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They’re the signs and symptoms of getting older no one likes to admit or talk about: the indignities that are often a normal part of aging, such as problems with balance or sleeping, memory lapses, frequent urination or incontinence. They may not be as debilitating as a chronic illness, but they can take a profound toll on those afflicted, and on their caregivers and family members.
These may be an all-too-common part of growing older, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Although they might not be curable, with certain strategies you can lessen their impact on your life.
The first step is to rule out a medical issue. Some of these problems may be symptoms of diseases. If you find yourself in need of a bathroom more often than before, for example, schedule an appointment with your physician to rule out diabetes or a prostate condition. While you’re with your physician, ask about coping strategies. Here, some of the more common inconveniences of aging and solutions for managing them:
Frequent urination: Consider “scheduling” restroom breaks so you don’t wait too long. Limit beverages and diuretics when you know a restroom might be inconvenient. Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor and can help to increase bladder control. If you’re unfamiliar with them, here are instructions for men and for women.
Incontinence: Bowel incontinence can sometimes be managed with diet. Keep track of everything you eat for a week or so to identify possible trigger foods. Be sure you’re getting enough fiber and water—avoiding constipation is important—and eat frequent, smaller meals. Use the bathroom before you leave home, and carry a change of clothing and a small package of wipes in case of accidents.
Memory problems: Some cognitive decline is normal, but if you’re often overwhelmed trying to follow instructions or when faced with making decisions, or if you forget important events or get disoriented in familiar surroundings, see your physician. Some forms of cognitive impairment are linked to high blood pressure or sleep disorders. Follow these suggestions for staying mentally sharp.
Blurry vision: Trouble focusing may be a symptom of several eye disorders and diseases, of diabetes, or a side effect of some medications. It may simply mean that you need new glasses. See an ophthalmalogist to rule out a serious problem.
Balance issues: Have you added or changed medications recently? Some drugs can affect balance. You may also need to rethink your footwear, especially if you wear shoes with a heel or open backs. Here are other ways to prevent trips and falls.
Sleep problems: Before you ask for a prescription to help with sleeping, be sure you’re practicing good sleep habits, and remember that as we age, we need less sleep. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, relax your facial muscles, particularly the jaw and eye areas. Tip: If you feel like you’re focusing your eyes on something (even though they’re closed), you’re using those muscles.
Achy or stiff joints (arthritis): Although the pain might make you want to sit as still as possible, exercise can help to keep joints flexible. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises—making a fist and then stretching out fingers with arthritis in the hands, or pointing and flexing toes and rotating ankles—can also build strength. Analgesics can help with pain, as can heating pads or ice packs.
Difficulty hearing and/or ringing in the ears: Tinnitus affects one in five people, and it’s usually a sign of an ear injury, a circulatory disorder, or age-related hearing loss, so see your doctor to rule out another issue. To reduce the effects, avoid irritants like loud noises, as well as nicotine and alcohol, which affect circulation. Soft noises like a fan, gentle music or a white-noise machine can help mask the ringing.
As you cope with these conditions, remember to address the emotional issues. You may feel shame or embarrassment, fear, or even anger. Let your caregivers or family members know when you’re struggling. If you’re patient with yourself and with each other, you’re less likely to snap.
To find out how VNSNY can help you care for your loved one, please call 1-800-675-0391.