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Posted: January 11th, 2024

Ageing and its impact on mental and physical health

Ageing and its impact on mental and physical health

Ageing is a natural and inevitable process that involves biological, psychological and social changes. As people grow older, they face various challenges and opportunities related to their health and well-being. In this article, we will explore some of the common health conditions associated with ageing, the risk factors that can affect them, and the ways to promote healthy ageing.

Biological changes

At the biological level, ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease and ultimately death (World Health Organization [WHO], 2022). These changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. The diversity seen in older age is not random.

Some of the common physical conditions that affect older adults are hearing loss, cataracts, refractive errors, back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancer and dementia. These conditions can impair the quality of life and functional ability of older adults, and increase their dependency on others. Moreover, older adults are more likely to experience multiple chronic conditions at the same time, which can complicate their management and treatment.

Psychological changes

Ageing also affects the psychological aspects of health, such as cognition, memory, mood and emotions. Cognitive decline is a normal part of ageing, but it can also be accelerated by factors such as vascular diseases, brain injuries, infections, medications and nutritional deficiencies. Memory loss is one of the most common complaints among older adults, and it can affect their daily functioning and self-esteem. However, not all memory problems are signs of dementia, which is a progressive and irreversible condition that affects various domains of cognition.

Depression and anxiety are also prevalent among older adults, affecting around 14% of them worldwide (WHO, 2023). These mental health conditions can have negative impacts on physical health, social relationships, quality of life and mortality. Some of the risk factors for depression and anxiety in later life are loneliness, social isolation, bereavement, chronic illness, disability, abuse, poverty and stigma.

Social changes

Ageing is not only a biological phenomenon but also a social one. Older adults experience various transitions in their social roles and relationships as they retire from work, relocate to more appropriate housing or care facilities, lose their spouses or friends or become caregivers themselves. These changes can affect their sense of identity, purpose and belonging.

Social support is crucial for the mental and physical health of older adults. It can provide emotional comfort, practical assistance, information sharing and companionship. However, many older adults face social exclusion or discrimination due to ageism, which is the stereotyping or prejudice against people based on their age. Ageism can undermine the dignity, autonomy and contribution of older adults to society.

Promoting healthy ageing

Healthy ageing is defined by WHO (2022) as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age”. Functional ability refers to the health-related attributes that enable people to do what they value. It includes intrinsic capacity (the physical and mental capacities of an individual), relevant environmental characteristics (the availability and accessibility of support and services) and the interactions between them.

To promote healthy ageing, it is important to address the biological, psychological and social factors that influence it throughout the life course. Some of the strategies that can help older adults maintain or improve their health and well-being are:

– Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, balanced nutrition, adequate hydration,
good sleep hygiene, smoking cessation and moderate alcohol consumption.
– Engaging in cognitive stimulation activities that challenge the brain and enhance its plasticity.
– Seeking professional help for any mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
– Participating in social activities that foster meaningful connections with others.
– Seeking opportunities for learning new skills or hobbies that provide enjoyment and satisfaction.
– Advocating for their rights and interests as active citizens.
– Accessing appropriate health care services that are responsive to their needs and preferences.

Conclusion

Ageing is a complex process that affects different aspects of health. Older adults face various challenges but also opportunities to live well in later life. By understanding the factors that influence healthy ageing and adopting positive behaviours accordingly,
older adults can enhance their functional ability and well-being.

Works Cited

World Health Organization (WHO). Ageing and health. 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ageing-and-health

World Health Organization (WHO). Mental health of older adults. 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults

How ageism can negatively affect the health of older adults. 2016. https://healthjournalism.org/blog/2016/06/how-ageism-can-negatively-affect-the-health-of-older-adults/

Promoting Healthy Aging: Physical, Psychological, and Social Factors. 2017. https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/topss/2017-grace-rhine.pdf

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