The truth about getting older and health tests
Forget 50 is the new 40 – with care and attention to your body, 50 is the new 30 and old age is just a state of mind! But like every well-oiled machine, your body needs regular servicing – read on to find out how …
There is lots of good news out there among the shocking headlines. For instance, the average life expectancy in the UK has increased by at least two years (a bit more for men) every decade for about the last 50 years. In 1960, it was 72 - today, it’s 81½ and rising. But more importantly, more and more of us are living well for longer than ever. Long gone are the days when you were expected to spend all day resting your poor old joints, along with your pipe and slippers, in front of the fire from the moment you retired at 60.
A study on more than 1,000 people over the age of 85 has shown that contrary to popular belief, most older people are remarkably independent. The study looked at everyday activities, eyesight, falls, waterworks problems and more. Nearly one in five had no difficulty with any day-to-day activities and nearly four in five rated their health compared to other people’s as good, very good or excellent.
We can’t avoid illness, but we can certainly stack the odds in our favour. The keys are getting regular check-ups, a healthy diet and keeping both brain and body active. If you think you may have any of the conditions below, get yourself checked out – your doctor will often be able to reassure you.
Let’s start towards the top of the body with the brain. The control room of the whole body, symptoms all over can be down to a problem with the brain. For instance, Parkinson’s disease, a condition in which the brain doesn’t produce enough of a chemical called dopamine, typically gives rise to three symptoms - stiffness, tremor (worse at rest) and slowness of movement (often making it hard to ‘get going’).
Most people worry about dementia, but recent research suggests many of them don’t need to. It’s perfectly normal to have ‘senior moments’, when you go upstairs to fetch something and forget what it was when you get there. This is particularly common if you’re distracted or stressed. People with dementia find it hard to remember recent events even when they’re concentrating. Later, they get easily confused, especially in new surroundings. Events from long ago are lost last, and some people with dementia start to live in the past.
Gradual changes in eyesight are normal – make sure you get eye checks at least every two years. But see a doctor or optician if you start seeing wavy lines or blurring in the centre of your vision (possible signs of macular degeneration) and get urgent help if you suddenly lose vision, see double or get flashing lights or an increase in floaters, which can be a sign of retinal detachment. Cataracts get more common with age, but usually aren’t operated on until they’re having a significant effect on day-to-day living.
Getting a little more short of breath can be normal, but get it checked out if you’ve been a smoker; if it gets rapidly worse; if you cough up blood; or if you have a long-standing cough. Most chest symptoms are down to a problem with the lungs, but getting breathless when lying flat or waking up gasping for breath can be a symptom of heart failure. Even if you do have lung or heart problems, regular exercise can help build up your lung efficiency.
Men are particularly prone to waterworks problems in later life, as their prostate gets bigger. Symptoms include getting up often to pass water at night, needing to rush to the loo but having to wait when you get there, or a poor urine flow. The vast majority will have a benign cause which can be treated with tablets or possibly surgery. But prostate cancer can cause similar symptoms – get your man to see his GP.
With thanks to ‘My Weekly’ magazine where this article was originally published.