dental insurance.
Many people avoid visiting a dental professional due to concerns about cost. Poor oral health is linked to poor nutrition, social isolation, heart disease, and dementia. Modern dentistry is helping many seniors keep their natural teeth longer, and regular checkups can identify some health conditions early.
While muscle volume and strength will gradually decline with age, these changes can be slowed or prevented with regular physical activity. Age should not prevent you from engaging in regular physical activity and exercise.
Seniors who engage in consistent exercise routines are more likely to live independently and without frailty. How quickly you will lose muscle strength is a matter of genetics, and it is important to adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude. Regular exercise will increase your energy, keep your mind sharp, and help you stay independent. Speak to your doctor about a “prescription” for an exercise program that’s right for you and considers any current health conditions.
Some changes in vision are common over time, such as difficulty focusing while reading, but with regular eye exams, some types of vision loss can be prevented and even reversed. There are age-related conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetic eye disease that can be treated before serious damage is done. Cataract surgery is currently restoring the sight of many seniors, leaving some with better vision than they had when they were younger!
Many studies find that seniors are among the happiest age groups, with happiness following a U-curve which demonstrates self-reported levels of happiness lowest at 40 and increasing thereafter. Despite this, depression is most common in seniors but is completely treatable.
Growing older can involve many changes including retirement, the death of loved ones, and increased health issues. It is normal to feel sad about these changes, but depression is a medical condition that interferes with normal functioning.
Depression can result from alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiency, chronic pain, or poor sleep. Seniors who are experiencing persistent unhappiness and loss of interest in things they once loved should be evaluated by a health professional. Depression is treatable with counselling, medication, addressing underlying health conditions, fixing nutritional deficiencies, and making lifestyle changes such as more exercise and social connection.
Aging can bring certain predictable changes, but everyone ages in their own way. It’s vital not to judge yourself by the standards of others, but to find a way to live well at whatever your age. Aging does not necessarily have to come with memory loss, depression, or a loss of independence; if you are experiencing health challenges see your doctor for assistance.
If you are considering in-home care for your loved one, Promyse Home Care’s Nurse Case Manager will meet with you and determine the needs and support specific to your family member. We will always be there for you as time goes on and as needs change.