The effect of ageing on physical and mental health

The effect of ageing on physical and mental health

Read Time: 3 mins

The effect of ageing on physical and mental health

In the early stages of lockdown the Irish Government recommended that  the over 60s should not leave their homes incase they were exposed to Covid 19.   So fears about their physical health kept many older people stuck at home which in turn may have damaged their mental health.    You can read more about this at https://tilda.tcd.ie/news-events/2021/2112-tildareport-living-through-covid19/.

Biological ageing refers to the impact of ageing upon the body.  This may include changes in skin texture, hair colour,  a loss of muscular strength  and bone thinning or osteoparosis.  Changes in immunity make older people more susceptible to infection.  Menopause can lead to hormonal changes such as night sweats.   Ageing can also lead to changes in immunity increasing the risk of infection in older people.   Losing a few inches off your  height due to disc atrophy in the spine, is a normal part of ageing.   Some changes such as reduced eyesight can be corrected with glasses, but ultimately impaired vision may mean that an older person has to give up driving which results in a loss of independence.   It is possible to correct a hearing problem with hearing aids.  It is important to get your hearing checked if you find that you cannot take part in conversation.   I believe one of the biggest factors for older people is if they lose the power in their legs.  If their legs get weak they tend to lose confidence in their ability to walk and that in turn dissuades them from trying to walk.    Physiotherapists can recommend exercises in order to strengthen the limbs.  Walking aids should help with this and mobility aids for the home such as grab rails are also available.   The  key is to look for these aids early to avoid the risk of falling.

In terms of mental health, psychological ageing refers to the ability of individuals to adapt to changes in their lives using memory, learning, intelligence, skills, motivation, emotion and feeling.    For example if a person struggles to get a word, or cannot remember what they are trying to say that can be both frustrating and embarrassing for them.   The Seattle Study on Longitudinal Ageing older adults  (Schaie 1994) refers to  various factors which can help to reduce cognitive decline and they are

  • Absence of heart disease and other serious diseases
  • Socio-economic factors
  • A stimulating environment
  • A flexible personality
  • Health of one’s partner
  • Keeping the brain active and engaged
  • Use of techniques to help cognition

It is entirely possible that older people suffer cognitive decline because they have not been using their mental faculties.  They may have had a busy job where they were required to be sharp and alert but once they retired they did not kept up the same level of mental agility.    Cognition in older people has been found to have improved with cognitive training interventions in some situations.  These improvements may even have long lasting effects in terms of years. Psychologists have drawn a distinction between fluid abilities such as logical reasoning, numbers and spatial relations which tend to decline over time and crystallised abilities such as the lifelong accumulation of knowledge acquired over a lifetime.     The Seattle study found that numerical ability started to decline from age 60, spatial ability from age 67 whereas fluid ability only waned after age 80.

Genetic factors may play a part in whether or not someone develops dementia in later life.   It is not possible to predict whether a person will enjoy good physical or mental health throughout their life but a good diet, keeping active through exercise and keeping one’s brain stimulated throughout the lifecourse are likely to increase your chances of having a pleasant old age.  If you have an older relative that you are concerned about and want information about eldercare please go to www.emerlavineldercare.ie to book a consultation today.

 

 

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