No matter who we are — man, woman, rich or poor — we all grow old. Ageing affects us all but in different ways. The quality of health care received, and a healthy lifestyle are significant contributors to longevity. Nonetheless, dealing with the ageing process can be a challenge. Some ailments can be directly linked to age-related changes, such as eyesight, hearing, stroke, falls, incontinence, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Here we have signposted where to get information and help on this topic.
As ageing progresses, sight can deteriorate; the iris becomes less responsive causing difficulty adapting to different light levels. The three most common ailments related to ageing eyes are cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to ageing and can be easily detected in an eye test. A simple operation can restore the sight and has become quite a common operation.
Glaucoma: This is a more complicated disease of the eye. Left untreated glaucoma can cause damage to the optic nerve resulting in vision loss. A diagnosis of glaucoma may raise concerns about driving ability, as safe driving requires clear central vision and adequate peripheral vision.
Macular degeneration: This condition, also known as age-related macular degeneration, does not cause any pain but can result in blurred or no vision in the centre of the visual field. Early on there are often no symptoms, but gradually it can rob an individual of their clear, central vision.
Many of these conditions can be treated successfully if detected early. There is more information available on the NHS website. Merseyside also has a number of opticians who offer a home visiting service, these opticians can be found on the Housing Care website.
Statistics show that one in three people older than the age of 60, and half of those older than 85, have hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss caused by ageing is called presbycusis and is thought to run in families. Hearing loss can hinder and prevent vital communication with family, friends and caregivers, which can cause frustration, anger and depression. If not addressed a loss of hearing can lead to isolation.
If you see signs that your parent’s hearing has started to deteriorate, encourage them to have a hearing test at their GP or local optician. You can find more information on hearing loss prevention on the NHS website. Home visit hearing tests are also offered in the Merseyside area, you can view these on the Housing Care website.
The largest number of people who have strokes are aged over 55 and the risk increases as you get older. There are lots of things that can be done to reduce the risk of having a stroke. Your parent’s GP can help you understand the risk of stroke and support you to make the changes necessary to reduce risks for your parent.
Recognising the signs and symptoms of a stroke can increase the chances of a good recovery. You may have seen the F.A.S.T. campaign on television or on posters which show us how to recognise some of the most common symptoms of a stroke:
FACIAL WEAKNESS: Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?
ARM WEAKNESS: Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?
SPEECH PROBLEMS: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?
TIME TO CALL 999.
A stroke can change lives in an instant. Some may recover fully, and others may need support to adjust to their changing lifestyle. Your local authority and NHS provide free enablement services for those who need them.
These services can help the person recovering from a stroke to learn or relearn the skills necessary for independent daily living at home. Depending on the severity of the stroke, some form of care and support with daily activities may be required, such as a care worker visiting your parent’s home to help with washing, dressing or just to provide companionship.
Here are some useful links from the NHS:
If you are caring for a parent who has suffered from a stroke, it may be useful to read your guide to care and support from the NHS. This is written for people with care and support needs, as well as their carers and relatives.
Wirral Stroke Recovery Service provides high quality information, practical advice and emotional support following a stroke. Whether you are a stroke survivor, carer or family member, they will begin working with you after a stroke. They continue to provide the support your parent needs, both at home and in the wider community.
The Stroke Association offer plenty of useful information:
When a fall occurs, most people assume the contributing factor is an unsafe home environment. To ensure the safety of a parent is never compromised making home modification is traditionally the first step. However, there can be other factors to consider, such as a lack of physical strength, poor balance, impaired vision and of course home hazards.
The Bridgewater Community Healthcare trust aims to provide primary prevention and reduce falls in the older population in the Merseyside area and across the North of England. The service is aimed at individuals over the age of 55 who have fallen and are at risk of further falls.
Here we offer some insights into some simple fall-prevention strategies.
Visit the GP: Make an appointment for your parent to visit their GP who can assess the medication they are taking for possible side effects and any other issues that may increase their risk of falling. Ensure your parent mentions instances when they fell, and just as importantly instances when they almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time. The GP may also want to test your parent’s eyesight and hearing as certain eye and ear disorders may increase their risk of falls.
Wear sensible shoes and care for your feet: High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can cause slips, stumbles and falls. Invest in properly fitted, sturdy shoes with non-skid soles. Sensible shoes have the added benefit of reducing joint pain too.
- Cosyfeet. This specialist company offer extra roomy footwear, socks and hosiery for swollen, painful or wide feet.
- Podiatry Services in Knowsley. This NHS service aims to prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate conditions affecting feet and lower limbs. These include common foot care problems such as ingrown toenails and bunions. Your parent can self-refer to the service by downloading and completing a patient referral form or collecting and returning a referral from their local clinic/Walk-in Centre and returning it to the service. Your parent’s GP can also refer them to the service.
Remove home hazards: Look around your parent’s home, each room may be filled with hazards such as untidy electrical cords and phone cords, loose rugs and loose wooden floorboards. These should all be tidied up and secured. Make sure clothes, dishes, food and other items regularly used are placed within easy access, without the required ‘leg up’, step ladders or stools. Spilled liquid, grease or food should be cleaned up immediately and consider the use of nonslip mats in the bathtub or shower.
If your parent has had a fall or numerous falls, their doctor can offer a referral to an occupational therapist. They can help them with other fall-prevention strategies. Some solutions may be easily installed and inexpensive. However, if your parent does require professional help or a larger costly investment, remember that an investment in fall prevention is an investment in your parent retaining their independence.
Urinary incontinence is a common and often embarrassing problem. Though it can affect anyone at any age, it occurs more often as people get older. Urinary incontinence affects daily activities and for some people simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or stop urinary incontinence altogether.
Types of Incontinence: Many people will experience the occasional minor leak of urine. Others may lose small to moderate amounts of urine more frequently. There are different types of incontinence which include:
- Stress incontinence. This is when urine leaks when you exert pressure on your bladder, as a result of coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy.
- Urge incontinence. This happens when you have an intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. The need to urinate often, including throughout the night can increase. Urge incontinence may be caused by an infection, or a more-severe condition such as a neurological disorder or diabetes.
- Overflow incontinence. This is when you experience frequent or constant dribbling of urine due to a bladder that doesn’t empty completely.
- Functional incontinence. A physical or mental impairment which hinders you from making it to the toilet in time.
It is also feasible to have a mix of all the above forms of incontinence. It is important to seek medical advice not just if incontinence is affecting quality of life, it may also indicate a more-serious underlying condition. It can also increase the risk of falls if your parent is rushing to get to the toilet.
Treatment for urinary incontinence will depend on the type and severity of symptoms. Some drinks, foods and medications may act as diuretics, stimulating the bladder and increasing the volume of urine. Reducing the intake of drinks such as alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks and sparkling water can reduce the need to urinate. But some simple lifestyle changes can help with pelvic floor muscle training (Kegel exercises) and bladder training.
If your parent has confided in you and you feel the continence issue is complex and needs managing with products, you can ask for an assessment from the district nurse, via your parent’s GP.
- Cheshire and Wirral NHS Partnership offer support and advice in the area
- Age UK incontinence shop offer products to help
- Complete care shop offer a further range of products to help
Take advantage of regular health checks
The NHS offers everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 a full health check every 5 years, aimed at reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and some types of dementia. Most surgeries offer an annual check-up for all patients over 75.