Old age cannot be wished away. But with adequate exercise, proper diet, and retirement plans, those advancing years can be healthy and happy
Hurray! We've got a lifetime bonanza! The Registrar General of India says the lifespan of men will increase by 5.2 years and that of women by 4.6 years by 2021. By 2016, the average Indian male is sure to celebrate his sixty-ninth birthday (68.8) while his better half will get a chance to blow 71 candles. Women will continue to outlive men. Interestingly, an urban female lives 4.9 years longer than a rural one, and 7.9 years longer than a rural male. Celebrate!
Better nutrition, health education and early detection have helped us extend our life, but that doesn't mean the elderly are one happy lot enjoying the extra years, said Dr. Lakshmipathy Ramesh, geriatric physician. His bald facts: 60-70 is young-old, 70-80 is old-old and 80+ is the oldest-old. Aches and pains are inevitable in old age, but they can be managed. Some 70 per cent of the diseases and disabilities caused by them are lifestyle-related. Elders in good health recover faster from acute illnesses such as chest infection. Good healthcare management helps put off/prevent dementia, osteoporosis, incontinence. 60+ is ideal for starting regular check-ups. Reduce physiological decline by being health conscious, he said.
An attempt to highlight geriatric care was made by Kauvery Hospital, Chennai, with an exhibition-cum-sale of “elders gadgets”, free ECG and shots of free health drinks. Over three days, elderly audiences piled in to listen to Dr. Lakshmipathy (Healthy Ageing), Dr. Kamali Sampathkumar (Feel Healthy; Be Healthy), Dr. Aravindan (Arthritis&Osteoporosis), Sanjay Dattatri (Tips for Safe Living) and TM Sundarajan-LIC (Health Insurance for Senior Citizens). The Corporation Bank offered tips on earning higher interest on fixed deposits. The message was: don't let ageing alarm you.
Our elderly are left to fend for themselves with no modification to their lifestyle, said Dr. Kamali, in her presentation. High levels of efficiency are hard to maintain, so use your intellectual capacity to advantage, she said. Prepare for retirement and it slowly becomes preparation for old age. Accept reality and rekindle interests set aside during work years. Develop the right attitude, get help when needed. Men suffer more from anxiety/depression when they retire, or when they lose their spouse, pointed out Dr. Lakshmipathy. Their identity is enmeshed with the profession.
Side-step those triggers for unhappiness and recognise what gives you joy, they said. Volunteer to be with kids, write memoirs. Try to be self-sufficient, shake off learned helplessness. Do breathing/stretching exercises, go for walks in temples, listen to the bells ringing, the vibration does one good. Help with household chores, paint, travel, tutor, improve the neighbourhood. Start planning at 45, make modifications to the house: create space to move around, secure electrical switches, fix grab-rails and non-slippery knobs. Do gardening — indoors/roof/outdoors. Fish bowls keep you engaged. Refrain from passive-aggressive comments about spouse, family. Value what you can do.
UG course in geriatrics
Dr. Lakshmipathy wants more seats added for geriatrics in medical colleges. And undergraduate degree course in geriatrics will prepare medicos to handle age-related changes better, he said. A geriatrics physician finds out if a problem is age-related, and works to make the aged one independent. Most old people are afraid of being dependent, he said. Some 50 per cent of the elderly, aged above 60, get depressed. “We do multiple-marker screening, ask geriatric questions and order investigation, we look at old age holistically.”
Another area that is gaining ground is the “longevity diet” to minimise the conditions associated with ageing — joints inflammation, failing memory, poor eyesight, and accumulation of free radicals and toxins in the body. Nutritionists suggest we take Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids (almonds, oily fish, vegetable oils), vitamins C, E, K (fruits, vegetables, greens, walnuts, sprouts) to suppress cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, auto-immune disorders, inflammation, blood triglyceride levels and hypertension. Folic acid promotes vital functions of cell growth and division, and the mental deterioration associated with ageing. Magnesium maintains muscle and nerve health, keeps heart rhythm steady. Calcium and phosphorus are for bone health, selenium is an antioxidant and zinc gives immunity. Eat keerai, beans, nuts, add bajra, jowar and barley to your diet to reduce total cholesterol, detoxify the liver, repair blood vessels, increase collagen production, improve skin texture, keep blood vessels free of calcification and control blood clotting and hardening of bones.
In her book, The Long Life Equation, Dr Trisha Macnair tells us that washing hands clean is worth two years, and dental hygiene, six. Smoking, fast food, no exercise and a stressful life strip away 20 years. If you spend your years glued to TV, expect problems. A University of California-LA study showed that people in stable partnerships live healthier, happier and longer lives. So decide!
Dr. Kamali's six Rs:
Rethink: what to do
Reconsider: course of action
Read: to understand challenges
Relax: by meeting friends, with music
Relive: with renewed enthusiasm