What is the definition of old age? There is no single age limit beyond which it is denoted as old age. Generally, people crossing 60,65 or 70 years are considered as old. W.H.O considers 65 and above as old age. According to Government of India persons who are over 60 years are considered as old, applicable for old age concessions. This is the time when signs of decline of functioning of limbs of the body shows up and various signs which we call signs of old age start appearing. They would feel that their body is not as strong as before. Those signs of old age do not appear at the same age for all. In the case of some, they appear after 60, while in the case of others, they appear later.
Those who are employed retire from their jobs at the age of 60 years. All on a sudden there is sudden change. Their hectic life comes to a stop. This is the case of those who work for short while during post-retirement period. Even in the case of those who are self-employed, and even those stopped working due to some reasons or other there is slowing down of activity. While they are on job, they enjoy many privileges such as higher income in the form of fat salary, power and authority to control people. They are generally in touch with many people. All those come to an end. In old age people who are around pay much less attention. All these changes are perceived as stressful. They feel this loss and experience emotional shock. From hectic life, they have more idle time now and they may not know how to spend time. They may get bored easily. They may lack initiative in attending to daily chores. Those who are well off and have facilities may get engaged in some recreational and amusement activities by being members of sports clubs and may undertake travel forsightseeingplaces and or religious places, places of worship . They may watch T.V which we find almost every home. They may go for movies and visit friends. They may attend music and dance program. Though these activities might help them to keep away boredom to some extent, these have limitations. They may still feel bored. Instead of feeling loss, they have to learn to live quite life and should learn to engage themselves productively. They should work against their inertia and should continue to be actively engaged in daily chores. Generally, the tendency is to neglect daily chores and or seek outside help, developing dependency feeling, which is not to be encouraged . They should develop attitude of being active and keeping good spirits. This is possible if their mind is not obsessed with negative thoughts of helplessness, debility and declining functions of old age. They should spend time in meeting people and actively exchanging ideas. They should cultivate reading some good books, understanding ideas, thinking about those and exchanging with others. They should spend at least an hour daily. Reading with understanding stimulates the brain and delays deterioration of cognitive functions. They should not withdraw from outside activities thinking about their debility. They should challenge their debilities. For instance, they should still walk in spite of feeling a little pain in the leg. They should see their abilities /strength or what they can do rather than what they cannot do or their debilities. It is adopting positive attitude towards aging old. Being preoccupied with debilities lead to low estimation of oneself or what is called 'poor self-image '. If they feel strongly that they cannot do a thing, they will not be able to do even whatever is possible.
Body functions decline as age advances. It is a natural process, which cannot be reversed. One should accept it uncompromisingly or with full heart and should not self-pity or feel low on account of that. There is a greater susceptibility for falling ill, immune function or body's resistance to diseases and changes in outside circumstances weakens as age advances. One should not expect to live as energetically as one has lived in earlier years. Body many not be as much under control as before. It should never be felt as loss. It should be seen only as reminder of the need to attend to those and for a change in life style. It is good to understand what are the changes taking place in the body in the old age. Once they know about it, they can anticipate those decline and take timely medical help and make necessary changes in life style. The following are some the typical changes that take place:
1. There is a general weakening of the body, energy level and muscular strength, with the result both bodily and mental activities slow down. The rate of slow down varies from person to person depending upon whether they lead a sedentary life, life without exercise, with unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking, consumption of too much of starchy and oily food and intake of too much salt and sugar, spend most of the time in passive entertainment such as viewing T.V, being spectator of other amusing events etc.
2. Bones and joints become thine and shrink. This may result in shortening height say 2inches by 80's and stooping posture (hunch back symptom). Movements become slow.
3. Joints become stiff. Experiences aches and pains in joints . Calcium contents in the bone decreases and they become brittle. Chances for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are higher.
4. Hypertension and Heart Disease
5. Excess mucous secretion in the lungs
6. Dental problems: Tooth decay and infection.
7. Digestive problems: Difficulty in swallowing, lack of appetite and consequently low intake, inability to absorb nutrients from food, Diarrhea, constipation, Piles
8. Tremor: uncomfortable shaking of upper parts of the body such as hands and neck
9. Failing eye sight: cataract , Pressbyopia,Glucoma etc. presenting difficulty in reading
10. Falls causing injury to bones
11. Gait velocity slows down, difficulty in balancing and walking.
12. Hairs turn grey and thine. Men affected by baldness (Alopecia)
13. Hearing loss
14. Weakening of immune system resulting lowering of resistance to infections and falling sick more often
14 reacting to changes in weather
15 weakening of lung function causing diseases like Bronchitis, Asthma, COPD etc.. shallow breathing taking less oxygen while inhalation, reducing oxygen carrying capacity of the blood
16 Skin loss. skin becomes dry, more lined and wrinkled
17 wounds and injuries take longer time for healing
18 Urinary bladder constricts and it's urine carrying capacity comes down causing frequent urination at night. Muscles in the urinary track weaken resulting in leakage of urine/involuntary passing of urine called Incontinence.
19 Muscles in the vocal cord weakens causing difficulty in speaking and producing voice of low volume making difficult to understand
20Getting tired easily and low level of energy, activities slowing down gradually becoming partially immobile.
21 Thyroid problems such Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. which affect most of the bodily and mental functions.
22 Body becoming obese which is the cause of many diseases like breathing difficulty,, cardio-vascular problem ,orthopedic problem and even chances of getting cancer .The slowing of the mechanism for absorbing nutrients from the food taken and depositing it as fat in the body and sedentary life are the causes for obesity. Exercise and limiting intake of food, reducing quantity of food taken and substituting it with nutritious food items are the remedies to check obesity.
Changes take place in the mental function as well, as brain shows aging. The typical symptoms are: reduced and slow grasping power, illogical or unconnected thinking, confused thinking not in touch with reality, memory loss(Dementia) both distant and current, mood disturbances-alternating between elation and depressionetc. Old age can also witness Other severe neurological diseases like Parkinsonism, Alzheimer's Disease etc., being anxious and apprehensive, being suspicious, feeling lonely and isolated, feeling hopeless, being short- tempered, complaining about imaginary illness (hypochondria), having low opinion of oneself, self -pitying etc.
The above long list of problems shows the vulnerability of body to illness during old age. The onset of many of the diseases can be controlled if proper care and precautionary measures are taken during early years, which most people overlook. For instance, for calcium and vitamin deficiencies, supplementing these in the early years is much more effective than supplementing it in old age, the reason being the capacity of the body to absorb the micro-nutrients is less as age advances.
Though chances ofillnesses which are painful and debilitating body are high during old age and even if they have one or more chronic diseases, it should not discourage old people. They should not be anxious and panic about it. They should not brood over it. On the other hand, they should stay positive in the sense that they avail prompt medical attention andtake precaution. Many old people are excessively emotional about their diseases that they lose hope and are melancholic most of the time not knowing the possibility of leading reasonably normal and active life with sense of enjoyment and peace. The negative impact of the diseases is much more, if they feel too much emotionally about it and that mental state of conflict and frustration takes away whatever capabilities they have in leading normal life challenging the disease. Once they know that greater vulnerability to diseases is fact of life, accept it and plan timely action, then they will not be emotionally disturbed, on the other hand they will be able to lead active and agile life using whatever capacities they are left with. It is positive attitude towards aging. Due to emotional conflict and consequent sense of hopelessness, there are chances that they may neglect timely attention to their health aspects which may reduce their active life They need not possess much medical knowledge, it is enough if they see clearly what are the common diseases as indicated above which may appear during old age, so that they understand in time and seek proper medical attention. We find either old people neglect their health problems or show strong emotional concern , both of which are unhealthy .Some people, especially affluent are too much obsessed with their health conditions that they are always worried about some imaginary illness and pay hospital visits very often and get diagnostic tests done , whether required or not .When Doctors fail to see any illness in the patient using their clinical sense and when the patients still insist that they have some illness, they are forced to prescribe advanced diagnostic tests like C.T ,scan, P.E.T scan etc. which are costly to see that there is nothing abnormal. The patients too feel satisfied momentarily when they know from tests that they are okay. But this continues. More than the money spent, this feeling of imaginary illness, which is a mental symptom spoils the quality of their lives.
To reiterate, people who are beyond 60years can still lead reasonably peaceful, happy and active life, in spite of the debilities, characteristic of old age. Most of the problems of old age are due to wrong attitude on their part and due to the fact they look at negatively the fact of growing old, instead they should accept it whole heartedly as a natural phenomenon, be confident that they are still left with their potentials and capabilities, in spite of debilitating effects on the body, which they can use to lead happy and active life till the end. They should also not brood over their social loss of not being able to connect with as many people as they could in their earlier years and consciously adopt change in life style of relatively quiet life in old age. That is see old age in new and wholesome perspective. Thus they can add life to years rather than years to life or cut short lifespan or leading very poor quality life. Another powerful way to keep minds healthy and powerful, in spite of weakness of the body is to try to stay with only necessary thoughts in the mind andthe thoughts they allow to pass the mind are positive thoughts. Thoughts of all moral ethical qualities and their behavioral expressions such as love towards everyone, attitude of being helpful., being grateful, being humble, appreciating positive qualities in others, speaking softly etc. are good ones in contrast to acts like hating others, showing vengeance, being angry, being melancholic and brooding etc. This is the reason that in our ancient thoughts, becoming more religious, reading Religious texts and temple worship etc. are recommended.