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Front Page » March 13, 2008 » Home and Garden Focus » A Common Fear: the Aging Process
Published 2,763 days ago

A Common Fear: the Aging Process

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Aging is something everyone around the world must face. Each year time ticks by and changes take place - some good, some less desirable.

Certain common fears arise over and over in studies conducted about the fear of aging.Whether it's fruitful or not, people tend to worry more about their health as they age. For some, the worrying can be productive, forcing them to overhaul a lifestyle that might not be healthy. For others, the worrying might only compound existing problems.

Faced with the dilemma of getting older, a multi-interational survey reports, Germans worry the most about losing their memory and mental alertness. The Dutch fear getting heavier, and people from Thailand worry about waning eyesight. Americans can't seem to agree on just one concern, they spread their top concern among loss of energy, trouble caring for themselves, memory loss, and weight gain.

In contrast the westerners and Asians interviewed, Egyptions don't seem to worry at all about getting older.

While it's understandable and necessary to focus more on health as the aging process progresses, taking care of oneself and aging healthily doesn't have to be as hard as it seems. Instead, having an understanding of the human body and what happens to it as it ages can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle well into one's golden years.

Whenever health comes into question, the first thing to cross most people's minds is their diet. Dietary changes are necessary as people get older for a variety of reasons.

•Shifting energy levels.

One of the foremost reasons diet changes are needed as people age is the loss of energy that comes with age. Because the body's energy levels decrease over time, fewer calories are needed to function on a daily basis. If caloric intake is not reduced as we age, weight gain and other negative physical consequences can result.

•Weakening bones.

Dietary changes are also necessary to defend oneself against injuries that can result from bones weakening as the body ages. As people get older, bones begin to lose mineral content, making them more susceptible to breaks and other injuries. In addition, the body is more susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become brittle and fragile, as it ages. Calcium can help prevent injuries to bones and osteoporosis, emphasizing the importance of making calcium a part of the daily diet.

•Shift in production.

There's a lot to live for at any age, but some marvelous joys are restricted to seniors.

Ever wonder why a middle-aged man can eat the same diet as a young man but the physical evidence (namely the difference in body type) will not indicate this to be true? This is because as a body ages it begins producing more body fat and less muscle. This means reducing the amount of fat in a diet as a person ages and exercising more to combat the reduction in muscle tissue production is necessary. It's best to consult a physician for any specific dietary changes, but in general reducing fat intake while including more protein in your diet is a good start toward combating the production shift that takes place as the body ages.

Another thing to expect with aging is changes to the cardiovascular system. The most noticeable change is the heart loses some of its efficiency with respect to pumping blood. Part of that loss of efficiency is due to blood vessels losing some of their elasticity, making it harder for blood to be pumped. With the heart now working harder to do the same job it's been doing for years, certain changes must be made to reduce stress on the heart. One is reducing fat intake. Someone who has a diet high in fat runs the very dangerous risk of having fatty deposits form on their artery walls, stiffening those walls as a result while increasing blood pressure and making it even harder for the heart to pump blood. This is another reason to reduce fat intake as you age.

While much of this discussion thus far has focused on ways to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, many people, particularly the elderly, find themselves underweight as they get older. Unbeknownst to many, being underweight can be just as damaging as being overweight.

Perhaps the biggest risk people run when being underweight is associated with turning a cold or other short-term illness into a much bigger problem. Keeping a healthy weight helps ensure that the body is resilient, fully capable of handling some ailments, such as cold or flu, that can afflict anyone, regardless of age. Being underweight lessens energy reserves, meaning people won't be able to bounce back as quickly should you get the flu or a cold. Sometimes, people might not be able to bounce back at all, leading to permanent disability or, in some cases, death.

Those who are underweight should be sure to eat three meals a day. Underweight people can find that finishing a meal is tough. For people in that boat, this is okay, but they should make sure they eat the highest calorie foods on the plate first. If you need to leave anything on the plate, don't leave the items that will help you get back to a healthy weight.

•Memory loss.

"I'm afraid that one day I will wake up and have little memory of the people around me or won't be able to remember what I watched on TV a few hours earlier," says Susan, 65. "I don't want to end up being put in a home because I cannot be trusted to care for myself.

According to a study conducted by Elizabeth L. Glisky, Ph.D., Susan R. Rubin, M.A. and Patrick S.R. Davidson, M.A., researchers from the University of Arizona, memory loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Despite the stereotypes of seniors walking around aimlessly because they cannot remember anything, the study has found that only some people over 65 suffer greater losses in "source (contextual) memory" than in memory for facts and items. Source memory is memory for the broad contextual aspects surrounding an event, such as who was speaking, or whether you learned something from a book or TV.

There are also solutions to this dilemma.

•Get writing: Write things down to reinforce memory.

•Make associations: Put medications next to breakfast cereals so you remember to take them.

•Challenge yourself: Do puzzles or other challenging games to help boost brainpower.

•Pay full attention to tasks at hand: Supposed memory loss may really be the result of being distracted.

Urinary Incontinence.

"I fear that the incontinence issues I'm beginning to have will get worse and that soon my quality of life and freedom will be greatly compromised," says Bill, 57.

Exercise is an important part of fending off the affects of aging.

Roughly 33 million Americans have urinary incontinence issues. This can happen both to men and women of all ages, but bladder problems have higher occurrence with advanced age. Frequent trips to the bathroom are bothersome and can impede sleep schedules and quality of life. Incontinence can be the result of illness, medications, childbirth or problems of the urinary system. While it's common for older adults, it's not a problem exclusive to the elderly.

Here are some changes one can make to help solve this problem.

•Dietary changes. Some foods and beverages can be harder on the bladder than others. Citrus fruits, carbonated beverages and coffee are some of the more common offenders. A doctor may be able to suggest changes to your diet to improve health.

•Behavioral modifications: These may include Kegels, which are exercises designed to strengthen the pelvic floor; and other techniques such as bladder retraining, a behavioral technique that involves scheduling bathroom visits and gradually increasing the time between urination.

Lack of mobility.

"I don't want to end up a couch potato because my legs just don't want to work as well as they used to," says Barbara, 72.

One of the biggest fears seniors have is a lack of independence. This can stem from reduced mobility, whether trouble walking or a decision to give up driving. While certain impairments to motor function may be a result of illness or injury, in general, a healthy senior may be his or her own worst enemy when it comes to mobility issues. That's because regular exercise and a balanced diet is essential to maintaining proper fitness.

Here are some ideas to combat the problem of less mobility.

•Watch the diet: For someone who is on a special diet (for example, diabetic) maintain that diet. Eating the right foods will stave off excess weight gain, reduce the chances for edema and give one the fuel to make it through each day.

•Exercise. Check with a doctor about a fitness plan. Start slowly and simply by taking a walk each day (indoors or outside depending upon weather), and building up the distance. This can maintain a healthy heart and improve muscle tone.

•Supplementation. Bone loss and other skeletal problems may be the culprits behind mobility issues. Calcium supplementation and other suggestions from a doctor or pharmacist may be able to help.

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