The average human lifespan today is longer than ever before thanks to the latest advances in medical technology. In addition to extending life expectancy, these medical developments also enable older adults to stay healthy and enjoy a good quality of life well into old age. Nevertheless, there are still certain medical problems that affect the elderly. Understanding these conditions as well as their prevention and management will help older adults to live longer and healthier lives.
Confusion and Memory Loss
Forgetfulness and slower thinking are common problems as people grow older. Acute medical problems, such as infections or conditions that cause low blood flow to the brain or heart, can cause transient and reversible mental confusion and impaired thinking, and it is important to detect and treat these conditions early. However, if an older adult begins to develop progressive or more permanent behavioral and emotional changes or memory loss, it may be an early sign of dementia. Signs and symptoms of dementia in the elderly include difficulty learning or remembering new things, repetitive speech or actions, difficulty doing complicated tasks, getting lost in familiar places, withdrawing from social activities or talking less, and changes in mood or personality.
Prevention and Management: If you notice that an elderly relative may be developing memory problems that disrupts their daily life, please consult a doctor to evaluate the symptoms and receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Although there is no cure, it is possible to slow the progression of dementia other than by medication only, by performing activities that exercise the brain, such as working or doing hobbies and housework, engaging in social activities with family and friends, reading, playing games and taking regular physical exercise.
Older adults are at increased risk of urinary or fecal incontinence, which can be caused by several factors, such as weakened pelvic floor muscles, an overactive bladder, neurological disorders, side effects of medication, bladder infection, constipation, prostate gland enlargement and diabetes.
Prevention and Management:
- Consult a doctor to identify the cause and determine whether it can be treated, such as a bladder infection.
- Exercise and keep mobile to maintain muscle strength.
- Practice squeezing the pelvic floor muscles 50-100 times per day.
- Practice holding your bladder when you feel you need to urinate and gradually delay going to the toilet for progressively longer periods.
Aging can lead to a decline in sleep quality, such as having difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, experiencing less deep sleep, and waking up tired. Sleep problems can be a normal part of aging, but other factors may also interfere with sleep patterns, such as depression, anxiety, stress, chronic pain, heartburn, breathing problems, snoring, frequent urination during the night, and side effects of medication. The inadequate rest due to sleep problems can affect quality of life, and lead to other health problems for the elderly, such as an increased risk of falls, depression, and an impaired immune system.
Prevention and Management:
- Make the bedroom a comfortable sleeping environment, free of any background noise. Avoid using bright-colored curtains, bed sheets and blankets. Keep the bedroom temperature comfortable - not too hot or too cold.
- Stick to a sleep schedule and try to sleep in the same place every day.
- Do not go to bed too early. Older adults should aim to go to bed at 9-10 pm and wake up between 4-5 am.
- Drink water in the morning and during the day. Drink less water after dinner to reduce the need to urinate at night. Avoid or limit the consumption of caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Avoid or limit naps. Find some light activities to keep you occupied. If you can’t get by without a nap, try to limit their frequency and duration, and avoid napping altogether after 3 pm. Napping during the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Consult a doctor to change any medications that may affect your sleep quality and seek treatment for the cause of any sleep problems.
- Sleeping pills should only be used as prescribed by a doctor, because regular use develops dependence on them.
Hearing problems are a common condition affecting older adults. In the early stage, older adults may have difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds and an inability to hear well when there is a lot of background noise. Hearing loss impacts quality of life and affects communication with other people.
Prevention and Management:
- If severe hearing loss in both ears disrupts your daily life and affects your ability to communicate with other people, please consult a doctor about being prescribed a hearing aid to make sounds louder and stronger.
- Family members should always treat their older relatives with understanding. The best way to speak to people with hearing loss is to face them and speak clearly, a little bit slower and a little bit louder, with eye contact, stand or sit in a position where the mouth movements can be seen, and communicate in a quiet place free from background noise.
By Dr. Lily Chaisompong, Geriatrician, NewLife the Healthy Aging Clinic, Bumrungrad Hospital
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Posted by Bumrungrad International
September 23, 2015