Saturday, March 25, 2023

Common problems and basic needs of elderly people

There is a huge increase in the elderly population today due to advancements in medical science, improvement in the healthcare system and better economic conditions. Worldwide, the life expectancy rate is now 72.27. The average life expectancy in India is 70.15, while in Nagaland it is 72.4. Living in a fast-paced and busy world, elderly people are often left neglected. Some common problems which the elderly face irrespective of caste and creed in the advanced world as well as the developing world among the rich or poor are discussed below:
Health-issues: Blood pressure, blood sugar, body aches, urinary problems, heart disease, constipation, cancer, etc. At least 72% of the age group above 65 Years old have one or two of such health problems.
Memory loss: Memory loss leads to depression and mental disorders such as dementia. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Across the world, an estimated 47.5 million people are affected with dementia today, including 8.8 million in India.
Physical injury: Physical injuries become more common as muscles shrink and bones weaken.
Financial insecurity: Financial insecurity due to high medical expenditures can also become a great problem, often leading to depression.
Malnutrition: Often, with no caregiver to ensure proper nutritional diets, the immune system becomes compromised which can then lead to further health complications.
Loneliness: Owing to social isolation, feelings of loneliness and despair increase which then aggravates mental insecurity.
Sensory impairments: Sensory impairments such as visual and hearing are very common among elderly people.
Difficulties in mobility: Due to many reasons, mobility becomes a serious problem. Having to always depend on someone else even for many basic activities often leads to a sense of helplessness and also even a loss of dignity.
Basic needs of elderly people
As compared to many other cultures around the world, in our Naga context, the old and ageing are relatively well-taken care of owing to a sense of familial and social responsibility that is culturally inculcated in us. Except in certain cases, children or family members inevitably take up the responsibility of being caregivers to the elderly. The following may serve as reminders to both the elderly and their caregivers to ensure a better quality of life.
While it is a fact that regular exercise and staying physically active go a long way in keeping our bodies healthy, the need for routine check-ups cannot be stressed enough. Preventive measures can only be taken if one takes the step of heading to see a doctor. Getting proper nutrition and exercise is also very vital. We are in fact very fortunate to have easy access to the most organically grown healthy foods. Many of our indigenous plants have healing properties. Eating varieties of good food in the right amount and meal-planning are healthy choices that we can make everyday. While the lack of parks or open spaces can limit recreational activities for the elderly, stepping out of the house to take walks around the house or neighbourhood can be refreshing. Keeping one’s surroundings clean as well as helping maintain personal hygiene are also very important.
When it comes to meeting the emotional needs of the elderly, a very simple act can be to spend time talking and listening to them to make them feel seen and heard. Little things like recollection of fond memories of the good old days can also reactivate the brain. Further, interaction with peers is very important. Being in the company of the same age group and friends can keep them healthy and happy. Our Naga society is a community-centred society. Church is one of the best places where one can have fellowship with God and fellow members in the society. For the elders who cannot go to church, home fellowship can be a great way to meet this need for connection.
Ageing can often be a lonely and painful affair. However, with these small reminders, the quality of life can still be achieved and maintained to ensure ageing with dignity, and making old age a season to be cherished for both the elderly and caregivers alike.
Dr. P Kilemsungla
Speech delivered on 14th March, 2023 at the workshop on Elderly Care by Good Samaritan Society Kohima, Nagaland.

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