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Health In Old Age

If you're fit and well, and not taking prescribed medicines, you may not need to consult a doctor regularly. However, it is essential to take care of your body. Some simple steps will help to keep you healthy and help particular parts, such as eyes and teeth, to remain in good condition for as long as possible.

Eyes

There are some normal ageing changes in vision. The lens of the eye loses its elasticity. This results in small print becoming blurred when held at normal reading distance, but can be brought into focus at arm's length. This is a normal change. Some people assume that any change in their vision is due to ageing, but this is not necessarily the case.

The following symptoms are abnormal:
warning Double vision
warning Black spots, or areas of darkness
warning Pain in eye
warning Seeing colours and or lights around the edge of objects
warning Redness of eye
warning Sudden loss of ability to see clearly

If any of these symptoms occur you should consult your doctor or optician. It's still important to have your eyes tested about every 2yrs, even if you don't notice anything going wrong. However, don't wait that long if you're finding difficulty reading, threading a needle, reading bus numbers, or if you notice any other change in vision.

Complete loss of vision is uncommon, though some people develop 1 of 3 common eye diseases as they grow older. They are: cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration.

Cataract
Clouding of eye's lens. The person becomes unable to see clearly, even with glasses. Usually a new pair of glasses is required and it's often helpful to improve lighting at home. For some people who have severe clouding, an operation may be necessary to replace the cloudy lens with an artificial lens. Otherwise a special pair of glasses with thick lenses will be needed.

Glaucoma
A disease in which the pressure of fluid inside the eyeball increases to such a degree that it changes the nerve fibres which detect light. It does not always cause obvious symptoms in early stages. Many people don't notice the loss of vision until it is quite far advanced. If it is diagnosed early enough, perhaps in a routine eye test, it can be treated successfully.

Macular Degeneration
A disease in which the most central part of the retina begins to fail. The loss seriously impairs vision and may cause total blindness.

Hearing

There is often a loss of ability to hear high pitched sounds, such as a ringing telephone, because of the ageing process in the inner ear. This is a matter for concern if you're unable to hear a telephone in a quiet house, or if you're unable to hear conversation when there is only a low level of background noise.
The first step is to consult your doctor. A common cause of hearing loss is wax in the ear, which can be removed by your doctor using a syringe (the process is not as painful as it sounds).
If the cause for loss of hearing is not found, you may be referred to a specialist. The specialist will advise you and might prescribe a hearing aid.
Hearing aids do not restore normal, perfect hearing. They amplify the loudness of sounds, but may also amplify some sounds more than others and produce slight distortion.
A few deaf people suffer from an unpleasant condition called tinnitus, which causes a ringing sound in the ears.

Teeth

People with all or some of their natural teeth should see their dentist at least once a year. Dentures should be checked every 3yrs. After natural teeth are lost, gums shrink rapidly at first and more slowly later. The shape of the mouth always changes to some extent and dentures need to be adjusted regularly to prevent sore gums and damage to the gums from the edges of ill-fitting dentures. Any soreness or lumps on gums need to be examined by a dentist. Most of these problems are simple and easily cured, but if neglected they can become serious.
Dentures should always be kept as clean as possible using special cleaning agents. Stains and deposits which cannot be removed this way can usually be handled by your dentist who will arrange for the dentures to be cleaned and repolished.

Skin

There are many changes in skin caused by normal ageing process. 3 changes are particularly noticeable: Fat and elastic tissue underneath skin becomes thinner and less elastic; if a fold of skin is pinched on the back of the hand, the skin will return to normal slowly as cells which divide and produce new skin no longer produce normal cells as quickly; this allows abnormal cells to multiply giving rise to, for example, small brown spots like freckles, this is further encouraged by sunlight.
Skin glands become less productive and skin becomes drier.
By the time most people reach 60, their skin has been damaged to some extent. For example, by sunlight, cold winds, and with hands, detergents. It's important to protect skin from further unnecessary damage. Therefore, use a good barrier cream in strong sunlight, keep soap powders, dish washing liquids and detergents from contact with hands.
Avoid getting hands dirty with soil and oil. Also, use some form of simple oil or moisturiser to overcome dryness of skin. Certain types of skin disease are more common as people grow older (e.g. dermatitis and eczema and certain types of skin ulcer occur more frequently). Skin disease can be treated effectively and so early medical advice is recommended.

Hair

It's normal for hair to 'go grey' increasing numbers of hairs become white because of loss of pigment. This is a normal ageing change and there's nothing that medicine can do to prevent this process, although hairdressers have many treatments.
Hairs often fall out as a result of the death of cells of the hair root. In men, this can lead to baldness, but in women the process rarely goes that far.

Feet

By the age of 50/60, your feet have taken a pounding. The first step is to prevent further damage.
Shoes should be broad and long enough. Avoid tights, stockings or socks that compress toes. Keep the skin in good order; wash and dry feet carefully every day. Be careful not to rub the skin too hard; pat dry and make sure they're thoroughly dry, especially between toes. Keep toe-nails short.
Strong leg muscles help support the arch of the foot and prevent aching feet, so being fitter means you're less likely to suffer.
If both feet, or any part of the foot, becomes inflamed, swollen or painful, or if skin colour becomes white, dusky red or purple, seek medical advice; blood circulation to the foot may be affected.

Watching Your Diet

It's important to balance your diet, no matter what your age (see 'About Your Diet' page.). It is wise to eat food from each of the following food-groups every day:
* Dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt)
* Meat, fish, eggs, pulses
* Fruit and vegetables
* Cereal foods (e.g. bread, rice, flour)
* Oils and fats (e.g. butter, margarine and foods made with them, such as cakes and biscuits)
Foods from the first 4 groups should form the largest part of diet. Choosing a wide variety of foods helps to ensure a broad intake of nutrients as well as making eating more enjoyable.
You may need smaller portions of food as you become less active. However, you still need as many vitamins and minerals as before.
On retirement your eating habits may change. For example, you may prefer to have a substantial lunch and a lighter meal in the evening. You may decide to eat out more.
It could be a time when you try out new foods, such as different varieties of vegetables, fruit or cheeses. Diet is very important to continued health, so be adventurous and enthusiastic about your cooking and eating.

Getting The Right Exercise

As you grow older you can still improve fitness. However, it's important to remember that you lose fitness more easily with age. If you lose fitness in old age, it's much more difficult to regain.
If you want to stay fit, to remain independent, and be able to enjoy life to the full, you have to be prepared to work for fitness. Being fit is not just a matter of being able to cycle or swim, it means looking younger, sleeping more soundly and feeling better.
Be careful before starting any exercise which makes you breathless and which will increase your pulse rate if you're not used to it. Check with your doctor before you start this sort of exercise, particularly if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, lung disease, or any other chronic disease.
Some daily exercise is the best means of maintaining and improving fitness.
Taking an interest in your diet brings many benefits - mental interest in researching and experimenting with new menus, exercise of shopping, benefits to the body of supplying a range of vitamins, fibre, etc.
It's best to try to ensure that each day contains the following:
* A slow, gentle stretch of all main muscles and joints
* Household or garden work which makes leg and arm muscles do a little more than they find easy
* Exercise to make your pulse and rate of breathing faster.

There are many different forms of exercise to choose from. You need to decide which exercise suits your needs and you feel physically able to do. Also, it's important to choose something you'll enjoy, otherwise you might lose interest.
Walking is a form of exercise that most people are able to do. Older people who jog are usually those who have done so all their lives. Therefore, it's probably better to take more brisk walks, rather than start jogging. A brisk walk can be as good as a jog and less painful on the hips and knees. Do not underestimate the benefits of walking in the fresh air.
Swimming is a very good way to become fit and stay fit. It's particularly good for people who suffer from diseases causing muscle weakness or joint stiffness. The limbs are supported by the water, making movement easier and less painful. It is therefore excellent for arthritis.
Cycling like swimming, is good for arthritis or those who find a brisk walk causes painful joints. However, if you take it up again after a number of years you will not be able to accelerate as easily as you could when you were younger. Therefore, remember that you will be slower if you need to get out of the path of other vehicles. Traffic conditions have changed.
Golf is quite relaxing. However, be prepared for a stiff back and shoulders if you're not used to it. Also, there is a fair amount of walking involved. Putting is gentler, and it's still skilful and challenging. You could progress from putting to pitch and putt, and possibly to golf after that. However, there is no beating the fresh air, interesting conversation and satisfaction.
Bowling although bowling is not energetic, you'll soon notice improved flexibility in your shoulders and arms. Also, more strength in the legs and better hand / eye co-ordination.
Tennis can be an ideal game for many people. There is great benefit to be gained by the running, changing of direction and twisting when playing tennis. If it seems too energetic, playing doubles might be easier.
Dancing is an excellent type of exercise. It maintains and improves strength and stamina and the skill required helps your brain and nervous system keep their ability to co-ordinate movements.
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for older people. It gives a range of physical and mental benefits which few other types of exercise can equal.
There are many other forms of exercise. For example, badminton, table tennis or water sports like sailing and canoeing. There are often keep fit classes specifically organised for older people.

IMPORTANT:
If any activity causes pain, extreme breathlessness or any other sort of severe discomfort, seek immediate medical advice.

Eventually, you may have to stop sporting and active hobbies because of the natural ageing process. Try to carry on for as long as it remains enjoyable and physically possible.

Exercises For A Housebound Person
There are many reasons why someone has become housebound. It could be due to arthritis, visual problems, painful feet or some other problem. The reason, or reasons, will influence the type of exercise that's possible. If you're fairly active, try some exercise at home every day (e.g. housework, cooking).
If a person is disabled, it's better to help them to do as much for themselves as possible, even if they have to struggle a little to succeed.
If a person is able to stand and walk, the walking ability and safety should be increased if possible. In addition strength and suppleness in the upper body and arms should be encouraged.
Some people are chairbound, that is, they spend a lot of time sitting down, either because they are unable to stand up, or because they find it difficult to stand up and walk. Gentle exercise may be possible. Try crossing one leg over the other, then point the foot on the crossed leg up and down.
There are a number of exercises for hands, such as stretching the fingers outwards, making a fist and flexing and
straightening the wrist. Another exercise is to place the tip of the index finger on the tip of the thumb, then in turn on the other three fingers.

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