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Geriatry-Related Diseases

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Ageing is referred to the accumulation of changes that brings a person closer to death.

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Ever since man stopped swinging from trees he has been preoccupied with the quest for the ‘fountain of youth’. Thousands of years later, his understanding of the diseases that debilitate has amazingly increased. Yet, with muted reverence, he continues to succumb to Nature’s dominating forces- Ageing and Death!

Ageing is referred to the  accumulation of changes that render a person more vulnerable to death. Usually the term ‘old age’ is a reference to people who are at the end of an average lifespan or, to those who have exceeded it. In many societies retirement, usually after the age of 60-65, is the doorway to old age.

Geriatry

There was a time when it was thought that a silver streak in  a person’s hair was  the first sign of ageing. But in these modern times of stress, pollution and diseases, premature graying is the order of the day. Nevertheless, classical symptoms such as liver spots on the skin, graying and loss of hair, diminished sight and hearing, reduced agility and memory are some of the signposts along the path of ageing

The branch of medicine dealing with old age, called ‘Geriatrics’ still remains an ill-defined branch of medicine. The fact that the elderly have a set of physical and psychological needs which are different from young or middle aged adults, was traditionally ignored. ‘Geriatric psychiatry’ was a term ‘waiting in the wings’-yet to be coined.

The discovery of antibiotics, in the latter half of the twentieth century, helped to increase the number of the elderly substantially enough to be taken seriously. Today older individuals comprise of an ever- expanding population thanks to better treatment strategies for  chronic conditions including Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Cancer. And Geriatrics, as a speciality, has almost come of age!

Chronic diseases and increased mortality  are often cited as  the hall mark of old age. There is a long-standing belief that ageing and diseases  are  inseperable. However, studies  have revealed that ageing is inevitable, but diseases are not. Nevertheless, a correlation has been observed between age and  chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes,  cancer,  arthritis, osteoporosis, alzheimer’s and   dementia.

Older people are often referred to as  ‘seniors’ or  ‘elderly’ in an attempt to soften the impact of the prejudice that exists towards them. Although growing old is an integral part of the human life span, old people are often discriminated against, often by their own family. This could be because they are physically weak and need looking after or because they suffer from mental changes due to conditions such as dementia. These changes, whether physical or mental, may become a burden on the family. As an extreme manifestation, this discrimination against the elders can lead to neglect and isolation and it is not uncommon for elders to be totally abandoned.
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