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Senior Care

October 23rd, 2013

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Senior Care

More than half of my heart patients are aged over 65 years.

Well, that doesn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that the older you get, the less healthy you are. However, I expect that in the very near future, over a half of these heart patients will be over 75 years old. Life expectancy is getting longer these days, and I think there will be more senior patients, too.

Life expectancy of Thai people increased from 70 in 1997 to almost 80 in 2005. Statistics have shown that in the United States, senior citizens (aged 65 and over) make 12% of its population. It is predicted that in 2030 there will be over 70 million senior citizens. In Thailand, the number of people aged 60-79 is around 6.2 million, and there are 755,500 people who are 80 or older. In total, about 7 million people in Thailand are older than 60 years old, representing 11% of Thai population.

Living longer is largely due to the medical advancement of today which allows illnesses to be treated more efficiently. In the past, many people were killed by infection such as cholera and tuberculosis. Since we came up with a way to kill fatal germs, the major killers are diseases that human beings are responsible for, such as coronary artery disease which is resulted from unhealthy lifestyle including eating behavior, little exercise and smoking.

Physicians have been trying to come up with several ways to prolong the life of human being. Who knows, in 30 years’ time, life expectancy could probably go up to 100! But remember, since we are all human, death is inevitable and we all have to leave this world sooner or later.

In the past, the medical world didn’t pay much attention to seniors, mostly because there were not that many of them around – they never made it that far. Another reason was that most people believed it might be too late to try to cure someone when he or she is old.

However, come to think of it, the gap between 65 and 90 is 25 years. Now, let’s think of two patients, one being 25 and the other 50 – are they different? Likewise, a 65-year-old patient is significantly different to a 90-year-old.

Interestingly, it is not too late to start living a healthy life even when you are old, whether 65 or 90. Apart from a healthy diet, regular and moderate exercise is also the key to being fit and healthy. Sitting around doing nothing is disadvantageous to the health of the elders.

I am interested in exercise among the elders, particularly because most of my patients belong to that group. No matter how hard I try to save their heart, their health still doesn’t allow them to do activities they want to. However, it was surprising to learn that it’s still beneficial to start exercising even when you are 90.

There was one study conducted among people aged around 90. They were assigned resistance training (such as lifting light weights) under the supervision of experienced physicians. The point was to monitor whether weakened muscles can regain their strength despite the old age.

This study shows that by lifting weights with their legs three times a day, eight reps per set, for eight consecutive weeks, the strength of the knee muscles increased by 174% and 48% of them could walk faster. About 20% of them no longer need a walking stick!

Nothing could be more important to the life of an elder than having good health so that they can rely on themselves in daily life without being a burden to their family members. Exercise, other than strengthening the muscles, also helps them balance better and prevents them from tripping and falling – a major reason of death in seniors.

What’s more, eating healthy and balanced food in the right proportion is very important to the health of the elders. Health check-up is highly recommended, and if the doctor prescribes medicine, do not disobey, study the benefit and possible side effect. The most important thing is to keep a happy attitude!! Love and care from the family is the best medicine of all.

Taking care of an elder is in a way like how parents take care of a child, caring rather than controlling. They should be allowed to do things independently with some observation to prevent hazardous accident but please do not stop them from doing things on their own. By doing so, our beloved elders can live a longer and happier life.

It is the fact of life that we all have to suffer and die as a part of our human life, but we can help reduce the suffering part by giving love and care to the elders in our family, the same way that they cared for us when we were just a little helpless baby.

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.

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