Health Practices of Elderly

Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the average life span of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle. Old people have limited regenerative abilities and are more prone to disease, syndromes, and sickness than other adults.

Old age can cause, amongst other things like wrinkles and liver spots on the skin; change of hair color to gray or white; hair loss; lessened hearing; diminished eyesight; slower reaction times and agility; reduced ability to think clearly; difficulty recalling memories; lessening or cessation of sex, sometimes because of physical symptoms such as erectile dysfunction in men, but often simply a decline in libido; greater susceptibility to bone diseases such as osteoarthritis.

In most parts of the world, women live, on average, longer than men; even so, the disparities vary between 9 years or more in countries such as Sweden and the United States to no difference or higher life expectancy for men in countries such as Zimbabwe and Uganda (www.wikipedia.com).

According to Erik Erikson’s “Eight Stages of Life” theory, the human personality is developed in a series of eight stages that take place from the time of birth and continue on throughout an individual’s complete life. He characterizes old age as a period of “Integrity vs. Despair”, during which a person focuses on reflecting back on their life.

Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair. Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.

According to James E. Lubben (2010), there has been increasing attention paid to health promotion and disease prevention activities in the elderly because of economic, medical, and social concerns. With increasing life expectancy, a focus on preventive measures to decrease morbidity and improve quality of life in old age has also developed. To that end, health behavior and lifestyle have become important areas of concern over the last 20 years.

In the early 1970s, Belloc and Breslow5 identified a list of seven health practices which were associated with health status: having never smoked; drinking less than five drinks at one sitting; exercising; sleeping seven to eight hours a night; maintaining desirable weight for height; avoiding snacks; and eating breakfast regularly.

Why older persons engage in varying amounts of health maintenance activity is becoming both an increasingly important policy issue and a topic of interest to health services researchers. Such activity may help the elderly to delay the onset of the health-related problems associated with aging, maintain if not improve their functional abilities, and perhaps improve their quality of life (Counte, Jensen J.).

Cultural food habits, personal taste preferences, health beliefs are very pronounced among the elderly. For Filipino elderly, the stress of cultural change affects nearly every facet of life, including dietary habits. By understanding traditional food behaviors, health professionals will improve their ability to counsel elderly Filipino patients, plan culturally sensitive nutrition education programs, and develop more effective health promotion programs.

According to Strain (1991), utilization of health services by the elderly (aged 60+ years) is, at least in part, a function of their perceptions of their need for these services and this perception of need is itself determined by patients’ various health beliefs. For example, in her study of 743 elderly patients, Strain found that the utilization of health services was linearly related to two health beliefs: degree of medical skepticism; and belief in the value of health maintenance activities.

Patients living near town centers would naturally rather be treated at a provincial, hospital with more sophisticated equipment and supposedly more qualified doctors than at hospitals in their own districts. Despite the expansion policy, the Department of Health (DOH) acknowledged that nearly 600 hospitals are providing care for not more than 30 per cent of the entire population. The poorest lot who live far from district towns and are in need of health care the most are unable to come to the hospitals.

Besides, hospitals are normally too crowded to provide good and services because everyone is taught to see a doctor no matter how insignificant the illness. Villagers who are unable to obtain services from government hospitals resort to drugs without prescriptions or proper advice. The health problems have been compounded as a result of the misguided consumption of modern drugs. Many suffered, and died from peptic ulcer perforation (punctured stomach) because of unperceived consumption of analgesics.

To fulfill the World Health Organization’s motto “Health For All By The Year 2000,” the Department of Health has given more attention to primary health care campaigns. Health communicators and health volunteers were recruited from villages to teach basic health care. One of the policies declared by the Department of Health is the revitalization of andthe use of herbal medicines through scientifically proven methods (www.livinginthephilippines.com/herbalmedicine).

More recently, other general health practices have also been suggested as important: maintaining a balanced diet (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but limits on caffeine and salt intake) has been suggested as an important health practice, and maintaining social networks. Current knowledge of specific health practices for elderly persons tends to be based on studies of younger populations.

One of the few studies of an aged population reported that elderly who followed good health practices were not significantly advantaged in terms of mortality rates over a five-year period. However, another study affirmed the value of some health practices for an elderly population when they examined mortality rates over a 17-year period, finding that not smoking, getting regular exercise, maintaining weight control, and regularly eating breakfast were associated with lower mortality rates.

One aim of health specialists was to evaluate the relative importance of specific health practices and belief among elderly persons; another purpose was to explore differences in health practices of the elderly poor and the general elderly population (Lubben, J., Weiler, P., Chi, I.).