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The care and upkeep of the aging body requires good nutrition and proper care, doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicine. The skyhigh cost of one extended hospital stay can easily wipe out the savings of the elderly. Many senior citizens do not avail themselves of preventive measures and sound health practices because of many factors; they can not afford proper nutrition and needed services; they can not get to clinics and doctors; they are afraid of discovering major illnesses. It should also be noted that elderly patients do not always exhibit the usual symptoms associated with different illnesses, so proper diagnosis is many times hampered by the lack of or misleading symptoms. Many doctors and health care facilities find it more expedient to OVER-medicate the elderly than to search out true causes of their problems. “Aging brings reduction of basal metabolism rate.”(Smith, p 45) Changes in rates of metabolism affect how the body assimilates and reacts to different medications. Over medication of the elderly is both accidental and intentional. A sedated patient is easier to control and care for. “The elderly are at high risk for adverse drug reactions because of their use of multiple physicians, their own tendency toward polypharmacy, and limited knowledge about drug interaction and adverse side effects in the elderly population.” (Leonard Poon, p 23) The study of the care of the elderly, geriatrics, by the medical profession needs heighten emphasis. It is also true that many elderly patients do not follow the instructions of their doctors and or take their medication as directed, many times because they forget to. The following is a brief description of some of the common physical/health problems that plague the elderly.
Two of the major conditions that contribute to vision problems are GLAUCOMA which is increased pressure due to obstruction of normal fluid drainage and CATARACTS which is the progressive clouding of the lens. With reduction of vision, more accidents of falling, cuts, burns, etc., are much more likely to occur in the elderly plus impaired vision contributes greatly to the sense of isolation.
Hearing loss begins in the normal adult around 30 years of age. As the loss increases it generally creates a real sense of isolation and it can feed into feelings of paranoid in the elderly. Conversations for the elderly become strained because they can not hear. They yell, do not respond, or ask to have things repeated. Hearing aids may or may not help the hearing loss, but they should not be obtained except on the sound advice of a doctor and not in response to a newspaper ad.
Memory loss or deterioration is synonymous with old. A common refrain of even the young is, “Oh, I can’t remember. I must be going senile.” Senility is a process of mental decline with symptoms of forgetfulness, disorientation from time, place and person, and returning to earlier forms of coping with reality. Diagnosing between detachment resulting from depression and organic brain syndrome becomes very difficult. Actual brain damage can occur because of a stroke, interference with the blood supply to the brain, or because of several diseases that cause shrinkage and cell deterioration. Alcohol and other drugs have permanent and temporary effects on the brain as well. Most elderly people’s speed of response slows down and their memory loss is slight, but usually there is no change in intelligence. (Alex Comfort, p 88) Development of programs at colleges and universities that encourage senior citizens to return for courses has meet with great success. Not only do the elderly do well, but the experiences serve as stimulation for them and act as examples to “younger” classmates that older people are not necessarily “over the hill.”
The simple act of moving can be a real problem for the elderly. The saying, “Use it, or lose it,” applies in some degree to muscular activity in senior citizens. More and more the elderly are realizing, along with the younger generation, that continued sensible muscular activity helps to keep the body functioning well. A major problem for the elderly is ARTHRITIS, inflammatory damage to joints. It occurs in fingers, knees, hips and vertebrae in that order of frequency. It is usually a painful and limiting nuisance that is lessen somewhat by aspirin. In most cases, trying not to aggravate the inflamed joint by reducing excessive movement is about all that can be done. Eliminating fine muscular activities such as sewing and knitting, getting short hair styles, and cutting down on excessive stairs are other ways to lessen the impact of arthritis. The ability to get around, whether it is for short distances like at home and in the yard, or it is for longer distances like in the neighborhood, shopping or traveling, is often a major problem for the elderly. If they have cars, the cost of gas, maintenance, insurance, taxes and registration becomes astronomical on the fixed, limited income of the elderly. The elderly do have reduced reaction time and are criticized as being “Sunday drivers” on our fast, hurryup roadways. Teenagers often complain of the woes of not having “wheels,” but at least they can avail themselves more readily of public transportation or walk to where they need to go. The elderly have difficulty even getting to the bus stop and simply climbing the steps onto the bus is like scaling Mt. Everest. If the elderly feel trapped and have limited contact with the outside world, they become more and more detached and other problems surface and intensify. Student exercises on sense deprivation and mobility are included.