Senior Citizen's Resources
Other Geriatric Issues

The number of people aged 60 and over is rapidly increasing throughout the world in a "demographic revolution" that could lead to widespread poverty and social exclusion among the elderly, the International Labour Office (ILO) warns in a new report. While not yet catastrophic, the increasing proportion of the population aged 60 and over poses a growing policy challenge in both developed and developing countries. The ILO report says creating millions of new jobs - in all sectors and especially among women, unemployed youth and people with disabilities - will be the key to the financing of social security and social protection in the future.

"Poverty and social exclusion are the greatest obstacles to a secure and decent old age," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said. "The vitality of our societies increasingly depends on ensuring that people of all ages, including older people, have a decent income from work or retirement and are able to continue participating in the life of their communities through employment, volunteer work or other activities."

The world has seen a sharp rise in the number of persons over the age of 60 during past 50 years, according to UN population data, and a new ILO analysis indicates that the rate of increase will accelerate over the next 50 years. In developed countries, for example, the percentage of persons over the age of 60 rose from 11.7 per cent of the total population in 1950 to 19.4 per cent by the year 2000, representing a 66 per cent increase. Between 2000 and 2050, the number of persons in the same age group is expected to increase to 33.5 per cent of the total population, a 72 per cent increase.

In developing countries, where populations are still relatively young in comparison to the industrialized countries, the increase in the elderly is even more startling. While the proportion of persons aged 60 and over increased from 6.4 per cent of the total population to 7.7 per cent between the years 1950 and 2000 (a 19 per cent increase of the share), the share of that age group is expected to grow by 150 per cent by the year 2050 to 19.3 per cent.

Among persons over the age of 80, the increase will be even sharper. Between 2000 and 2050, the number of persons over 80 in the total population of developed countries is expected to rise from 3.1 per cent of the total population in the year 2000 to 9.6 per cent in 2050, that is a 200 per cent increase of the percentage, while that figure for developing countries will be 400 per cent (from 0.7 per cent of the total population in 2000 to 3.3 per cent in 2050). The report attributes this demographic shift mainly to the general decline in fertility rates and to improved health, which has lengthened life expectancy and reduced the ratio of newborns to the total population.

"This amounts to a demographic revolution," Mr. Somavia said. "As our societies age, the prospect of poverty and exclusion are cause for grave concern." ILO suggests, may be changing employment policies in order to enable older workers to stay longer in employment should they wish to and to make it attractive for them to do so. The ILO therefore proposes the introduction of a gradual and flexible transition from active working life to retirement, coupled with measures to prevent discrimination in employment and policies to train and retrain older workers. Other steps should include the promotion of lifelong learning as well as developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to open up employment and training possibilities for older people.

Symptoms of aging present themselves differently in different people and at different ages. Aging of different parts of the body also tend to take place at varying rates. Different people develop different problems with age, like memory loss or breathing problems. It then becomes all the more difficult to figure out if clinical symptoms are related to aging or to some other condition. Sometimes these assumptions stand in the way of proper diagnosis and treatment of comparatively simple ailments. Some symptoms to be worried about are appetite loss, reduced mental functioning, dizziness, falls, incontinence, pain and reduced functional ability (eg changing clothes or climbing up stairs). With age, liver and kidney functions and the body's ability to process chemicals reduce. With medication, drug levels can quickly concentrate inside the body and led to drug toxicity. Another condition of concern in old age is susceptibility to infection. The elderly tend to have lower body temperatures and infections may present in older people as impaired functional abilities. But they may not show any rise in temperature unlike younger people. Pneumonia causes symptoms such as rapid breathing, reduced appetite and reduced functioning in the Elderly. Similarly, urinary tract infection may present with incontinence, confusion in the elderly. Therefore treatment of the elderly should also be based on symptoms and it should not be attributed to old age.

Health Check

An overview of some old age health problems :-
  1. Nervous System. The brain shrinks by about 10% after the age of thirty. This may result in deterioration of processing ability. Regular mental and aerobic exercise will assist in maintaining cognitive function. Brisk walks are recommended.
  2. Circulatory System. Fatty deposits and scar tissue start accumulating in the linings of blood vessels, thus affecting the blood flow to various organs, including the heart and the brain. This will also result in hyper tension. All effort should be made to change the life style. Weight should be controlled through regular exercise and diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good to avoid atherosclerosis and hyper tension.
  3. Skeletal System. Older people experience a gradual loss of bone density and deterioration of the cartilage at joints. Muscles also show deterioration with time. Lowering of estrogen levels also speed up bone loss in women. Exercise with lighter weights and a vitamin D rich diet is recommended. Do stretching exercises to keep fit.
  4. Respiratory System. The lung function reduces with time due to loss of elasticity of the lung walls. One should stop smoking completely and take up exercises which increase lung capacity.
  5. Digestive System. Older people develop digestive problems and tend to get constipated. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fibrous whole grains coupled with regular exercise will help.
  6. Ears and Eyes. The ear canal grows thinner and drier with time and nerves and sensory cells die. Hearing declines marginally between the ages of 60 and 80. The cornea ( lens) of the eye becomes less elastic with time and as the muscles controlling it also become weak, the eye is unable to focus. Cataracts develop in older people as proteins in the lens oxidize and the lens becomes opaque. One should avoid exposure to loud noise. However, some hearing loss is likely as you age. A diet rich in dark green, leafy vegetables may help prevent cataracts and muscular degeneration.
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