By Essie Bester
Growing old is a natural process. But few people like this prospect. Most simply assume that they are going to become unwanted and sickly.
Look past this and focus on the positive, is the advice of people who are already far advanced on life’s path. Keep yourself busy with inspiring things and avoid negative people and situations that needlessly make you cynical and let you feel useless.
The message we get from this is: “Even if we are advanced in years, why should we just sit around?” And why should we? Thanks to technology there are many more positive things to look forward to nowadays.
A better old age has a lot to do with your attitude. Choices (while you are still young) regarding diet, exercise and making time for play are important role players. None of us know what old age has in stock for us, but an informed approach can serve as a powerful anti-aging strategy.
All of us know that aging is characterised by specific ailments, but genetics also play a major role in your vulnerability or resistance. Knowledge of your family’s medical history can help you to take suitable steps beforehand.
Implement the preventive strategies below as far as possible for a better old age:
- Watch your health. Regular blood pressure tests as well as blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol are important for men as well as women. In South Africa, with its hot sun, we should also be on the lookout for the start of skin cancer. Regular prostate tests for men while women are tested for breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis are also recommended.
- Stop smoking. There is no safe way of smoking. Apart from the fact that it can damage the lungs, the death rate among smokers is three times higher than for those who have never smoked.
- Stay physically, mentally and socially active ─ play bridge, fill in crossword puzzles, dance or do pilates.
- Eat smart. At least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, whole-grain bread and breakfast cereal, and reduce your intake of red and processed meat, saturated fats and salt. Foods that are good for you, include walnuts, avocado, oily fish (like salmon, tuna and sardines), green vegetables, legumes, berries and melons, water and green tea.
- Shed weight if necessary.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Use a sunscreen and UV protective sunglasses.
- Control your stress levels. Although different age-related diseases cause functional deterioration, there are steps that we can do to slow them down or get relief.
Osteoarthritis is cause by wear of the cartilage and supporting fibre. The cartilage disc between bones are worn away with time and this leads to friction between bones. It causes inflammation, stiffness and pain in the joints ─ especially the hips, knees, spine and hands. Maintain a healthy weight in your 40s and do low-impact exercises (that include power and movement exercises) under supervision. Vitamin E supplements are also recommended.
Cancer of the colon and rectum, just like gender-specific cancer and smoke-related cancer, are regarded as high-risk diseases for the elderly. Regular blood tests for markers as well as colonoscopies are recommended. Investigate any suspicious discomfort. Early detection can improve the long-term prognosis.
A poor lifestyle stresses the heart and could lead to obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Heart attacks and strokes, which are characterised by shortness of breath and chest pains, are common. South African death statistics show heart ailments as the main reason of death among men, while strokes are more common among women. Apart from a radical lifestyle adjustment under medical supervision, you should talk to your doctor about supplements.
The most common form of this is Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that leads to gradual brain dysfunction. It is characterised by symptoms such as absent-mindedness, disorientation, moodiness and forgetfulness and is incurable. Supplements such as vitamin B and omega-3 are seen as helpful.
Diabetes (Type 2)
This is a metabolic abnormality that interferes with the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. Symptoms include weight loss or gain, excessive thirst, urinating and sweating, digestive problems and impaired vision. It could lead to kidney diseases, heart attacks, strokes, blindness and amputations. To keep it under control prescription medicine must be taken regularly. See your doctor about supplements.
It affects the macula (that part of the eye’s retina with which you can see fine detail) and can cause loss of central vision, which can reduce the ability to take part in everyday activities, such as reading and driving. Studies show that macular degeneration is more common among women than men.
Supplements (such as Ocuvite Complete) can retard its development but loss of vision is irreversible. Lessen the risk of age-related macular degeneration by wearing sunglasses that block UV rays when you are outdoors for long periods.
A condition in which a membrane grows over the lens of the eye and dulls vision and colours. Cataract surgery has an excellent rate of success.
This is damage to the optic nerve, which is usually caused by increased internal pressure in the eye. Diabetics and patients who have high blood pressure are high-risk cases. An annual visit to your ophthalmologist is essential, and so is management of exposure to UV radiation. It is believed that betacarotene, selenium and vitamins E and C are useful preventive supplements.
Loss of hearing
Decline is slow. Heredity, damage to the inner ear, auditory nerve, build-up of cerumen, bacterial or viral infections as well as high blood pressure are contributory factors. See an audiologist for a hearing aid.
High blood pressure damages blood vessels, the heart and kidneys and can seriously shorten life expectancy. A change in lifestyle and regular medical examinations are essential.
This is a disease that lowers the density and quality of the skeletal bones and causes brittle, easily breakable bones and fractures. Between four and six million South Africans (more women than men) are affected. It is brought on by the menopause, an overactive thyroid, high levels of corticosteroids (a medicinal steroid medicine) and a non-active lifestyle. A balanced diet, bone-density tests, calcium and vitamin D supplements are recommended.