As we grow older, many changes occur within us both physically and emotionally and coping with these changes can become stressful. Vitality we once had as young men and women is now gone.
Indeed, even though people generally enjoy a longer life expectancy nowadays, the aging process can be a painful fact to come to terms with. The truth, however, is that many older people are afraid of what they don’t understand, which will only worsen as the years roll by.
Once you know the changes that are happening in your body as you age and how to cope with them, then you will be better prepared to deal with them, in terms of physical and mental health changes.
In this article, we look in depth at the changes that occur and how older adults can cope with them. First, we shall explore the common physical changes.
As we advance in age, our bones reduce in size and become weaker. This change is especially true for post-menopausal women and it can result in osteoporosis.
When this reduction of bone mass occurs, it predisposes us to dangerous falls which, in many cases, cause injuries. Healing from such injuries becomes impaired as we advance in age.
This slow healing process is due to a weak immunity associated with old age. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the highest cause of death related to injury among seniors.
Your heart pumps blood at a lower rate, becomes slightly enlarged, and its walls may thicken.
Your Brain and Nervous System
As you advance in age, you will experience changes in your reflexes and senses. You may also suffer slight memory loss. In some cases, plaques and tangles form which can damaging brain and nerve cells. These abnormalities predispose you to dementia.
Your Digestive System
Your metabolism and digestion slow down with age. When we get older, the digestive tract becomes firmer and rigid and does not contract normally to make food move to different processing stations in the gastrointestinal tract.
The result can lead to nausea, constipation, and stomach pain. Production of saliva and stomach acid also slows down. These physiological changes result in possible choking and food-borne illnesses as it becomes harder for your body to dispose of harmful bacteria.
You may notice that your body does not react to stimuli as strongly as it did; it takes much more energy and time to be stimulated. This translates in a reduced sense of smell, taste, touch, and vision.
The changes in taste and smell will usually lead to a decreased appetite which is detrimental to your health. The compromised sense of smell and taste can be dangerous. You can accidentally consume food or beverages that have gone bad causing food poisoning.
Over the years, you become increasingly susceptible to cavities this is because the enamel which protects your teeth from decay wears out. With old age comes a greater risk of gum disease.
The natural recession of the gums which causes your teeth to look long and shaky becomes prevalent. A lot of the time, you will have a dry mouth, which is a side effect of most of the medication for older adults.
When you get older, your skin begins to wrinkle and lose its elasticity. This is particularly evident with seniors who smoke.
Your Sex Life
After menopause, women experience physical changes specifically vaginal dryness or lack of lubrication while men experience erectile dysfunction.
Stress is common among seniors and tends to stem from grief. The older we become, the more people we lose around us and this can get painful.
Pressure among seniors may also result from lack of purpose associated with retirement, children leaving home, and the physical changes occurring in our bodies. Following are some considerations for coping with physical changes.
Reports from World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that malnutrition is a significant challenge for people aged 65 and above.
However, it is under-diagnosed since its symptoms, which include lightheadedness, muscle weakness, and weight loss can easily be interpreted as symptoms of another ailment. Proper diet is therefore very important in ensuring you live a happy and healthy life.
Here are some tips to guide you on your diet:
- Your diet should have lean protein and high fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber helps with your now slowed-down digestive system and keeps you feeling energetic.
- Take your supplements. While you may not be able to consume all the minerals your body needs through your diet, certain minerals such as calcium and vitamin D which are essential for healthy bones can be absorbed in the form of supplements. Seek advice from your health provider regarding supplements.
- Drink plenty of water, even when you do not feel thirsty. As you get older, you do not feel thirsty as often as you did before but your body still needs water. If your urine is dark and cloudy, then that is a sign that you are dehydrated. Nutritionists recommend that you drink 3–5 glasses of water each day.
- Eat with a friend, a neighbor or a family member. This will allow you to spend time with them and reconnect and also ensures you eat well and you do not skip meals. It is also fun and faster to prepare the meal and clean up as a team.
A study conducted on older sedentary Americans aged 70–89 researchers found that those who met to walk around a track twice a week (under supervision) were 28 percent less likely to be persistently disabled physically as opposed to their counterparts who did not walk. This study indicates that it is not too late to begin and also shows the importance of physical exercise.
The benefits of exercise include:
- It helps relieve chronic pain brought about by conditions such as arthritis and pinched nerves, for instance, due to a herniated disc.
- It helps keep your weight under control which prevents obesity, diabetes and some cardiovascular diseases.
- Exercises like muscle training and resistance help reverse bone loss which comes with age and gives you a strong back and shoulders.
- You feel good after a workout and your energy levels go up.
- You sleep better after exercise.
- Exercise boosts your immune system.
- Your posture and balance are improved.
- It keeps you mentally strong and alert.
- It lowers your blood pressure.
Here are a few tips for you:
- Consult your health provider before signing up for an exercise program.
- Start slowly and then increase your pace, frequency as you move along.
- Identify an exercise that you find interesting; this way you look forward to doing it. This could be swimming, golf, walking a pet, or yoga.
- Exercise with a friend so that you motivate each other or join a class.
Exercises for Your Brain
With old age come forgetfulness and other mental challenges. You can stimulate your mind by:
- Learning a new instrument, game or language.
- Adding variations in your usual activities (for instance, if you like to cook food on the stove you can bake now and then); you can use different routes to get to say the supermarket or the golf club.
- Playing word games or crossword puzzles and advancing to harder ones as you move along so as not to challenge yourself.
It is important to see your physician often and go for screening and testing as recommended. These include:
- Checking your blood pressure.
- Screening for colorectal cancer.
- Pelvic exam.
- Screening for diabetes.
- Eye test.
- Hearing test.
- Screening for prostate cancer (for men).
- Dental exam.
It is also recommended you get your vaccination for tetanus, flu, and pneumonia.
Protective measures you can take at home include:
- Check for loose wiring or frayed carpets that would cause a fall.
- Ensure your electrical and gas appliances are up to date.
- Ensure proper lighting in all your rooms.
- Remove furniture or things that can obstruct you and cause a fall.
Have A Positive Outlook
Some of the ways to deal with the painful emotional challenges that come with old age are:
- Join a support group. Interacting with individuals who have gone through your experience helps you feel less alone. Facing your issues and talking about issues and facing them is also a powerful way to work through them.
- Spend time with at least one person a day. This could be a neighbor or a family friend. Physical interactions are much more enriching than a text, and this helps ward off feelings of loneliness and depression.
- Visit a museum, go to a concert, or a park you now have time to do all the fun stuff you could not do when you were busier at work.
- Travel to a place you have always wanted to go. It doesn’t have to be expensive it could be a national park in your town that you always wanted to visit
- Accept the changes that have happened instead of trying to resist them. Getting old and losing loved ones is inevitable – it happens to everyone. Once you accept and enjoy what you have you will be free to live a happier life.
- Indulge in a new hobby like golf, biking, or baking or pay attention to an old one.
- Learn a new language, a sport, or a musical instrument.
- Meditate and take care of your spiritual needs—this will lead to a more relaxed life.
- Become a volunteer. This is a great way to meet people who share the same interests as you do, also helping others with their problems enables you to forget your own and be grateful for your life.
- Write a memoir. You have the time, why don’t you do it? Reflect on the lessons, struggles, and victories of your life and share it with the world. Many people will learn from it.
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