Aging Brings Changes
Americans today are living longer than their parents and grandparents did. Due to the ?baby boom,? the number of Americans over the age of 65 is growing. In 2000, 35 million Americans were more than 65 years old, and 9 million were more than 80 years old. In the next 30 years, the number of elderly people is expected to continue to grow.
Americans are living longer because we are taking better care of ourselves and because of improved health care. No matter how well we care for ourselves, as we age our body shows signs of decline. Common changes include vision loss, hearing loss, joint pain, and memory loss.
Several eye problems are common as people age:
- Loss of the ability to clearly see close objects or small print: This normal process happens slowly over a lifetime, but it becomes noticeable after age 40. Reading glasses are used to correct this problem.
- Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eyes. These cloudy areas can affect vision if they are thick or large. Surgery may be necessary to remove them.
- Glaucoma: Although there is always fluid in the eye, too much fluid will increase the pressure on the eye. This condition is called glaucoma. If not treated early, it can cause blindness. It is treated with eyedrops or surgery.
Hearing loss is common among older people. It is hard for many people to admit that they have a hearing loss. Instead, they may insist that everyone else is speaking softly. It is often difficult for family members and caregivers when the older person has to turn up the volume on the television.
With time and patience, a hearing aid can be very helpful. Getting used to it is not easy. Taking the time to find the right one and having it fitted properly are important. After buying a hearing aid, the person must take the time to learn how to insert it, clean it, control the volume, and replace the battery.
As we get older, we often have trouble moving around. This difficulty is frequently caused by joint pain. This pain is likely to be due to arthritis or gout. Nearly 1 of every 3 Americans has arthritis. Arthritis causes pain, swelling, stiffness, tenderness, redness, and warmth in the joints. Treatment includes medication, exercise, and surgery. The earlier that arthritis is treated, the better is the outcome.
These changes in our body can cause stress. Stress can wear down the body, both mentally and physically. To prevent the body from wearing down, we must have a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips for a healthy lifestyle and for reducing stress:
- Stay active. Physical activity is great for reducing stress. It keeps bones and muscles strong. Staying active also prevents illness. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise each day.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet means eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also means eating less sugar, red meat, processed foods, and saturated fats.
- Get enough sleep. Most adults need 8 hours of sleep each night. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine will help you sleep better.
- Have a good attitude. It is good for your health to focus on the positive side of your life. Try to laugh often. Do not worry about the past. Talk to family members, friends, a clergy member, or a health professional if you are stressed.
- Avoid health problems. Get influenza, tetanus, and pneumonia vaccinations. Quit smoking. Limit alcohol to 1 or 2 drinks each day.
If you are not currently acting as the caregiver for a parent or spouse, you may be some day soon. One of every 4 Americans is a caregiver. In order to be a caregiver, you will have to be prepared. You will need information on legal, financial, physical, and emotional challenges.
- Caregivers are under a lot of stress. They need help and support. Caregivers are less likely to get enough sleep, to rest when they are sick, or to make time for exercise. In addition, they are more likely to get the flu or pneumonia. To avoid these problems, caregivers need to find time to care for themselves. Whenever possible, caregivers should ask other family members or friends for help. Support groups also are available for caregivers. These groups can provide interaction with other caregivers in a relaxing environment and offer information on available resources.
- Changes in the home may be needed to help the elderly person. Hospital beds, wheelchairs, or bathtub rails often are required. Many pharmacies provide these services. Pharmacists also can help identify other items needed to make the home safe.
- Work with a trusted doctor. You need to feel comfortable about discussing your problems with your doctor. Choose a doctor who takes the time to answer your questions, whether the questions are about your health or about your family members.
- Plan ahead for the time when assisted living or nursing home care is needed. Making such a change involves a difficult emotional decision and a large financial burden. Discuss the financial situation with a lawyer before the need arises.
Help and Information
The Internet has a lot of information for elders and caregivers. When looking at Web sites, be careful about what you read. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid Web sites that are trying to sell something.
Here are some helpful sites:
- AARP: www.aarp.org
- Administration on Aging: www.aoa.gov
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): www.cms.hhs.gov
- Family Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org
- Medicare: www.medicare.gov
- National Alliance for Caregiving: www.caregiving.org
The government Web sites (Administration on Aging, CMS, and Medicare) give information about locating care, hiring home care help, finding transportation, getting long-term care insurance, comparing nursing homes, and understanding health care benefits.
Dr. Schlesselman is a clinical pharmacist based in Niantic, Conn.