Health and wellbeing are important at any age, but for those entering the later stages of life all those little things we once took for granted can become a cause of concern and affect day to day living.
This article will help you and your loved one identify the areas of health which should be maintained and how you can go about helping them keep on top of things.
A gradual decline in vision is very common among seniors, but that’s not to say that a deterioration in eyesight is inevitable as we get older. Helping and advising your folks on how they can maintain healthy vision and what they can do to protect their eyes could mean a slower decline or non-existent decline in eye health.
Encourage regular eye tests to ensure that eye prescriptions are up to date. Regular testing also means that if your loved one is suffering from an eye disease, it will be noticed much sooner and so easier to treat.
The HSE recommends a check-up at least every 2 years. If your parent has a medical card, they are entitled to a free check-up and glasses, if needed. If they don’t have a medical card, they could be eligible for a free checkup under the Treatment Benefit Scheme.
For more information on the scheme and to contact the HSE directly, just click here.
As well as regular check-ups, encourage your older loved one to have a healthy balanced diet. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables will help maintain healthy eyes and decrease the risk of age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts.
To read up more on what your folks should be eating and why check out our article Thinking about nutrition as we get older.
A good night’s sleep will make anyone feel right again, but what many of us don’t realise is that a bit of shut-eye aids in the maintenance of healthy vision. As we sleep our eyes are lubricated which naturally clears them of all the irritants accumulated throughout the day. As if we needed another excuse to snooze!
Investing in a good solid pair of sunglasses will help to protect the eyes from the sun and harmful UV rays. Make sure they don’t just go down the pound shop and get a pair for 1.99 though! They should be looking for sunglasses which specifically protect against UV rays. There’s usually a sticker on them, or if you’re unsure ask an optician.
Finally, as we age brighter is better! A natural part of the ageing process is that our pupils become smaller which means they let in less light. Because of this, as we get older we need up to 3 or 4 times more light to carry out daily tasks. Make sure your older relative has sufficient lighting in their living space and that windows are kept clean to let in as much natural light as possible during the day. This will ease the strain on their eyes.
Having trouble hearing can have a massive impact on the overall quality of life for your ageing parent. Not being able to hear well can make them feel vulnerable and deter them from leaving their house or putting themselves in social situations, as it can often be embarrassing having to ask someone to repeat themselves multiple times… cue awkward head nod accompanied by confused smile!
Hearing loss is often a natural part of the ageing process or from prolonged exposure to loud noises. There are ways in which we can help our older relatives to lessen the effects of age-related hearing loss and avoid noise-related hearing loss.
Avoid surrounding your loved one with loud noises, and monitor the level of volume around them. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can further damage hearing.
If you’re loved one plans to be around noises for a prolonged period, like going to see some music or going out to a restaurant, suggest they wear some form of ear protection like earplugs or ear muffs.
Make sure their ears are regularly cleaned, but not with cotton buds! You can flush the wax out with an irrigation kit, or if you don’t feel confident getting it all out yourself, you can ask their GP to help.
Again, a healthy balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals will help to maintain healthy fluid in the body which in turn keeps our hearing healthy. Look out for signs of hearing loss with your parent, like turning the TV up louder than usual or struggling to catch what you say at normal volume. If you do notice signs like these, make an appointment with their local GP as soon as possible to help diagnose the issue and ascertain if they need a hearing aid or not.
Medical card holders are entitled to a free hearing aid, but those without one may also be eligible under the HSE’s Treatment Benefit Scheme.
Good oral health significantly affects overall health and wellbeing and it’s imminent that we encourage active dental care with our older loved ones. If oral health declines, it affects their ability to eat a varied diet which in turn causes weight loss and a whole other array of issues.
Poor oral health also causes discomfort, interrupting sleep and causing irritability.
If they still have their own teeth, ensure they’re brushing for two-three minutes twice a day. A soft to medium toothbrush is best alongside a fluoride toothpaste. Flossing once a day and using an antiseptic mouthwash also helps to prevent plaque build up.
If your older parent has full or partial dentures, they should be removed after eating and rinsed with water. They should also be cleaned daily with a soft bristled brush and non-abrasive dental cleanser. Most dentures need to be kept moist to maintain their shape, so if removed overnight they need to be kept in a glass of water or denture cleaning solution. To clean the rest of the mouth without the dentures in, use an antiseptic mouthwash.
Diet is also extremely important for good oral health, as well as avoiding smoking. Eating whole fruits and a low sugar diet helps to decrease oral damage.
If you’re loved one suffers from arthritis, maintaining healthy teeth may become increasingly difficult for them as they lose their ability to grip the toothbrush and the motion of brushing could become increasingly challenging. If this does occur, get them a toothbrush with a large handle or an elastic band which they can wrap around their hand so they don’t drop it as easily.
If you’re loved one has a medical card, they are entitled to a range of dental services under the Dental Treatment Service Scheme provided by the HSE. If they don’t have a medical card, they may still be entitled to some dental benefit as part of the Treatment Benefit Scheme.
For more information on the services available from the HSE, just click here. The HSE recommends that older people visit the dentist at least once a year.
Most people are suspect to poor foot care, and even though our feet are often the part of our bodies we abuse the most, the majority of us fail to care for them properly. Taking care of our ageing parents’ feet can help prevent falls and injuries and help them to live their lives more independently.
Some important factors to bear in mind for adequate foot care include properly fitted shoes, changing socks every day, keeping toenails cut, applying a moisturiser to keep the skin soft, but making sure they're dried well to prevent fungal infections. Keeping feet elevated as much as possible will encourage healthy blood circulation to the feet.
Make sure they check their feet regularly for signs of poor foot health, looking out for blisters, cracked and dry skin and discolouration of the nails. If they’re unable to look after their own feet, make an appointment at their local health centre to put a care plan in place.
Practising good foot care is important for anyone who ages, but especially so for those suffering from diabetes as failure to maintain healthy feet can lead to more serious complications such as gangrene or amputation.