- There are common changes associated with the aging process, such as
- Eyesight, hearing, bone loss, heart disease and general physical decline.
- Depression, anxiety and cognitive decline.
- Some aging changes are modifiable and others require ongoing medical management.
- Understanding the aging process will make you a better caregiver, because you can intervene early and have greater empathy for what your loved one is going through.
As a caregiver, you might be confused and overwhelmed by some of the changes you observe in your loved one. That is normal. By anticipating some of the processes of aging, you can keep your family member safer and happier. This list does not include every change that occurs when someone ages, but it will give you a solid footing in knowing what to expect and how to respond.
Top 7 Components of Physical Decline
Even in the healthiest aging person, some physical decline will occur. Here are some of the most common systems affected by the aging process.
Hearing loss affects nearly one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 and has been associated with increased cognitive decline. You may notice that the person you are caring for avoids social interaction and becomes more isolated. A hearing test will determine the extent of hearing loss for your loved one then the two of you can discuss hearing aids.
Common vision changes include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Eyesight problems can increase fall risk and affect preferred activities like reading and watching movies. An ophthalmologist can diagnose some of these eyesight problems and develop a treatment plan to improve vision.
- Bone Health
Osteoporosis, or bone loss, occurs in both genders as people age. Bone loss contributes to fractures when people fall. Falls can be catastrophic and lead to extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation. Treating bone loss is a combination of increasing activity, plenty of vitamin D and calcium, and in some cases, medication.
Heart disease is more likely to affect people over the age of 65, which means an increased likelihood of stroke and heart attack. Keeping your loved one's blood pressure within normal limits, eating a heart-healthy diet, and consulting with a cardiologist can all help.
As people age, they lose their thirst mechanism, which over time can lead to dehydration. Dehydration for older adults can contribute to a host of other medical problems and, in severe cases, hospitalization. Ensure that fluids are nearby, and talk with your loved one about what healthy drinks they prefer. If you suspect dehydration, a simple blood test can diagnose the problem.
- Urinary Problems
Both men and women can experience loss of bladder control and increased frequency of urinary tract infections, incontinence, and in some cases, kidney disease. Lack of exercise, low fluid intake, and physical changes associated with aging can all contribute. A urologist can make suggestions on lifestyle changes and medications to address these problems.
- Declining Activity
Declining activity is at the root of so many physical and mental health problems associated with aging. It can be a vicious cycle of medical issues that lead to a decrease in activity, contributing to more medical issues. It is never too late to start a safe, physician-approved increase in activity and exercise for your loved one.
Top 5 Components of Mental and Cognitive Decline
Mental and or cognitive decline can be hard to spot at first. After all, your loved one is aging, and you probably expect a slowing of mental processes as a normal part of aging. To some extent, this is true, but recognizing some early changes can help you intervene.
- Memory Loss
Memory loss can have several causes and some are reversible, but most are not. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease and most forms of dementia, catching the symptoms early will help you plan for the future. Things to watch out for are memory problems, difficulty with planning and organizing, and personality changes. There are simple cognitive tests that physicians can do to screen for these disorders or diagnose any other contributors to memory issues.
The incidence of depression in older adults is challenging to ascertain because it is most likely underreported. If you notice that your loved one has sleep and appetite changes, loss of interest in activities, or thoughts of death, they could have depression. The good news is that depression is very treatable with medications and therapy. And therapy is now available via video platforms, so your loved one doesn't need to leave their home.
Anxiety is another mental health problem that can affect older adults. Symptoms include nervousness, problems sleeping, hoarding, avoidance of social situations, irrational fears, and irritability. Just as with depression, anxiety is treatable with medications and therapy.
As older adults become less independent, stop driving and lose access to friends and community, loneliness can occur. Loneliness has been linked to physical and mental decline. Just an awareness of how important it is to increase opportunities for socialization for your loved one can go a long way in combating this problem.
- Substance Abuse
You probably don't think of substance abuse as a problem of aging, but it can be. Social isolation, medical and issues of mobility, and mental health concerns can lead to alcohol and prescription drug abuse. Addressing some of the underlying causes of substance abuse can lead to improvement.
Understanding the Aging Process for You and Your Loved One
Watching a loved one age isn’t easy. This is a person who was independent, in charge of their life and took care of you. The transition to caregiver can be awkward and uncomfortable, but we have some suggestions on how to make it easier.
- When you notice aging changes, act quickly to do what you can to improve the situation.
- Empower your loved one’s ability to make their own decisions.
- Accept that aging brings changes, but also opportunity.
- View your relationship with your loved one as a partnership in caregiving.
- Try to stay flexible knowing that the aging process brings constant change.
When you and your loved one understand the aging process, you can work towards a more compassionate and positive experience. Aging has inevitable changes, but with a proactive attitude, you can make the journey one that increases well-being for you both.
Amanda Lambert is a nationally certified Care Manager and a member of The Aging Life Care Association. She has 25+ years oof experience working with elders
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