By our resident health adviser Dr Muir Gray
Our core message, which is worth repeating because so many people fail to appreciate uit, is that ageing is not a cause of big problems until the age of ninety. Three other processes cause the trouble – loss of fitness, the wrong attitude and disease.
The relationship between disease and ageing is also not what many people think. It is true that the prevalence of disease – the proportion with one or more conditions- increases with age. Some diseases do indeed appear to be related to the ageing process, but the main reason that disease occurs more commonly each decade is that people have lived for another ten years, exposed to risk factors in their lifestyle and environment that cause disease. For example, the risk of heart disease is increased both by the number of cigarettes smoked and by the number of years the person has smoked. The good news is that the risk can be reduced , even at the age of sixty or older.
The effects of disease are both direct and indirect. The direct effects are on the muscles or bones, or the heart or lungs but the indirect effects often equally severe and the principal effect is the loss of fitness.
The combined effects of disease and loss of fitness result in an impairment of the affected person’s ability and when this loss of ability interferes with the activities we take fro granted – climbing a flight of stairs for example. or getting to the toilet on time – the person is said to have a disability. Of course the disability need not cause a handicap. The person who cannot climb the flight of stairs to the toilet need not be handicapped: he could put in a stairlift or install a downstairs toilet or – and this is not impossible – regain the ability to climb that flight of stairs.
Obviously you not only need effective and high quality medical care of the underlying disease but you also need the advice and support of other vitally important healthcare professionals;
- Nurses who understand how people adapt to disease and disability and cope with disability.
- Physiotherapists who support the recovery of lost strength and skill.
- Occupational Therapists who know how to help a person adapt to, and if necessary change the environment, to minimise the impact of disability.
Unfortunately there are just not enough of these professionals to give everyone face to face support so our aim is to provide advice and information based on the principles of coping and adapting developed by these professionals, so that even if you cannot get direct support you will benefit from the knowledge that they have created in the science of rehabilitation.