We are living in the midst of a global pandemic. Covid-19 has taken the world by storm, and the elderly have proven to be among the most vulnerable. But why is this so? Many of us are apt to believe that this is simply a matter of age, but this may not be the case entirely.
It seems that underlying pre-existing conditions are the real problem. And the elderly may suffer from a larger number of these debilitating conditions simply because of the decline in the immune system. Studies conducted in mainland China at the Imperial College have revealed that 13.4% of individuals in their 80’s will die of the coronavirus if they contract the disease, while only 1.25% of those in their 50’s will succumb to the disease. But this is not merely a factor of age. A healthy person in their 80’s is far more likely to survive the condition that one decades younger who has an underlying condition such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes. This is a major problem because the incidence of chronic disease has been increasing steadily. Studies in 2009-2010 show that 21% of people aged from 45 to 64 suffer from two chronic diseases, up from 16% in 1999-2000. So, it’s not just a problem of Covid-19 killing the aged, but the fact that chronic disease is creating an extremely vulnerable population.
The key to avoiding becoming a dire statistic seems not to be to stop aging, as if we could, but to age in a healthy manner. If we can prevent a decline in our immune system as we age, we can fortify ourselves against not only Covid-19 but also many chronic conditions that contribute to our frailty. So, how do we do that? There are a number of ways to promote healthy aging, such as:
Eating a healthy diet. Don’t take this to mean a weight loss type of diet. Sure, that will work if you need to lose a few pounds. But even if you are at a healthy weight, you need to be careful about what you eat. Studies show that the majority of adults in the United States consume more than double the daily recommended amount of sodium. Most of this overage comes from pre-packaged foods, and eating out, particularly at fast-food venues. Try to consume more nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Don’t overdo the sugars and other carbs.
Stay active. Regular physical exercise can help to prevent or provide relief for a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Maintain your brain. Remember to take care of your mental well-being as well as the physical. One in eight people over the age of 65 develop Alzheimer’s disease, and some cognitive decline is to be expected as our brains age. But we can do our best to stave off the damage. A lifestyle that involves mental stimulation is like exercise for the brain, keeping it in shape. Read a book, take a class, learn to play an instrument, solve challenging puzzles. Never stop learning.
Maintain relationships. Don’t isolate yourself. Friends and family provide mental stimulation and emotional connections that can keep you young and interested.
Get enough sleep. Emphasis is always placed on how much sleep youngsters need, but the same is just as true for aging adults. Seven to nine hours each night should be enough to provide enough stamina and energy to get you through the following day. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, and memory loss. It can lead to a lack of coordination and subsequent increased risk of taking a fall. Believe me, the ER is not someplace you want to be in the midst of a pandemic.
Reduce stress. Long term stress can lead to a loss of brain cells and consequent depression. It can also cause fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and even be a factor in decreasing your ability to fight off infection. It has been estimated that more than 90% of illnesses are caused by, or complicated by, stress. So you must learn to deal with stress. Talk to a counselor or loved one. Maintain your health by following a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Maybe take up yoga or meditation. Prevent illnesses when you can. Get your flu shot and take vitamins, especially vitamin D and calcium. Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after handling food or using the restroom. Remember, it may be rather trite, but that doesn’t make it any less true – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Take charge of your health. Be proactive. Get regular checkups, and tell your doctor any and all of your concerns. And be sure to find a physician you trust. Patients who have confidence in their doctors are far more likely to abide by medical advice and be satisfied with their healthcare.
So, now you know how to care for yourself so that you can improve your health and age more gracefully and gradually. That’s all well and good, but how do you avoid becoming infected now that we’re in a pandemic and everyone is at risk? First, stay at home as much as possible, and avoid crowded places. Sanitize your home by thoroughly cleaning surfaces, Wear a mask in public places, and maintain a personal space of at least six feet. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and water, for at least twenty seconds. And remember, we’re all in this together, and by protecting your neighbor, you’re protecting yourself as well.