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Older women, give some amour to your health

Older women, give some amour to your health

Neglect towards them is more common because the focus is usually on protecting the husband or the male members of the family
The problem of neglecting one’s health is more common among women because their focus is always on protecting the husband or the male members of the family.
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

‘Amour’ is French for ‘love’. Amour, released in 2012, is also the title of the Oscar-winning film in the foreign category. About an elderly couple, it is a heart-rending depiction of old age, disease, death and, of course, love. Love takes on a new meaning in the film as the husband — himself old and frail — struggles to provide succour to his bedridden, ailing beloved.

Perhaps love is not enough — in Amour and in real life — to deal with ageing and health-related complications.

Ageing is never an easy process. With old age comes bodily woes — for all, and irrespective of gender and class. However, when it comes to health and wellness, it is usually older women who often don’t get enough attention and care.

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Dr Steve Paul Manjaly, consultant geriatrician, Apollo Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, told Happiest Health that the health of elderly women was a neglected area. “A large section of people neglects their health,” he said. “In women, it’s much more rampant because the focus is always on protecting the husband or the male members of the family. Sometimes, the male members have major ailments which shift the attention completely to them and away from the women, who end up neglecting their own health and routine check-ups.

“I know of instances when elderly women were asked to be discharged from hospital earlier because their grandchildren had schools and their help was required. That’s the reality.”

According to doctors, well-educated and financially independent elderly women, who are aware of age-related complications, are regular with routine check-ups and treatment. But the majority don’t take care of themselves. They don’t want to undergo medical investigation and have negative attitudes towards the healthcare ecosystem.

Many find hospital visits unnecessary and a burden on their finances. They neglect their health until it severely worsens. By that time, it becomes too late for treatment.

Dr Manjaly advises his patients above 65 years of age to consult a doctor once in three months, and those above 70 years of age, once in four or six weeks, even if there is no bodily discomfort. “Small and subtle problems are brushed off as a part of old age,” Dr Manjaly said. “For example, if someone is experiencing memory loss or some urinary issue. These could further escalate to more serious problems. After coronavirus struck, my patients are afraid to see me even if they are sick as they fear contracting the virus.

“Online consultations can be a game changer for senior citizens. However, they struggle to handle gadgets. They’re not comfortable using earphones and laptops. Often, I speak to their family members to pass on the message. They sometimes do not find the online consultations satisfactory because of network issues. The charm of meeting in person is different. Online consultations are not very easy to conduct with the older population.”

Neelima Borgohain, 74, a homemaker from Guwahati, Assam, told Happiest Health that she had been postponing her health check-ups for more than two years now. She has been staying alone since the death of her husband. “By god’s grace, I’m doing all right,” Borgohain said. “I’m old and I have difficulty remembering things. My eyesight has become blurry. Because of coronavirus, I hardly go out. Moreover, I need someone to accompany me to the hospital.”

Just like Borgohain, Mumbai-based Purnima Shah (75), a retired teacher, too has been staying on her own since losing her husband to cancer a few years ago. Luckily, Shah’s US-based nephew helped set up an online consultation with a doctor for her. “Thanks to my nephew, after the online medical help, I got my blood tested,” said Shah. “I was diagnosed with prediabetes, which means that I was just a step away from developing type 2 diabetes. I’m taking necessary precautions and making changes in my routine to reverse the condition or slow down its progression to diabetes. I do yoga daily, eat healthy food and sleep on time.”

Some of the common health issues faced by elderly women are bone health, heart health, brain health, incontinence (lack of voluntary control over urination or defecation) and depression and anxiety.

Doctors advise the elderly to engage in some form of physical activity. During the pandemic, even their morning walks had stopped. Along with regular exercise, senior citizens should eat nutritious food and sleep well.

In general, diet prescriptions for the elderly include lots of fruits and green vegetables because they contain antioxidants. And a little extra dose of calcium because they mostly don’t have enough milk.

“At times, it is advisable to take calcium supplements because bone health starts to deteriorate after the age of 35-40 itself,” Dr Manjaly said. “Women are more prone to develop osteoporosis. So, vitamin D and calcium tablets can be taken under medical supervision.

“Most prescriptions from doctors contain some amount of calcium and vitamin D. So, patients should never consume vitamin D supplements on their own as it can lead to an overdose.”

Vitamin D deficiency is common even among younger people across the world. Among the reasons: some people don’t get enough sunlight (exposure to sunlight helps produce vitamin D in the body after the ultraviolet B rays target cholesterol in the skin cells, thus providing energy for vitamin D synthesis) or the body’s capacity to synthesize vitamin D is lesser. This becomes more of a problem in older people, especially women.

The common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are body pain, difficulty in walking, swaying and general discomfort. Talking about the common causes of body aches, Dr Manjaly said that elderly women are sometimes detected with low vitamin D. “Our evaluations detect minor fractures in bones because of poor bone health,” Dr Manjaly said. “These symptoms are largely musculoskeletal. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption at night also. The symptoms are more or less the same for both vitamin D and calcium deficiencies.”

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