Factors and Theories of Ageing

Zartasha Ahmed [due 15/03/15]

Ageing

The process of ageing is inevitable and affects each individual differently. There are many negative attitudes and stereotypes around the concept of old age, such as frailty, disability and dependency. However with lifestyle changes it is possible to reduce the physical degeneration caused by overall ageing.

Factors Influencing Ageing

Nutrition

Good nutrition is important at any life stage as it protects and maintains the body, however young people do not feel the effects of poor nutrition til several decades later. Good nutrition throughout life will ease the degenerative process of ageing so it becomes easier to adapt to later life.

Intake of sufficient quantities of the correct types of food will meet the nutritional needs of the elderly and good nutritional health will boost immunity and resistance to diseases. Hereditary diseases and conditions that cause premature ageing of organs such as the heart can be reduced by correct nutrition. The heart is a very important organ to take care of and poor nutrition can cause atherosclerosis (fatty substances deposited in the blood vessels, causing them to narrow and lose elasticity). If flow to the heart is interrupted, it can cause a heart attack which will permanently weaken the heart.

There are identified links between old age and nutrition. As people get older, the taste buds do not diminish however the sense of smell does. This can affect a person's appetite and make it difficult to stay nutritionally balanced. Also, salivary glands begin to shrink and produce less saliva, therefore starchy foods are not digested properly and become hard to swallow. This also contributes to poor diet. Furthermore, many elderly people do not have their original teeth and struggle with dentures. This means they are deterred by foods that are hard to chew and settle for softer foods, which causes them to miss a lot of nutritional content in their diet.

Exercise

Ageing affects our bodies in ways that make exercise challenging, such as pain and lack of energy, however overcoming these challenges has many long term benefits.

Regular exercise can slow and even prevent physiological damages of ageing. From the age of 60 motor neurones in the body start to die. This means connections between muscle fibres die and muscle mass shrinks. Physical activity can slow motor neuron degeneration and keep remaining muscle healthy.

There are two types of muscle fibres; fast twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch muscle contracts quickly and gets tired easily, a lot of this is lost during old age. Slow twitch muscle contracts slowly and does not get tired as easily, a lot of this still remains during old age. Exercise reduces the degeneration of both fibres however fast twitch muscle dies at a much faster rate than slow twitch muscle. Therefore endurance exercises are ideal for older adults as the remaining slow twitch muscle is used and it can be done at an individual's own pace.

A person's VO2max measures the optimum level of oxygen a person's body can effectively utilize during cardiovascular exercise. It is measured in millimetres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute of exercise (ml/kg/min). After the age of 30 a person's VO2 decreases at a rate of 10% per decade, this makes exercise more difficult for older adults. However overcoming this barrier increases endurance and slows this degeneration, making exercise easier and more rewarding.

With old age and lack of exercise, arteries become stiff and lose elasticity. this causes blood pressure to rise because the heart has to work harder to pump blood. Also reflexive impulses that make blood vessels dilate begin to diminish, meaning not enough blood is pumped around the body during exercise. Regular exercise keeps blood vessels responsive and healthy, while maintaining blood pressure.

Health Care

The transition into older adulthood inevitably comes with certain ailments, as ageing is a degenerative process and there is only so much diet and exercise can prevent. Health care is important throughout life, a person should always check if they are in good health. The health care system has changed older life dramatically, for the better and possibly the worse. Elderly people are living much longer and many illnesses now have cures or treatments, however some are still suffering during their later years.

Regular appointments with dentists and opticians are easy to ignore while young, however in older adulthood there is a higher chance of having health issues. Indicators of illness in the eyes and teeth, for example, may only be recognized by healthcare professionals. The care an older adult needs varies; some may live a long, healthy life occasionally seeing their GP. However some older adults have more severe and persistent health complications that may leave them institutionalized.

Institutions such as care homes have become the norm for older adults once they require additional care. This means people have become reliant on health care services to cope with old age, especially if they have not taken care of themselves in their younger years.

Degenerative Diseases

Degenerative diseases are any disorders that cause physical or mental degeneration; declining from a higher to lower level of power, vitality, ability, or quality. These can happen to anyone at any age but are more common in older adults whose bodies have gone through wear and tear. These diseases can be a severe impairment to daily life, causing sufferers to struggle with simple tasks.

Dementia is a degenerative disease that commonly affects older adults over the age of 65, however it could affect anyone. Early symptoms may not be noticed at first, or they may be mistaken as signs of old age. Progressive, frequent memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, along with confusion and personality changes. Apathy and withdrawal are other symptoms, most likely as a result of their loss of ability. There are different types of dementia, alzheimer's being the most common. Vascular dementia is when blood circulation to the brain is reduced. Alcohol related dementia is a result of long term alcohol abuse and the risk is higher when paired with a vitamin B1 deficiency. There is not much a person can do to reverse the damage, however the progression of the disease can be slowed with drug therapy.

Dementia is a feared part of old age and has developed a negative stigma, as dementia is still a little known disease. It usually begins to affect the brain's memories, making it difficult for an older adult to retain short term memory; such as where they put keys or if they've taken medication. This alone can make daily life frustrating, however dementia is a degenerative disease and continues to decline. This has an effect on their overall lifestyle, causing them to be withdrawn and less motivated to keep healthy for their age. More of the brain tissue dies and more function is lost. However with treatments, many sufferers are able to slow the degenerative process and cope with their illness in the best way they can.

Education

Ageing is a feared concept in the western world as there is a negative stigma around being seen as frail and disabled. However if a person has knowledge about old age and how to age well, the process will be much easier.

Knowledge about diet and exercise during older adulthood will make sure a person can take care of themselves properly. It is also beneficial if young people are taught about diet and exercise, so their bodies are fit throughout life. If a person does not know how to take care of themselves during older adulthood, they will be dependent on health care to fix the damage their lack of knowledge has caused. This can include being dependent on blood pressure medication, diabetic medication, or cholesterol medication.

Education also plays an important part in health care, as all professionals go through extensive training. These professionals care for and educate their patients to make sure they are as healthy as they can be.

Work Roles

Many older adults now prefer to stay in work and make use of their time, instead of staying home and being seen as incapable. As people are living longer, there is more time to pursue a career and no rush to leave work. Also advancements in health care have allowed older adults to overcome their ailments and continue working. Furthermore, more jobs with flexible hours have allowed older people to pace themselves and only work hours that are comfortable for them.

The type of work a young person does can have positive and negative effects on their older years. Hard, labouring jobs keep a person active into old age however there is a higher risk of developing joint problems due to excessive strain. A simple desk job will keep a person rested and out of physical strain, however they may become unfit when they are older due to the lack of movement. These are commonly separated into male and female oriented jobs.

Finances

Money has a very big effect on a person's transition to old age, as everything in the modern world needs financing. In older adulthood, people rely on their pension to live comfortably after retirement, however it does not always go as planned.

In order to eat right, an adult must have enough money to buy fresh, healthy foods. If not, they will buy cheaper, unhealthy meals. This affects a person's healthy by raising cholesterol and blood pressure, clogging arteries, and depriving the body of vitamins. The damage done but this is not felt at a young age, but as a person gets older they will face the negative effects of a poor diet.

If a person does not have a highly paid job, they may work longer to increase their income. As a result of this, the extra strain on their body may cause lasting damage such as chronic pain or arthritis. These conditions are very common in older adults and is even more common in older adults who have over worked themselves in their younger years.

Many older adults develop conditions that make them reliant on regular care, meaning they can no longer live alone or with a busy family. Residential care homes provide the consistent care they need however it is very expensive and many families cannot afford it. Therefore, a less able older adult may be cared for in a busy hospital ward or stay at home without care. This can affect their condition if they are not taken care of well enough, and they are likely to become withdrawn and apathetic.

Family and Friends

Ageing can be a lonely process for those who do not have a partner or sibling to experience it with. Feelings of being inadequate or useless are attached to the stigma of ageing, and is sometimes in the thoughts of family and friends of an older adult. However family and friends may also offer knowledge and advice to those entering older adulthood, which can reduce their worries.

Residential care homes aim to provide sufficient care with a social environment for older adults who are experiencing their later years. This is ideal for those who have outlived a partner or who had previously chosen to be alone. It also protects older adults from endangering themselves, as conditions such as dementia can cause a person to neglect their needs or put themselves in harm's way.

There is a lot of support for families of less able older adults now, including those with cancer or dementia. This allows families to take care of older adults better so they do not have to be institutionalized. This improves their quality of life in their later years.