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What 100 years means to your health

Thursday January 23 2020
BD Old Couple.JPG

A couple exercising. Longer lifespans have been attributed to improved medical care, diet and nutrition, as well as general wellbeing. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIZABETH MERAB

Kenya's first Attorney-General Charles Mugane Njonjo is celebrating his 100th birthday today.

At 100, Mr Njonjo, also referred to by other monikers like "Sir Charles" or "Duke of Kabeteshire", has surpassed the current global and local life expectancies pegged at 80 and 60 respectively.

Longer lifespans have been attributed to improved medical care, diet and nutrition, as well as general wellbeing.

But an expanding ageing population is a double-edged sword. With age comes the wrinkles and grey hair. But do you know how aging will affect your teeth, heart and sexuality?

CELLULAR DAMAGE

So what really goes on behind the scenes?

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Biologically, ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time.

This, the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes, leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease, and death.

But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years.

“While some 70-year-olds enjoy extremely good health and functioning, other 70-year-olds are frail and require significant help from others,” the UN agency adds.

Let’s break it down …

Skin

With age, the skin thins and becomes less elastic, hangs loosely, and is more fragile. This is due to loss of the elastic tissue (elastin and collagen).

The skin also becomes more transparent, a situation caused by thinning of the epidermis (surface layer of the skin). There is also decreased production of natural oils which makes the once soft oily surface drier.

This means that you bruise more easily. Wrinkles, age spots and small growths called skin tags are more common.

To promote healthy skin:

  • Be gentle. Bathe or shower in warm — not hot — water. Use mild soap and moisturiser.

  • Take precautions. When you are outdoors, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing. Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor.

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoking contributes to skin damage, such as wrinkling.

Bladder and urinary tract

Aging increases the risk of kidney and bladder problems such as: Bladder control issues, such as leakage or urinary incontinence (not being able to hold your urine), or urinary retention (not being able to completely empty your bladder), bladder and other urinary tract infections (UTIs).

In men, an enlarged or inflamed prostate also can cause difficult emptying the bladder and incontinence.

Other factors that contribute to incontinence include being overweight, nerve damage from diabetes, certain medications, and caffeine or alcohol consumption.

What you can do

  • Go to the toilet regularly. Consider urinating on a regular schedule, such as every hour. Slowly, extend the amount of time between your toilet trips.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, lose excess pounds.

  • Do Kegel exercises. To exercise your pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises), squeeze the muscles you would you use to stop passing gas. Try it for three seconds at a time, and then relax for a count of three. Work up to doing the exercise 10 to 15 times in a row, at least three times a day.

  • Avoid bladder irritants. Caffeine, acidic foods, alcohol and carbonated beverages can make incontinence worse.

  • Avoid constipation. Eat more fibre and take other steps to avoid constipation, which can worsen incontinence.

Sexuality

Aging is marked by many physiologic and psychological changes that can impact a person's capacity and desire for sexual activity.

Normal aging brings physical changes in both men and women. These changes sometimes affect the ability to have and enjoy sex.

For women, vaginal dryness can make sex uncomfortable. For men, impotence might become a concern. It might take longer to get an erection, and erections might not be as firm as they used to be.

To promote your sexual health:

  • Share your needs and concerns with your partner. You might find the physical intimacy without intercourse is right for you, or you may experiment with different sexual activities.

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise improves the release of sexual hormones, cardiovascular health, flexibility, mood and self-image — all factors that contribute to good sexual health.

  • Talk to your doctor. Your doctor might offer specific treatment suggestions — such as oestrogen cream for vaginal dryness or oral medication for erectile dysfunction in men.

Teeth

Teeth, gums, and the rest of the oral cavity need extra care and attention if you want them to stay healthy in your later years.

Whereas a lot of changes occur on the mouth, a common misconception that losing your teeth is inevitable is not true, the American Dental Association says.

“If cared for properly, your teeth can last a lifetime,” the association notes.

But the nerves in the teeth can become smaller, reducing the teeth sensitivity to cavities or other problems.

What you can do

  • Brush and floss. Brush your teeth twice a day, and clean between your teeth — using regular dental floss or an interdental cleaner — once a day.

  • Schedule regular check-ups. Visit your dentist or dental hygienist for regular dental check-ups.

Eyes and ears

Changes to your eyes and ears occur as a result of disease, genetic factors, “wear and tear” and environmental factors.

This means that you might have difficulty focusing on objects that are close up. You might also become more sensitive to glare and have trouble adapting to different levels of light. Aging also can affect your eye's lens, causing clouded vision (cataracts).

Your hearing also might diminish and might have difficulty hearing high frequencies or following a conversation in a crowded room.

What you can do to promote eye and ear health:

  • Schedule regular check-ups. Follow your doctor's advice about glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other corrective devices.

  • Take precautions. Wear sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat when you are outdoors, and use earplugs when you're around loud machinery or other loud noises.

Cardiovascular system

The most common change in the cardiovascular system is stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them.

The heart muscles change to adjust to the increased workload. Your heart rate at rest will stay about the same, but it won't increase during activities as much as it used to.

These changes increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and other cardiovascular problems.

To promote heart health:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Try walking, swimming or other activities you enjoy. Regular moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your heart disease risk.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fibre foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and salt.

  • Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your heart. Take steps to reduce stress, such as meditation, exercise or talk therapy.

  • Get enough sleep. Quality sleep plays an important role in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Aim for seven to nine hours a night.

Bones, joints and muscles

With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, weakening them and making them more susceptible to fracture. Changes in the muscles, joints, and bones affect the posture and walk, and lead to weakness and slowed movement.

You might even become a bit shorter! As bones lose calcium and other minerals people, especially women after menopause, lose bone mass or density as they age.

Muscles generally lose strength, endurance and flexibility — factors that can affect your coordination, stability and balance.

What you can do to promote bone, joint and muscle health:

  • Get adequate amounts of calcium. 

  • Get adequate amounts of vitamin D.

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine.

  • Avoid substance abuse.

Digestive system

Many bodily functions slow down as you age, including your digestive tract — it just might not work as efficiently or as quickly as it used to. This is because muscles in the digestive tract become stiffer, weaker, and less efficient.

Your tissues are also more likely to become damaged because new cells aren't forming as quickly as they once did.

Age-related structural changes in the large intestine can result in more constipation in older adults. Other contributing factors include a lack of exercise, not drinking enough fluids and a low-fibre diet.

As a result, digestive tract problems that can occur as people age include

· Heartburn

· Peptic ulcers

· Diarrhoea

· Constipation

· Haemorrhoids

· Gas

·  Stomach pain

·Irritable bowel syndrome

· Diverticulitis

· Faecal incontinence

· Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

To prevent constipation:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure your diet includes high-fibre foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit high-fat meats, dairy products and sweets, which might cause constipation. Drink plenty of water and other fluids.

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can help prevent constipation.

  • Don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. Holding in a bowel movement for too long can cause constipation.

Memory and thinking skills

Your brain undergoes changes as you age that may have minor effects on your memory or thinking skills. For example, healthy older adults might forget familiar names or words, or they may find it more difficult to multitask.

You can promote cognitive health by taking the following steps:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. Studies suggest regular exercise is associated with better brain function and reduces stress and depression — factors that affect memory.

  • Eat a healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet may benefit your brain. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources, such as fish, lean meat and skinless poultry. Too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.

  • Stay mentally active. Staying mentally active may help sustain your memory and thinking skills. You can read, play word games, take up a new hobby, take classes, or learn to play an instrument.

  • Increase social interactions. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss. You might volunteer at a local school or non-profit, spend time with family and friends, or attend social events.

  • Treat cardiovascular disease. Follow your doctor's recommendations to manage cardiovascular risk factors — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes — that may increase the risk of cognitive decline.

Source: Mayo Clinic, World Health Organisation, Online sources

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