It is hard to define the word elderly or aged. One cannot use only the number of years spent in life, the physical or psychological nature of man to determine an individual’s ageing process. But for the sake of this work, we shall attempt to define the elderly as someone who’s physical and psychological outlook have undergone degenerative changes beyond the average.
An average person is that individual who can care or fend for self both physically and psychologically. From the above literal definition, calendar age does not fit into our consideration. We will therefore look at some of the factors that could lead to degeneration under the following headings:
1. Nutrition 2. Education 3. Sickness/ diseases
4. Occupation 5. Poverty
This is the most vital aspect of man’s life. One’s nutrition from conception through infancy, adolescence to adulthood will greatly determine how fast he or she will age. For instance, a malnourished mother gives birth to a small for-age baby. If the nutritional needs of this infant are not made up during the development stages, he may possess some form of mal-developed features both physically and psychologically.
During the degenerative phase in life, if an individual lacks adequate nutrition, he
degenerates faster; disease processes are equally faster in malnourished people.
By education we do not mean going through school or even a university. An educated person here means an individual who cares to know and applies what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. It does not matter how many degrees you acquire. You may decide to be ignorant of many important things that can add value to your life. It is expected that people go for medical check-up at least once in a year, if you are bubbling in good health and frequently, if you are ill. But an illiterate may overlook this cheap advice. He takes care of any ache with paracetamol and herbs. For this group, detecting and treating diseases early enough is not in their calendar. The consequences are always great a mild illness degenerate to complications and a sudden, fast aging process sets in. An illiterate does not obey medical advice related to diet, drinks and smoking. The relationship here is that one thing leads to another. And the final stage before death is the degeneration of healthy organs early in life. So, this individual ages faster than his peers.
These unfortunate situations degenerate the body faster than necessary, child- birth diseases inclusive. Some drugs taken during illness can degenerate tissues.
Occupation is mentioned here because of our environment where 40% of our population is peasant farmers. Exhaustion from the tedious job over the years may cause wear and tear to body tissues. These people age faster than their peers in white collar jobs. Some other occupations expose people to sedentary lifestyle. Obviously, these people always present in hospitals with hypertension and diabetes and other complications.
It is a known fact that poor people age faster than the rich for so many reasons. A poor man cannot afford good food, access good healthcare facilities, education and information. In fact, the poor are the most vulnerable.
Let us look at what aged individuals go through in life so that we can proffer solutions to some of their needs. An elderly person battles with physical, psychological, nutritional and social need problems. The vital organs lack the usual vitalities, the skin is fragile and fluffy, sight diminishes and hearing loss sets in. Ability to digest food and eliminate wastes becomes altered; the bones, muscles, nerves (including the brain tissues) lose their intergrite. Cushions that separate the bones at the joints wear off and the bones are left to rub each other, causing severe pain. Hormonal secretions drop, causing atrophy/hypertrophy of organs or glands such as the ovaries, prostrate, the pancreas, adrenals, lachrymal glands, etc. All these lead to degenerating diseases.
The aged cannot meet the nutritional needs of his body from the normal food hence the need for food supplement. He might have lost his dentition and so his food has to be minced. He needs extra fruits and vegetables. Frequent meals in smaller quantity are advisable. The food should contain fibre to enable easy bowel movement. The elderly has to be monitored as he may not eat meals served but hide same for little ones he loves. Because of ache, mild exercises like trekking should be enough for him. Regular medical check-up is essential. Care for the eyes, teeth and ears by specialists are essential.
An elderly should be encouraged to bath with warm water using soft sponge. Soap/creams which can leave the body moist are best. Light clothing is better while hard surface mattresses on the floor are better for sleep.
In our part of the world, the elderly are frequently tagged witches and wizards simple because they cannot comprehend like other adults. The aged tend to remember past events more than the recent (senile dementia). The elderly can accuse a close care-giver of stealing his belongings or others’. Understanding the individual is important as you may not be able to meet their needs completely. You may need to explain anything you are doing for him before starting at all.
The elderly need outing, change of environment, music; you can encourage him to join other folks for interaction. As a man ages, he may still have some urge for sex even though some do lose their potency. Care should be taken in this aspect. Women, on the other hand, may lose interest in sexual matters. These are topics for another day.
Finally, in my own opinion, nobody should neglect the elderly. Even the Holy book encourages us to take care of the elderly. We have to bear in mind that one day we shall be in their shoe