Being proactive about the symptoms can help you grow old gracefully.
We all know ageing’s unavoidable, yet it can still be a confronting process. Make your experience more positive by picking up on niggles before they become problems. Look out for these normal signs of ageing in yourself or someone you love, and address them quick smart.
First and foremost, see a doctor or optometrist for regular checks. Symptoms to question include:
- blurred, cloudy or double vision
- a loss of peripheral vision
- blank spots, dark spots or wavy lines
- difficulty adjusting to changing light levels.
Frustration and anger can also be signs that someone is experiencing vision problems.
Simple modifications at home can make life easier. Keep the house clutter-free to eliminate opportunities to trip; get rid of rugs and reposition furniture too. Make sure rooms are well lit. Consider lights that turn on automatically and switches at the top and bottom of stairs. Handrails and ramps can also be helpful, as can marking stairs or slopes with coloured tape. Buying household items in contrasting colours to the surrounding décor can help you locate them more easily, as can storing bits and bobs in the same place each time.
Low-vision aids can also make all the difference: magnifiers for reading and other near tasks; hand-held or glasses-mounted telescopes for seeing objects in the distance; computerised devices that can translate text to speech; or audio captioning for TV and movies. Large-print items such as clocks, phones and pillboxes may be useful too.
By the age of 80, more than half of us experience some hearing loss. Take the New Zealand Audiological Society’s quick quiz to find out if you should see your doctor. They’ll test your hearing and determine if it’s an infection or other issue that can be treated, or if you’d benefit from a hearing aid.
There’s lots of equipment you could try too, including amplifying devices or wireless headphones for the TV or radio; extra-loud or captioned phones; amplifiers for phones or doorbells; doorbells and alarms that flash; and vibrating alarm clocks and smoke detectors. To find out more, check out these websites:
It’s normal for joints to stiffen, bones and muscles to weaken and balance to be compromised as we age, but many of these changes can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle. The trick to keeping moving is keeping moving. As well as the cardiovascular benefits, gentle exercise strengthens muscles and bones, slows the rate of bone loss and improves balance to reduce the risk of falls. Consider trying something new, such as aqua aerobics or tai chi, but see your doctor before you start any exercise programme. The Ministry of Health has loads of great ideas and resources – just click here.
Other equipment you can buy, rent or get on loan to help maintain your mobility includes adjustable beds and bed rails, crutches and canes, walking frames, bathroom aids and mobility scooters. Scooters particularly can be a boon for those who aren’t as confident on their feet or in the car as they once were, enabling them to nip to the shops and social events as independently as ever.
Memory changes affect most of us as we age. You may find that your short-term memory isn’t so sharp, but your long-term memory becomes more vivid. You might notice yourself forgetting what you came into a room for, repeating yourself, misplacing things and feeling as if words are on the tip of your tongue. These are all normal forgetfulness and different from the warning signs of dementia.
Although memory loss is common, it needn’t be inevitable. New connections can be made in the brain at any age, so there are things you can do to keep yours as fit as a fiddle. Studies find that the adage “Use it or lose it” is apt in this case too. Seniors who live rich lives show a lesser decline in memory and cognitive abilities, so aim to stay physically and mentally active. Reduce stress; follow a passion; learn and experience new things; do crosswords, computer activities and crafts; try brain-training exercises that relate to everyday tasks (though beware of shelling out for programmes that make grandiose claims).
Remember too, that exercise (dancing is excellent, as you have to remember the steps), a nutritious diet, not smoking, consuming only small quantities of alcohol and getting adequate rest.