February 24, 2024

The first week of October is Elderly Filipino Week (Linggo ng Katandaang Filipino). The observance is meant to highlight the role of the elderly in nation-building and to promote their rights and welfare.
Section 2 of Republic Act 11350 declares it a national policy to adopt measures that will advance the health and well-being of senior citizens; provide services, programs and activities that are beneficial to them; and ensure a supportive and enabling environment for the elderly.
The exact definition of “elderly” is controversial. The United Nations uses chronological age as the basis for its definition of an older person as one who is more than 60 years old. This definition is however not uniformly used in all societies. Culture, retirement age, age when retirement benefits are to be given, and other factors are considered when the definition of old age and elderly is set.
By convention, an elderly person is defined as one who is 65 years old and above. Some studies have classified elderly adults aged 65 to 74 years old as youngest old, those between 75 to 84 years old as middle old, and those over 85 years as oldest old.
Elderly persons are at high risk of developing infection, heart disease, malignancies, vascular diseases, and other illnesses. The aging process is affected by our environment, genes, and lifestyle – dietary choices, smoking, and activities.
Aging affects the brain. Studies have shown that its volume and/or weight decreases after age 40 at the rate of five percent per decade. The rate of decline increases with age especially after the age of 70. It has been shown there are changes in the cells, blood vessels, and in the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters or chemicals that facilitate or mediate processes in the brain. Cognition and memory impairment occur.
Immune response becomes weak because the function of the soldiers of our body – the white blood cells – becomes impaired. Changes in the muscle contractions in the esophagus and in its sphincter lead to reflux esophagitis that will affect food intake and nutrition. Changes in the motility of the large intestine contribute to constipation and increased risk for colon cancer and formation of outpourings called diverticula. The risk for urinary incontinence increases and with age kidney function also deteriorates.
The coughing mechanism becomes weaker and an elderly person’s ability to cough up phlegm is reduced. Changes in calcium metabolism and bone structure affect the teeth. Poor dental health can affect chewing and food intake. And hearing becomes impaired. Elderly persons are also less able to handle high intake of calories because of so-called age-related insulin resistance.
What do elderly persons need? The list should include these:
Regular medical checkup;
Supervision in medications. Intake of three or more medications is not uncommon among elderlies. These include a multivitamin and medications for illnesses like hypertension, heart disease, abnormal cholesterol levels;
Provision of a space where the person can move with ease – free from obstructions that may cause tripping and falls that may lead to fracture or injury;
Regular dental care;
Eye care. Regular consult with an ophthalmologist;
Ear care. Evaluation by an otolaryngologist;
Facilities that promote social connection and interaction;
Access to affordable nutritious low salt, low fat food, fruits, vegetables, and food items suitable for the aged person;
Safe access to public transportation;
The attitude of kindness, understanding, and consideration from the younger and stronger generation.
Most, if not all elderlies, strive to be independent and useful. The changes that are inherent to aging are not avoidable. These should not make older persons feel isolated – just special people with special needs and special place in the society.