Around 15 million people in England suffer with a long-term health condition, with around four million of those people being elderly. The challenges posed by individuals with health conditions are so great that they could represent the healthcare equivalent to climate change, and they have put a real strain on the NHS.
Physical Health Conditions That Could Affect Your Loved Ones
There is a long list of physical health conditions which are very common in older people within the UK; but with medical advances happening every day, the senior members of your family now have the tools they need to deal with these conditions and make them manageable.
When it comes to taking care of your loved ones in their later years, being well informed is a step in the right direction. We’re going to be taking an in-depth look into the most common health conditions effecting the elderly today, to help you get a better understanding of how to deal with them, should you ever need to.
Dementia is a term used to describe a range of conditions effecting the brain. The four common types of dementia are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal and dementia with Lewy bodies.
One in six people over the age of 80 suffer with dementia, and there are around 850,000 people currently living with this condition in the UK. Symptoms of dementia can differ from person to person, but if you find a family member becoming increasingly forgetful – especially if they’re over the age of 60 – then it may be time to take a trip to your local GP.
The most common symptoms of dementia are:
- Memory problems.
- Cognitive ability (processing information).
- Communication issues.
Dementia can also effect thinking speed, movement, mood, judgement and speech.
Here are some top tips for looking after someone with dementia:
- Fully understand the challenges your loved one is facing – These include challenges with communication, movement, memory and stress. They may be easily confused by situations that we find ourselves in on a day to day basis, be patient and take extra time to consider what you’re loved one is going through.
- Continue with hobbies – Dementia sufferers can still have fun! It is likely they will still enjoy previous hobbies from before they became ill, so try and keep them involved!
- Leave helpful reminders – Leave notes around the house. An example of this could be leaving a note on the back of the bathroom door to remind your loved one to wash their hands.
- Install safety devices – A Careline Alarm, gas detector and smoke alarm could save their life.
- Companionship – A Companion Puppy is a great alternative to a real-life pet, these pups have a battery-operated mechanism so their stomach will gently rise and fall to imitate a sleeping puppy.
- Maintain good health and nutrition – Although there’s no cure for dementia, keeping up a healthy and balanced diet will ensure a better quality of life and reduce the risk of other health issues developing.
Arthritis is a common health condition among elderly people, which causes pain and inflammation in one or more of the joints. Around 10 million people in the UK suffer from arthritis. Much like dementia, there are different types of arthritis, the most common being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms can differ from person to person, and they will depend on what joint is affected.
The most common symptoms of arthritis are:
- Deep, aching pains.
- Stiffness in joints after resting.
- Pain when walking.
- Swollen joints.
For many people, the pain from arthritis is constant and long-lasting, but there are steps you can follow to try and combat this pain.
- Get more exercise – There are lots of benefits to exercising, and it is a great way to keep your loved one’s joints moving and maintain their flexibility. If they’re a beginner, then give swimming a try, it’s a gentle way to work the joints without stress.
- Lose weight – Arthritis can often be caused by the amount of pressure being placed onto the joints by excessive weight.
- Use medication – Take a trip to the doctors, they may be able to prescribe painkillers or corticosteroids to help with the pain.
- Add more turmeric to your diet – The spice used most commonly in Indian dishes contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Treat your loved one to a massage – Regular massages can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion.
- Try meditation – Another tool which has many health benefits. Relax and reduce stress levels, this may enable your loved one to cope better with their pain.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition of the central nervous system. This means that the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear slowly over time, and get progressively worse. Research shows that there are currently around 127,000 people in the UK suffering from Parkinson’s, and this number is expected to rise by 28% in the next few years. Famous sufferers of Parkinson’s disease include the late greats Muhammed Ali, Robin Williams and Johnny Cash.
The most common symptoms of arthritis are:
- Tremors or shaking.
- Changes in speech.
- Muscle stiffness.
- Loss of automatic movements such as blinking.
Currently there is no cure for the disease, but researchers have found that there is a link between Parkinson’s and specific genetic mutations. There are groups of specific substances within brain cells which are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease, these are called Lewy Bodies. Lewy Bodies could hold the answer – or at least a clue – to the cause of the disease.
Although the cause for Parkinson’s is currently unknown so there are no proven ways to cure or prevent the disease, but there are ways to manage the condition and retain a good quality of life.
- Physiotherapy – This can help to relieve pain and muscle stiffness through joint movement and exercise, improving walking and flexibility.
- Medication – Some medications can be used to improve the shaking and tremors which come with Parkinson’s, however not all medications are effective for everyone.
- Speech therapy – As the disease effects muscles, this can cause difficulty with speech and swallowing. A speech therapist can assist by teaching speaking and swallowing exercises.
- Diet – Increasing fibre and salt in the diet can help improve symptoms for some sufferers. Small and frequent meals can also be advantageous as they help to avoid problems with low blood pressure.
Hypertension – also known as high blood pressure – is a long-term physical health condition which rarely has noticeable symptoms. If left untreated, hypertension can increase the risk of a stroke, heart disease and even death. Hypertension is sometimes known as “the silent killer” as around one in four adults suffer from the condition without even knowing it. It’s also one of the largest risk factors for premature death and disability in the UK.
Symptoms of hypertension are usually unnoticeable, but if blood pressure reaches a dangerously high level, sufferers may experience:
- Severe headaches.
- An irregular heartbeat.
- Pounding in the chest, ears or neck.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Vision problems.
High blood pressure can be reduced in several ways, small lifestyle changes can certainly have a positive impact on the condition, but some sufferers may need the assistance of medication. Here are some tips for reducing blood pressure:
- Maintain a low-fat balanced diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Stay active and lose weight – You can find out your loved one’s ideal weight by checking the NHS BMI calculator.
- Cut back on alcohol.
- Ensure that daily salt intake is less than 6g.
- Drink less caffeine. Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee and cola drinks.
- Quit smoking – This has more benefits than just lowering blood pressure!
- Get at least six hours of sleep a night.
Diabetes comes in two types – 1 and 2 – but both are lifelong health conditions that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. Type 1 diabetes is caused buy the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the cells that produce insulin, whereas Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body not producing enough insulin or the body’s cells not reacting to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1, with 90% of all adults with diabetes having Type 2.
If you suspect someone in your family has diabetes, you should consider taking them to their doctor if they suffer with any of the following symptoms:
- Feeling very thirsty.
- More frequent urination than usual – particularly at night time.
- Weight loss.
- Blurred vision.
- Cuts or wounds that heal slowly.
If a loved one is diagnosed, some changes will need to be made to ensure it is kept under control. Eating healthily and exercising regularity can help control diabetes and is also good for general health. The NHS have a very helpful BMI healthy weight calculator which can be used to check whether you’re currently at a healthy weight.
Regular tests to ensure blood glucose levels remain balanced will need to be carried out on a regular basis. It should also be noted that individuals with diabetes should have regular eye screenings, as they are at risk of Diabetic Retinopathy, a condition that could lead to loss of sight if it is not treated.
It’s imperative that these checks are made regularly as early diagnosis ensures that the condition can be treated more effectively.
Mental Health Conditions That Could Be Affecting Your Loved Ones
When thinking about the health of an elderly person, it’s normal to immediately think of physical health conditions. It’s not as common to think of mental health conditions as equals, even though they can be just as severe (and sometimes even more so) than a physical condition.
Taking care of a loved one with a mental condition can be difficult, as symptoms are not as prominent or obvious as with something physical…. which you can see. Around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over suffer with mental health conditions, but they aren’t an inevitable part of ageing.
As we age, most people experience a change in lifestyle. Some people stop working and spend more time at home whilst others get out more and stay active; either way this is a large shift in environment and can affect mental health.
It’s very important to take care of mental health as we get older and it is just as important as physical health. Here are some common mental health issues which could be affecting you loved ones, and some guidance on how to deal with the situation in the most positive way possible.
Anxiety is a feeling of fear or worry that everyone experiences from time to time, but some suffer with it more severely than others. Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed than men and around half of adults ages over 55 say they have experienced anxiety in later life. Symptoms of anxiety are completely normal, but if they come on often they can affect daily life. The most common symptoms of anxiety are:
- Racing heartbeat.
- Feeling restless or ‘on edge’.
- Dry mouth.
It may be difficult to tell if someone in your family is suffering from anxiety but if any of the above symptoms are noticeable, it may be worth taking them to your local GP for a chat.
There are ways to combat anxiety and maintain a good quality of life without making big changes. As with any illness. having a healthy lifestyle helps. Eating well and staying as active as possible will maintain physical health, which in-turn benefits mental health. If your loved one lives far from you and you’re not able to assist them with their shopping to ensure they’re eating right, it may be worth trying a food delivery service, there may be one in your area which is specifically for the elderly. Here are some great ideas for helping someone with anxiety:
- Make sure they know they have support. Anxiety can sometimes be quite isolating, just letting a loved one know you’re there for them should they need someone to turn to can be a great reassurance.
- Get them involved. Engage in some mentally stimulating activities, as this will make them feel involved and boost their confidence, whilst keeping their minds sharp!
- Find the right support. There are anxiety medications which can be taken so a trip to the GP is important. There are also support groups and charities which can provide help.
- Understand their situation. This can help you feel more compassionate and patient with your loved one. If you’re able to understand what they’re going through it makes it easier to help them through it.
Depression is a feeling of severe sadness, hopelessness and can mean the loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable. Depression is more common than people realise, effecting one in five people in the UK. Symptoms of depression can vary from person to person and in some people, it can be both mental and physical, but the most common symptoms include:
- Feeling low.
- A loss of appetite.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Losing or gaining weight over a short amount of time.
- Being self-critical and feeling guilty.
The treatment which is recommended will depend on the severity of the case. Many people deal with depression by making small lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol. Many elderly men and women associate depression with weakness and don’t want to burden their families, so it can be more difficult to help them as they are resistant.
However, there are some small steps you can take to reassure and help your loved one:
- Talk about how they feel – Cognitive behavioural therapy (talking therapy) is a large part of treatment for severe depression, but if they are resistant to visiting the doctor just talking to them more can go a long way.
- Understand their situation and don’t dismiss their symptoms – Much like anxiety, depression is not always as obvious as say breaking a leg, but making sure you understand how it feels can build compassion and make your loved one feel more comfortable speaking with you.
- Recognise that depression is a legitimate illness – Often family and friends don’t take depression seriously, but it is not as simple as “getting out more” or “pulling yourself together.”
- Be involved in treatment – This will not only give your loved one support, but it will help you to understand what they’re going through more. It also means you can ask questions if you need to and you may pick up some tips from the doctor on how to deal with certain situations.
Schizophrenia a long term and severe mental health condition. It can be described as a type of psychosis and causes a range of different psychological symptoms. This means that the person suffering may not be able to tell between what’s real and what’s not. The cause of schizophrenia is unknown; however, it is believed that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The main symptoms of schizophrenia are:
- Lack of speech.
- Confused thoughts.
- Hearing voices.
Schizophrenia can lead to depression and anxiety, so it is important to make sure the condition is kept under control by caring for your loved ones’ health. Doing so can reduce symptoms and make schizophrenia easier to treat. The condition can be treated with medication and many sufferers find that they make a full recovery and are able to manage their illness day to day (with the occasional relapse of symptoms).
It’s recommended that sufferers always keep in contact with their doctor, and for the elderly this may be easier through family members to make sure advice is followed. It’s likely that your elderly family member has dealt with schizophrenia for several years, so you may already be familiar with their treatment, however if it is something that’s new you should make sure to stay involved by attending doctors’ appointments and getting to grips with medication.
A lot of support can be given through the NHS, with most patients being given a treatment program comprising of community mental health nurses and psychotherapists. Make sure to reach out to these people as they are not only there for the sufferer, it can be helpful to gain advice from them.
Loneliness is something that can strike at any age, but the elderly are particularly vulnerable and it can have a serious effect on their health. There are 3.6 million older people living alone in the UK, and over two million of those are over the age of 75.
Some experts say that loneliness can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Although loneliness is not a fully-fledged disease, it can lead onto other health issues. Some symptoms of to look out for are:
- Not eating properly.
- Dramatic change in routine (e.g. sleeping in later).
- Neglecting personal hygiene.
- Feeling worthless.
There are common causes of loneliness, such as losing a loved one, moving away from friends and family or health issues which make it increasingly difficult to go out or visit friends. It’s also important to remember that someone can still feel lonely even if they are surrounded by people. Loneliness is a very personal experience, and it may be hard to spot signs, but on the other hand as it can have a great effect, you may notice it before your loved one does!
It’s important to deal with loneliness head on, as it can lead to depression, hypertension and psychological stress. Loneliness can sometimes fade on its own, but it’s better to actively try and overcome the issue. Here are some great ways to tackle loneliness in a loved one:
- Encouragement and support – Reassurance that things will get better can go a long way. Reassure your loved ones that things can improve and support them by helping them make new connections or by going with them to a medical professional.
- Patience – When people are lonely, they may be easily irritated or feel misunderstood. Let them know that you’re there, even if they’re not ready to talk just yet.
- Be there for them – Make that extra effort to go and see them, let them know they have people in their life that love to spend time with them! If you don’t live close enough to visit be sure to pick up the phone, or if they’re willing introduce them to a computer and Skype!
Luckily, there is plenty of support around for elderly people suffering with loneliness, even if they don’t have friends and family around them. Here are some links to support groups which could be a big help!
- The Silver Line is a helpline for older people set up by Esther Rantzen.
- Independent Age and Age UK offer helplines.
- Friends of the Elderly offer a weekly or fortnightly friendship call from a volunteer who enjoys talking to older people.
Think about a Careline Alarm
If your loved one suffers with any of these health conditions, a Careline Alarm is a step in the right direction to making them feel more secure at home. As years pass, health conditions can make things seem more difficult and the idea of living independently can be a scary thought.
Our service ensures that there is always help available, day or night, and can give both the alarm user and their friends and family the peace of mind they require. For more information about our service, please call 0800 101 3333, or complete our Contact Us form and a member of the team will be in touch shortly.