It’s a well known fact that we’re all living longer. More than 11 million of our UK population are aged 65 plus, and that figure is predicted to rise to 16 million by the early 2030s.
The general health of our senior population has significantly improved in comparison to years ago, so it’s quite shocking to realise that as many as one in seven may be malnourished!
Age-related illnesses will almost certainly be exacerbated by poor nutrition, and research has shown that malnourished people see their GPs twice as often as their well nourished counterparts and are also likely to have three times the number of hospital admissions.
According to SAGE USA, LGBT elders are twice as likely to live alone, and four times less likely to have children. This means LGBT older people are even less likely to have their care needs met.
Many LGBT elders do not have people to turn to and may face discrimination or prejudice in accessing services. It’s therefore vitally important that we think ahead to ensure we are as safe and healthy as possible in our old age.
Challenges and changes
With age and lifestyle change, our habits can change. We may not be able to face large meals or eat enough fresh produce. With convenience and ready meals filling the supermarket shelves, it can be difficult to muster the enthusiasm to cook from scratch.
This may be a particular problem for those of us that live alone.
Local meals-on-wheels programmes can be helpful for those with reduced mobility or cognitive decline, especially if you have no family to support you. If you’re a carer of an elderly person, you might want to speak to such organisations directly, to make sure you are clear on the arrangements and to reduce any distress.
Trips to the loo seem to become more frequent as we age, and some of us might resist that thirsty feeling for fear of getting caught short.
Dehydration is a common condition in the elderly especially if they are not as mobile as they once were. Dehydration can increase the feeling of aches and pains, and can increase our fatigue levels (it’s no wonder that dehydration has been linked to fatigue in MS, and appears to worsen fatigue in fibromyalgia and ME too).
Retirement can drastically change our habits, and when the usual movement towards the office water cooler is no longer part of your day, more effort has to be made to maintain hydration. Our love affair with tea and coffee may have to come to an end, or at least be limited, as diuretics are not good for our hydration levels! If water no longer floats your boat, herbal teas are a good alternative, and increased fluid intake will help keep our bowel movements regular.
There’s more to eating than food. Though it’s true that loss of appetite can be a part of the ageing process, illness or medication can also affect our sense of taste, so foods high in sugar or salt may become more appealing. Consuming a healthy amount of vitamins, minerals and nutrients from freshly cooked meals can be a nonstarter for many of our elders.
That, coupled with the fact that society can see losing weight as a symptom of getting older, means it’s more than possible that malnutrition can go undetected – people may be seen as eating adequately, but they are consuming foods that are nutritionally poor.
It’s never too late to create good habits – swapping out energy dense foods for ones packed with vitamins and nutrients, minerals and fibre will help us all to live a full and healthy life, regardless of our age!
Bones and muscles
Maintaining strength and muscle mass is key during the transition into older age and will also help in preventing falls and fractures. Consuming enough protein, vitamins D and B12, and minerals such calcium and folic acid is important as these will all help in keeping our bones strong.
Women in particular are more at risk of osteoporosis., although anyone who has reduced mobility or low activity levels may find themselves at risk. Given the grim weather here in the UK, it can often be difficult to get the vitamin D we need from sunshine alone.
Exercise needn’t be vigorous. You can join dancing classes if you really want to, but even a short walk can be helpful.
If we suffer from loneliness – which may follow the loss of a partner or be caused by social isolation due to our sexuality or gender – we may miss meal times or avoid going to the doctor. To find ourselves alone can be a shock, and can lead to depression, which cause a range of problems in itself, as well as preventing us from seeking help for other issues.
In the wake of the Government’s campaign to end loneliness, there are charities and organisations that can help, offering information and advice, and in some areas, lunch and cookery clubs which provide a network of support to those who may be struggling.
Organisations like Age UK may also help with nutritional advice, mobility issues and befriending, thus promoting overall health and wellbeing.
Boredom can be a big issue for older people – especially when combined with loneliness. Some people have a plan for their retirement – to paint, to read, to travel, for example – but not everyone does. Local community groups can provide a source of cheap activities, friendship and support.
Think about the things you enjoy doing. Are there any local groups that cater to that need? Perhaps you could do some gardening for a local park, or you could join a crafts group, or you could join a knitting circle. There are even dating websites for silver surfers if that’s what you want to do.
Making the right lifestyle choices will help us feel more in control as we approach our twilight years. Reaching out to charities and individuals who might be able to help is also a good idea.
You can also find and join local support groups and reach out to other people online to combat loneliness.
Whatever your age, if you’re in a position to help others, you could volunteer to help local elders by making home visits, delivering meals or taking them to the doctor’s. Supporting each other is one of the most enriching parts of the LGBT community and plays an important role in filling the gap for those of us who may not have families or other support networks.