Page 2 2011-12 Summer
Getting older, getting better
Ch-ch-ch-ch changes....do these famous David Bowie lyrics strike a chord with you? Changes do happen as the years roll by - some welcome, some not so welcome. Yet life can be just as fulfilling, if not more, as we age! Be positive and focus on what you can do to maintain your health and happiness.
Common changes associated with ageing
Generally, hearing deteriorates as we age. General and geriatric physician Dr Irene Wagner says it’s important to seek help – even if hearing loss is gradual. “Early assessment is recommended as hearing aids amplify the sounds you want to hear as well as background noise. It’s easier to acclimatise to hearing aids in the early stages of hearing loss rather than be startled by this amplification when hearing has deteriorated further.” Repeated exposure to loud noises contributes to age-related hearing loss. Help maintain hearing health by protecting your ears when working with or near loud equipment. If you use headphones to listen to music, refrain from turning the volume up high.
Vision loss, especially longsightedness, often accompanies increasing age. This means it’s more difficult to focus on objects up close. “See an optometrist to keep your vision in check,” says Irene. “Longsightedness is easily remedied with glasses and an optometrist will check eye pressure for glaucoma and prescribe eye drops if required.” Irene advises avoiding bi-focal or multi-focals if you’ve never worn glasses, as they can cause misjudgements of perception and lead to falls. Having two separate sets of glasses is a way around this. Jean Hailes general practitioner Dr Marnie Newman recommends buying a magnifying make-up mirror to solve annoying difficulties with make-up application.
Fitness and body weight
Remaining physically fit is important, not just to maintain a healthy weight but for overall wellbeing. “Whether you walk, swim or ride, regular physical activity improves your mood, cardiovascular and respiratory function, bowel regularity and also helps preserve your thinking abilities,” says Irene. If muscle or joint soreness prevents you from jogging, why not take a brisk walk instead? You may even like to try something different like yoga, tai chi or pilates. These activities can help improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and reflexes.
Healthy eating habits are important to maintain ideal weight and to help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes. As we age, our nutrition needs also change. We need fewer calories, but nutrient requirements can increase (for example, we need more calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B6). A healthy diet includes vegetables and fruit, grain products, lean meats, nuts and beans and milk or other dairy products.
Interrupted and lighter sleep naturally occurs with age. Most people sleep between 7 and 9 hours each day. Do you relish an afternoon nap? If so, this contributes to your total sleep need for the day. “The optimal time for an afternoon nap is 20-30mins,” says Marnie. “People who have a longer, deep sleep in the afternoon can have trouble sleeping at night.”
In Irene’s experience, older people may take longer to fall asleep and may be less likely to reach deep sleep at night-time. “Often this is because they go to bed very early and wake early.” People with serious sleep difficulties require more thorough investigations, as medical reasons like chronic pain or depression may be the underlying cause.
Increased risk of chronic disease
Diseases like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis increase in prevalence with age. There are important measures you can take to lower your disease risk. These include healthy eating, staying physically active, avoiding cigarettes, taking medications as prescribed and ensuring moderate alcohol intake. Screening tools like mammograms (to pick up early breast cancer), pap smears (to pick up early cervical cancer), faecal occult blood tests (to detect bowel cancer) and cholesterol, blood pressure and skin checks are vital. Most of these screening tests have minimal cost.
As well as good health, Marnie says disease prevention is proven to be linked with involvement in community life and meaningful social interaction. “Emotional health contributes greatly to your overall health,” she stresses. Irene agrees. “The saying ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ applies to your mental activity and social contacts too. Be it playing games with your grandkids or going out for morning tea; make sure you have something that gets you out of bed each day!
Have you ever laughed at a joke and crossed your legs in embarrassment when you’ve experienced a urine leak? Bladder changes are not life threatening, but definitely annoying. Incontinence can be prevented, or the effects lessened, by adopting healthy lifestyle habits that help you maintain a healthy weight. Daily pelvic floor exercises can reduce the risk of incontinence by strengthening pelvic floor muscles, improving bladder control and reducing or stopping leakage. However, they are difficult to do properly. Marnie says one or two sessions with a continence nurse or physiotherapist can help get you on the right track.
Emotional health contributes greatly to your overall health
Important tips from the experts
Now is the time for YOU. As we get older, we may have the advantage of less family commitments and more time to ourselves. If this sounds like you, decide to make your health a priority and allocate time and energy towards doing so.
It’s okay to obtain information! Knowledge, if it’s from a credible source, empowers you to make choices which best suit your needs. Great peace of mind can be gained by having health concerns checked out early.
Allow yourself to see a doctor if you fall over or are in pain – you don’t need to have a serious injury! Different strategies, some of them quite simple, may be offered that can make a big difference to your safety and wellbeing.
For more information
- See your GP
- Visit your local community health centre
- Go to www.jeanhailes.org.au
- Contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 to find a local continence physiotherapist or continence nurse advisor
Content Updated November 2011