Ill health is not something reserved for the elderly and diseases can strike young and old alike. Still, the geriatric population is affected by conditions that are almost exclusively age-related and (more or less) expected as a natural side-effect of aging. Talking about the senior healthcare Arizona offers is important. This issue deserves thorough consideration due to the inherent vulnerability of said population group, the burden on the caregivers and the impact on society in general. And let’s not forget to mention the fact that sooner or later we will all fall into the senior citizen category.
What we mean by old age
The western world generally accepts the chronological age of 60+ years to define the term ‘elderly person’. The age of 65 is generally agreed to be the age at which people can get their retirement benefits and for a lack of better option – the default definition of old age in most countries.
The issue of age is complex and it is not easy to determine at which age the person actually becomes old. For example, people in their 30s engaging in health damaging activities such as excessive drinking, smoking or eating junk food can have the health status (in terms of organ function and physiology) of a 50-year-old person – and vice versa.
This is due to the discrepancy between their age as a number on their birth certificate (chronological age) and the actual condition of their body (biological age).
Senior healthcare Arizona – Social and functional aspects of aging
The natural process of aging may give rise to chronic conditions resulting in a variety of functional problems or disabilities. With advancing age, most people will experience a gradual decline in the levels of their functional capacity, self-sufficiency and the ability to live independently.
Although initially elderly people are capable of handling their chronic health problems and limitations on their own, as years pass, most of them will need help from family members in their routine daily activities. In time, many of them will need some form of external care (personal support workers).
Eventually, meeting their medical and personal needs through family members or support workers will no longer be possible. This is when families often decide in favor of nursing homes, as these facilities provide both skilled nursing and personal care.
Age-related specifics and expected changes in the body
The aging process is a biological inevitability, accompanied by anatomical and physiological changes which should not be confused with pathological processes.
Changes affect all major organ systems:
Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are the most common forms of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly. Although memory problems and confusion are more common, elderly people should be reassured that sporadic instances of forgetfulness are not a sign of Alzheimer’s.
Older people have a reduced ability to cough out mucus and foreign matters from their respiratory system, leading to increased risk of infection and bronchospasm.
Muscle mass and strength decline with age. Bones and joints succumb to the wear and tear over time. Ligament and tendon strength also decreases.
The risk of osteoporosis (porous bones) increases with age, as bones begin to weaken after the fourth decade of life, most often in women.
Osteoarthritis is also common and occurs when the protective cartilage at the ends of bones wears down.
Seniors should be educated that osteoporosis can be prevented by adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, physical exercise and smoking cessation. Regular bone density scans are recommended.
As people age, they experience increased susceptibility to infectious agents. Vaccines become less effective.
With advancing age, some tissues become less sensitive to the hormones that regulate their function. Blood levels of hormones also change – some rise, while others fall. Reduced estrogen synthesis in menopausal women increases the risk of osteoporosis and vaginal dryness. Reduced male sex hormones lead to erectile dysfunction.
The thyroid gland may become nodular (lumpy) and the overall metabolism slows down. Problems with fat and cholesterol become more common.
The eyesight starts to weaken around the age of 40. Presbyopia (the inability to see close objects) is a normal consequence of aging. Around 60, cataracts (cloudy areas in the eye’s lens) and macular degeneration may develop, as can glaucoma. Hearing also declines with age.
Prevalence of gastrointestinal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn, increases with age.
Decreased sensation of thirst and malabsorption of carbohydrates, vitamins B12 and D, folic acid and calcium also becomes common. This can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalance and malnutrition.
A large number of older adults have pre-diabetes. Without intervention, this condition is likely to progress to overt type 2 diabetes, carrying with it the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is very important to point out that lifestyle changes such as weight loss, proper diet and exercise dramatically reduce the risk of diabetes in people over 60.
Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) is very common in older people, but can also be caused by infections, constipation and certain drugs. The condition can be managed and controlled.
Prostate enlargement (benign prostatic hypertrophy) can cause urination problems as the enlarged prostate presses on the urethra. Prostate malignancies are the second most common type of cancer and regular checkups are essential.
Older people produce less saliva, which is needed to clean the teeth. Gums recede with age, making the tooth more vulnerable to decay or infection. Bad breath and loss of teeth is also more common.
Skin naturally changes as we age. Elderly people tend to produce less sweat and oil, the skin becomes drier, thinner and loses fat, causing it to appear less plump. Smoking greatly accentuates age-related skin changes.
Sunlight is greatly related to the skin changes we associate with aging – wrinkles, dry skin or age spots. For better skin health and prevention of skin cancer (most notably melanoma), the importance of staying out of the sun and using protection can’t be stressed enough.
With age, hair becomes progressively thinner and nails become more brittle. Nail fungal infections become more common.
Older people are more prone to falls due to weakened perception acuity, lower muscle strength, loss of coordination and slower reflexes. Certain drugs like blood pressure meds or sedatives can also cause dizziness. As osteoporosis is common in the elderly, these falls often result in fractures that are slow to heal.
In conclusion, although the aging process can’t be reversed, a healthy lifestyle and overall good care of one’s health can delay age-related changes, making old age healthier, happier and more productive.