Good health is essential for older people to maintain their independence and enjoy their place in family life and their community, says the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO stresses that lifelong care can prevent or delay the onset of chronic, noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
For his part, Miguel Ángel Vázquez, from the University of Vigo, in Spain, stresses that chronicity does not only affect the elderly, as there are also young people who have chronic illnesses.
"However, the most common among the elderly are neurodegenerative, circulatory, respiratory, osteoarticular and some genitourinary," adds Vázquez.
Chronicity, the pandemic of the 21st century
Doctor José Manuel Ribera, professor of Geriatrics at the Complutense University of Madrid states, for his part, that "although chronicity is not exclusive to the elderly, the truth is that with age increases the risk of suffering from diseases and among them chronic diseases.
Likewise, the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology states that the progressive aging of the population in developed countries is accompanied by a marked increase in chronic diseases, to the point that many specialists speak of this phenomenon as the pandemic of the twenty-first century.
In fact, according to WHO data, the main health problems affecting older people are due to non-communicable diseases.
"Currently, the most common causes of death are heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease, while the main causes of disability are visual impairment, dementia, hearing loss and osteoarthritis," says the WHO.
Likewise, Miguel Ángel Vázquez points out that a good part of chronic diseases has to do with human behavior. Thus, he explains that only 25% of what one is going to live and how one is going to live will depend on genetics. The remaining 75% will have to do with life habits.
"However, even if someone is at risk of suffering a specific disease, with a healthy behavior can reduce the damage that the disease will cause in their body," Vázquez said.
He adds: "However, it should be noted that most chronic diseases are behavioral. Cardiocirculatory diseases are a good example, since most of them are related to obesity, sedentarism or high blood pressure.
In this sense, the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology estimates that 80% of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, diabetes and one in three cancers can be prevented by changing lifestyles.
Vázquez stresses the need to prevent the impact of ageing at earlier ages. Although this "doesn't mean that at 60, 70 or 80 we can't do anything to live better," he says.
You have to eat well
A healthy aging goes through adequate habits of life, among which is a correct diet. For Vázquez, eating well is "absolutely fundamental".
On many occasions, the elderly, especially those who live alone, have a monotonous diet. They make the minimum effort to prepare their meals, they even reduce their shopping trips and end up eating the same thing all the time. "This sometimes leads to clinical episodes of malnutrition that can aggravate other processes," says the specialist.
Thus, the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology indicates that "this deficient diet increases the risk of physical disability and dependence, depression, infections and pressure ulcers, as well as altering the perception of quality of life.
Another key aspect is physical activity. "Diseases as well known as Epoch, osteoporosis, arterial hypertension, urinary incontinence, osteoarthritis, disability or dementia could have a solution or a great improvement of their symptoms with regular physical exercise," explains Dr. José Antonio Serra Rexach, head of the Geriatrics Service of the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid.
Social relations also play an important role in ageing. "If I had to recommend something to age well, I would recommend a healthy relational world," says Vázquez.