Ageing sucks. But it’s inevitable, so much so that the WHO projects the number of people above 65 years to grow from around 520 million in 2010 to approximately 1.5 billion in 2050.
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This change has been attributed to a significant decrease in the prevalence of infectious diseases — like hepatitis — and an increase in non-communicable diseases (like hypertension), which has increased life expectancy.
Plus, advances in medicine, increased awareness about a healthy lifestyle, and timely access to healthcare services in the developed world all mean you’re probably going to watch your teeth fall.
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Unfortunately, many diseases are more common in the elderly, and sometimes, they reach a point where treatment is hopeless. However, doctors have come up with what’s called palliative care, which involves keeping patients with incurable conditions comfortable and pain-free.
But for now, let’s take a look at some conditions that are more likely to affect you as you age and what you can do about them.
According to the National Institute on Ageing, cancer cases are expected to increase to 27 million by the year 2030.
While there are many types of cancer that tend to affect the elderly more, colorectal cancer is a particularly notorious entity. It’s the third most common cancer worldwide and also the third most common killer among cancers.
Patients with colorectal cancer develop a mass of abnormal cells within the gut, which can lead to symptoms like:
- Blood in stools
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
It’s a good idea to be aware of these symptoms because if you’re elderly and experience them, you should report them to your doctor on an urgent basis.
Luckily, once you cross 50 years, you can undergo a colonoscopy every 10 years to detect the early stages of colon cancer. These early tumors can be removed and prevent the development of full-blown cancer inside your gut.
A colonoscopy involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube in your gut via the anus to look for abnormalities. Other methods of colorectal cancer screening also exist, so make sure to talk to your doctor about it.
Also, if you have a relative who had colon cancer, you would need to start cancer screening at an earlier age and have it more frequently.
Prostate cancer is another leading cause of cancer deaths in elderly males around the world.
Doctors are currently debating on when screening for prostate cancer should begin. But you should know that just like colorectal cancer, prostate cancer can also be caught at early stages and treated. If you’re around 40-45 years of age, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your doctor.
Periodontal disease refers to the disease of gums and other structures around the teeth. The most severe form — periodontitis — is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, which can cause you considerable discomfort as you age.
Saliva is an important defense mechanism against dental disease because it contains enzymes to fight bacteria that invade our mouths. As you age, your salivary glands are increasingly replaced by fatty tissue, which decreases saliva production.
This puts elderly people at an increased risk for dental caries and periodontal disease.
Plus, many drugs that elderly people take can also increase their risk of periodontal disease. Examples include anticholinergics, which reduce saliva production, and bisphosphonates, which can kill off the jaw bone.
This means you should pay more attention to your oral health as you age. Regular dental visits and periodontal examinations are an important part of keeping your mouth healthy.
Osteoporosis refers to weakened bones. It’s a very common condition in elderly people, especially women.
Once you’re past menopause, the level of the hormone estrogen falls in your blood. Estrogen keeps the bones strong and once its levels decline, women develop bone weakness.
Osteoporosis is dangerous because it can lead to fractures from minor trauma. Combine this with an increased risk of falls that elderly people have and you get significant morbidity and mortality.
Particularly dangerous are the hip fractures that result from a fall, which have a very high immediate mortality rate.
Women over 65 years of age are advised to get screened for osteoporosis, which is done using a special X-ray called a DEXA scan. It measures your bone density, and if it’s found to be too low, you can take drugs called bisphosphonates to improve bone strength.
But you should know how you spend your youth and your genes both affect the rate at which your bones weaken when you get old. While you can’t do much about genes, performing a regular weight-bearing exercise, getting enough sunlight, and eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D during your adulthood can all slow down the development of osteoporosis.
Your doctor might also advise you on all of these interventions after you develop osteoporosis.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of mortality around the world and elderly people are especially prone to it.
That’s because the central problem in all cardiovascular diseases is atherosclerosis, which means the build-up of fatty material inside arteries. This process progresses with age, so elderly people can have large fat build-ups inside arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
This is why it’s important to pay more attention to your diet and physical activity as you age. Avoiding fatty and sugary foods and replacing them with a well-balanced, natural diet is an excellent idea. Getting adequate exercise and staying away from cigarette smoke is also important.
Finally, you should monitor the following parameters because abnormalities in all of them are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases:
- Blood pressure — increased blood pressure is a silent killer because symptoms show up when it’s too late. Make sure to have a BP check once a year.
- Lipid profile — increased bad cholesterol — also called LDL cholesterol — is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Here are some tips to lower cholesterol.
- Blood sugar — type II diabetes usually develops after you cross 40 and is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It’s important to get screened for it once you cross 45 years.
The Bottom Line
As we age, in addition to the above problems, there might emerge other new complications. For example, when we tend to get older, our throat muscles that help us in swallowing medicines become weaker. This is something that old people experience. This is why older people might require oral medication help when it comes to taking medicinal pills for any of their health concerns. In most homes, trouble swallowing medicines is overcome with using food, juices or any other item that can react with the medicine in an adverse fashion. Using swallowing gels can help senior citizens.
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