Caring for the Elderly - Nutritional Requirements, Health Issues Confronting Senior Citizens
Geriatrics is a field of medicine that deals with the care of the elderly and the provision for their various unique needs as they mature in years. It is more about maintaining the health of the elderly patients by assisting them in preventing and treating their diseases.
In a study conducted by the American Clinical and Climatological Association, the elderly population age 65 and over is expected to rise twice its present number starting from the year 2000 to 2050.
This increase in the number of people within this age group means an increase in demand for specialized care for those who are suffering from diseases associated with aging.
Caring for the elderly is very much different from caring for babies and young people. Unlike the young, the elderly experience a lot of changes that take place in their body as they grow old. They are more susceptible to diseases, and because of their age, some people sometimes tend to treat them in a different way.
Doctors who specialize in the care of the elderly, called geriatricians, say that there is a difference between the manner the body reacts to normal aging and the diseases that accompany this process.
Aging is characterized by the deterioration of various body functions which include reduced cognitive ability, reduced mental acuity, mild memory loss, incontinence, physical and mental instability and in some cases, inability to move about.
Old people should be careful in taking medications. More and more of them suffer from various diseases that require them to take different kinds of drugs. These medications can come in the form of drugs or nutritional supplements that could take its toll on their delicate kidney and liver when they are excreted from the body.
Loss of vision and hearing are the two most common complaints that come with getting old. Because of these disabilities, the elderly tend to shy away from people consequently socially isolating themselves from others.
Because of these changes that take place in their physical, mental, emotional and social life, the elderly tend to live independently so that they can do what they please without bothering others. This is the area where their geriatrician can provide help in finding the right care options that these old people may avail.
If their own families cannot provide the care that these old people need, they may be referred to home care services, various nursing and living facilities or hospices so that they will be well-cared for in their twilight years.
Because of the demands for services that cater to the elderly, many specialized fields have emerged to address the various special needs of our aging population.
Below are the major issues confronting old people as they grow old
Dementia including Alzheimer's disease
Dementia is a very common disease that affects the elderly but it can also affect those below the age of 65, called early onset of dementia. It is not a disease in itself but it is considered more of a syndrome, constituting several signs and symptoms of the disease that may affect a person's cognitive abilities, memory, decision-making and problem-solving skills, use of language and attention span.
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia which, in the more developed countries, is considered a very costly disease. This is due to the fact that a special caregiver has to care for the patient, usually a family member or if a family member is not available, professional help can be obtained which could be a drain on the family's finances.
Alzheimer's disease or AD is a disease that is the result of the loss or permanent death of neuron cells. There is no known cure for this disease that starts gradually then gets worse over the course of the disease.
Depression is a strong emotional feeling of low mood, negative outlook in life and low self-esteem. Old people feel depressed because of the emotional, physical and physiological changes that take place in their body. They feel depressed because of the perception that they are no longer useful to the people around them due to their being frail and weak, their illness and the feeling that they are no longer productive as when they were younger.
Depression is not a form of mental illness, but more of a response to inevitable life-changing events in an elderly person's life. It could be a manifestation of a more serious disease or a result of a chemical reaction in the brain caused by medications.
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects a person's bone density, a significant reduction in the amount of mineral content in the bones. The disease is also characterized by the reduction in the protein content in the bones.
There are many types of osteoporosis but the most common type is the one associated with menopause among women.
Sarcopenia - This is also called muscle atrophy which means the deterioration of muscle mass and strength which is attributed to aging. It is characterized by muscles that gradually lose mass and body due to thinning of muscle fibers.
Studies show that as a person ages, the risk of having cancer increases even if our parents or grandparents did not have cancer at all. Old people are more susceptible to cancer due to aging and damaged cells of the body caused by cancer-causing substances in the environment.
Some form of cancer can be inherited from our parents or grandparents and some can be acquired due to exposure to harmful substances in the environment.
Falls are the most common cause of accidental deaths among the elderly in the United States. A large percentage of the hip fractures that occur among the old people are caused by falls.
The most common cause of these falls are old age, deteriorating brain functions, type of medications used and deteriorating sensory functions.
Loss of vision is among the major health care problems of the elderly, the most common of which are glaucoma which is characterized by damage of the optic nerve and loss of the person's visual field; cataract and; macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease that leads to the total loss of central vision.
This disease simply means that blood vessels in the retina have been seriously damaged which finally leads to blindness.
In some cases, blood vessels in the retina could swell and burst, causing fluid to leak. In other situations, new blood vessels could develop abnormally on the surface prevening the person from having clear eyesight.
There are many changes that take place in an elderly person's body as he grows older and urinary incontinence is one of them. Incontinence is the involuntary act of passing urine. It can happen to any person regardless of age but it happens more to older people.
The US National Association of Continence reports that one in five people who are over the age of 40 suffers from incontinence. Experts say that some of the causes of this is not drinking enough water, an infected bladder, and it can also be brought about by diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.
Parkinson's disease is a debilitating disease of the central nervous system. It is caused by the death of the cells that produce dopamine located in the part of the brain called substantia nigra. The most noticeable symptom of Parkinson's is shaking of the hands but also manifest slow movement, difficulty in walking and limited mobility.
In the study "Aging in America:Trials and Triumphs" published in the Journal of American College Health, senior citizens have been classified into three groups: the enjoyers, who account for 27% of the aging population, the survivors with 53% and the casualties with 23%.
The enjoyers, who are predominantly males, are those who enjoy the promise of their golden years on earth. The survivors, most of them women are those who partly take advantage of the amenities made available to them and; the casualties are those who do not have spouses, who are physically fit and healthy and, financially capable of supporting their spouses if they have one.
The study reveals that an elderly person tends to look at life in a positive way and maintains a high morale as he grows old if he feels that he is in good health, is financially stable and has a partner who is equally in good health as he is.
The elderly should take a high fat and protein diet but low in carbs and sugar.
Health experts recommend that the amount of protein healthy elderly individuals should consume is 0.8 kg per kilogram body weight daily, the same amount as for young adults. There is no recommended amount made yet for unhealthy and frail elderly people as there are no studies made particularly on that topic.
In the meantime it is recommended that the 0.8 kg per kilogram per body weight daily is reasonable for the healthy elderly. Exercise and other physical activities are recommended to enhance the body's use of energy, enhance appetite, and to boost muscle growth and strength.
© 2011 Zee Mercado
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