Normal Ageing and the Effects of Chronic Illness and Disability on the Elderly, And Our Role as Nurses in Limiting This Risk

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Introduction

Because of developments in the health-care system, life expectancy has increased during the last century. Health care specialists can recognize any ailment, including chronic ones, and determine how people might live healthy lives and age. Policies are being developed to promote a positive attitude toward aging and to provide services based on the health needs of the old and the health issues that different age groups, particularly the elderly, face. There are some stereotypical believes and prejudice which is associated with aging, and these are some of the issues the nurses should be aware off when dealing with the aged (Eliopoulos, 2005). Conducting a review of the literature on aging and health factors associated with the matter will help establish how to take care of patients depending on their specific health requirements. The nurses have a duty in reducing the risks associated with the aged.

Normal Ageing

Normal aging is the process by which an individual gains years over time and there are some changes such as physical, emotional and psychological as one age, the hair becomes thinner and turns gray, the skin grows thin, less elastic and sags. The normal functions of the body slow down, and as the age increases, the individual loses the function of the body. Both the physical and psychological changes result to altering the behavior of the individual. The aging process of an individual is determined by the type of life they live, healthy response and status of the body (Franchini, 2006). A healthy person experiences a different aging process from an individual with health complications such as chronic diseases.

The factors affecting aging

The factors which affect aging can be grouped as biological, psychosocial and environmental factors and they range from one person to the next. As an individual age, they are expected to adjust to the new changes so that they can function normally. Depending on the age, one has to forego some of their past activities such as heavy work as it may have worse side effects. There are some individuals aging normally to the extent that they do not need to change anything in their daily activities. The elderly who are mostly restricted are those with chronic illness. As the elderly grow, it is essential to get a medical check-up so that the Gerontologists can be able to determine whether an individual is experienced normal aging or not. They should also be involved in research on the risk factors facing the aged people to decide how to promote a healthy life for the elderly with healthy lives and those with chronic illnesses (Baumgartner, 2011).

Chronic Illness

A chronic illness is a terminal or permanent health condition which has no cure, and the patient lives with it throughout their life. The illness can, however, be managed by the patient living with drugs and the following all the doctor's instructions. The chronic illness affects the quality of life, financial, economic and psychological life of the patient and interrupts the daily activities of the aging person. The chronic illness does not affect a person when they are already aged, but it can affect an individual at any age, when after birth, for instance, there have been cases of children being born diabetic. However, due to changes in the defence system of an aged person, it increases their chances to get terminal illnesses (Ebersole, Hess, Touhy, Jett and Luggen, 2008).

Effects of chronic illnesses

Some of the chronic illnesses completely change the life of the victims, stroke, for instance, can result in disability. The disabled person cannot be able to carry on with their daily lives; they quit work and have to rely on family solely. Research indicates that individuals who have disabilities are likely to have more than one chronic illness and the rate of the disability increases with age. A young person can fall, broke their legs but through therapy; they can heal and get to their daily lives, the condition is different with an aged individual, who takes too long to heal any broken limbs and it interferes with their daily lives. When an aged person becomes disabled, it even gets worse as the healing process is slowed completely. There is a range of chronic illnesses which the older generation is exposed to such as kidney diseases, cardiovascular illness, musculoskeletal conditions, cancer, mental health and diabetes (Esther and Amanda, 2008).

Normal Aging versus the Effects of Chronic Disease

One of the stereotypes experienced in nursing the aged people indicate that growing old is equal to being sick. However, it is not true as a natural growth does not relate to being sick. There are people who grow old normally without any health complications, and they die peacefully. When aging is considered a normal process, a chronic condition is pathological, but they can take place at the same time. The rate of aging differs with people due to the difference in the aging process and the factors affecting that individual. The changes which take place as an individual grows old mostly result from the normal aging process, though some of them such as physical changes can be from the chronic illness. There is the alteration of the physiological functions though they do not worsen the health condition. There is some glucose intolerance, for instance, which the body can take, and it causes normal aging while diabetes though common is considered as a chronic illness. Poor health is inevitable in old age as the body defense mechanism has slowed down in the way it functions normally (Donna, 2009). However, permanent illnesses make the conditions worse as the already slow individual has to deal with health complications and weak defense mechanism has to overwork and ensures that the patient is alive.

The reserve capacity of the aging individual is reduced, and it makes them more vulnerable to injuries and infections. An acute attack or a simple injury can worsen the health status of an older person in comparison to the younger generation. It can cause disability cases, depending entirely on other people and eventually death. These changes may worsen the conditions of the patients as they experience body changes and health complications which they did not experience when they were young. Those chronically ill people usually experience higher death rate in comparison to the normal aging people (Ebersole, Hess, Touhy, Jett and Luggen, 2008). The terminally ill are unable to follow all the doctors’ instructions, the strict diet, and lifestyle they have to live and the daily medications. When these people do not take care of themselves, they experience more health complications which are acute, and it worsens their health status.

Patients with chronic illnesses experience a more complicated life in comparison to the normal aging patients. Some of the issues which are experienced are a change of living arrangements, lifestyle, and self-care, social and economic factors. There are financial struggles experienced by the terminally ill people as they have to get a check-up from time to time and the medical burden. It is at homes hard for the people who are not financially-well up and such patients tend to meet their death earlier. After diagnosis with a terminal disease, the patients feel like they have reached their end as they get stressed due to the feeling of being confined and unable to lead a normal life. When the chronically ill people get medical and family support they can live a healthy life and age normally despite their health status (Avlund, 2010). Support improves the quality of life the aging people lead.

Psychosocial issues Faced by Elderly with Chronic Disease

Chronically ill elders are required to adjust to a certain lifestyle, job, and aspirations depending on their illness. The way an individual looks at themselves that is the self-concept does not remain stable in the life of a person, and it affects the aspects of personal identity and self-esteem. It determines the strengths and the weakness which a person shows. When an individual ages with a strong self-perception, research indicates that such individuals grow old healthier in comparison to those who have a weak perception of themselves. The strong-perceived older people are able to embrace new roles and lifestyle which they have to adapt to over time without any stress or refusing to accept their age. Such people ensure that they can excel where they are without added problems whether physical or psychological. Once a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and they are positive about life, they embrace the sickness, accept to follow the doctor’s advice, take the required medication and change the lifestyle without any complaints. Once a person has accepted their life and environment, the outlook in life will determine how the chronically-ill person leads their lives (Miller, 2000). The individuals who have a negative outlook on life tend to develop psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

There are physical and cognitive limitations associated with disability and chronical illnesses, and when added to the process of aging, it reduces the quality of life of an individual. At the age of 65 years, normal aging individuals may still be able to be hired, but when aging with a terminal illness, the individual is dependent on other people as they cannot work at a standard workplace. When one was working and have to stay at home, they have to change their lifestyle and adjust to that of the providers. There are lots of factors which are responsible for the terminal illnesses such as the socioeconomic status of a person, their culture, family relationships and support offered environmental activities and the goals one is trying to achieve in life. The extent to which the health condition of an aged person affects is depended on the mentioned factors. A person who has diabetes, for instance and from a poor background experiences hardships as they are not able to get the medical requirements in comparison to a diabetic old person from a well-up family. The individual from the poor background may meet their death faster than the elderly from a rich family (Mollaoalu, Fertello, and Tuncay, 2011).

In life, change cannot be avoided, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or psychological. Ageing is the process where one matures and experiences physical changes which in turn affects their emotions and psychological welfare. Whether the perception is negative or positive, these changes cannot be avoided, and an individual is required to adjust in either way despite the stress associated with it. Despite the source of stress, whether it is a pain, financial struggles, feeling isolated or losing control over one’s body, it can be managed with the help of care providers and family members. The terminal illness and disability possess a great danger to the aging population as they immune system is already weak and cannot be able to fight foreign particles in the body of the individual in a normal way. The aged should receive programs which concern counseling as a way of showing them that they are stilled loved, respected and appreciated (Livneh, 2016). Since the aged may be living alone after their children grow up and settle in different places, they should not be neglected as it may worsen their condition, especially those living with terminal illnesses. There are homes where the aged can live together and never live alone. These nursing homes are recommended for the old people who have no one to help them out or support them. In these homes, there are hired people to help the aged carry out their activities, and there are also nurses tho help whoso who are chronically ill.

Physical and functional Issues Affecting the Elderly with Chronic Disease

Physically, the aged are no longer active as they use to be and thus they cannot carry out most of their activities. It gets worse when one has a chronic illness as the aged individual is limited in almost everything. Depending on the condition of the patient, there are rehabilitation homes where the aged can be confined and offered help depending on their physical and health status. The environment and the past working history also affect the physical functions of the elderly. In case one used to carry out heavy and manual work, they experience some issues in future such as splitting backaches which stop the normal functioning. There are environmental conditions which create barriers for a healthy physical functional, such as where an individual life determines how active they are in physical exercises. Lack of physical engagement makes the elderly to become socially alienated. They do not have the energy to go out, and it affects their psychological unless nursing intervention is provided (Livneh, 2016).

Role of Nurses in Limiting This Risk

Physically, the aged are no longer active as they use to be and thus they cannot carry out most of their activities. It gets worse when one has a chronic illness as the aged individual is limited in almost everything. Depending on the condition of the patient, there are rehabilitation homes where the aged can be confined and offered help depending on their physical and health status. The environment and the past working history also affect the physical functions of the elderly. In case one used to carry out heavy and manual work, they experience some issues in future such as splitting backaches which stop the normal functioning. There are environmental conditions which create barriers for a healthy physical functional, such as where an individual life determines how active they are in physical exercises. Lack of physical engagement makes the elderly to become socially alienated. They do not have the energy to go out, and it affects their psychological unless nursing intervention is provided (Eliopoulos, 2005).

The nurses play a great role in helping the aged people get over life much easily whether they are aging normally or with chronic illnesses. Nursing care is offered to the aging population in different places such as the clinics, homes, nursing homes, hospitals, and institutions. The nurses have to promote effective care despite the health status, background or economic conditions of the patients. The nursing care for the normal aged people differs with those of the chronically ill patients. The normal older adults only require advice on what they should do and not do so that they can lead a healthy life. The chronic illness aged people required not only emotional and physical support but also medical attention (Donna, 2009). The family members should as well be educated on how to take care of the aged so that they can live a healthy life.

The nurses have the duty of educating on exercise and nutritional requirements depending on the terminal illness. The aged require excising and not stayed sited or sleeping as or it would worsen their health conditions. Engaging in simple activities would help keep the aged healthy, and in the nutritional sense, it will be determined by the health status, for instance, the person with diabetes should consume some foods and avoid others. The aged people with chronic illnesses can avoid being confined to the hospital by leading a healthy life and following all the medical requirements. It is essential to make the aged and chronic ill people understand that they can still live more healthy and happy years as long as they are willing to change their lifestyle and have a positive outlook on life. The patients should be made to understand their illness and how they can live with it and the treatment approaches (Esther and Amanda, 2008). The diabetic patients, for instance, should be educated on how to give themselves the insulin shots even when there is no assistance from nurses or family members.

It is the duty of the nurses to assess, prevent and manage terminal illnesses before it can cause a disability. The risk factors such as the type of a life a person is leading can increase the chances of being affected by a chronic illness. An aged person who is still using alcohol and smoking has a higher risk of having a kidney failure in comparison to an old person who does not smoke or take alcohol. The nurses should access the life of an aged person so that they can be advised of the life activities they have to forego so that they can grow old in a healthy manner (Franchini, 2006).

Conclusion

The process of aging is associated with both psychosocial and physical changes, and when one does not embrace the changes, they can get depressed to the extent of death. Ageing is not an illness but a normal process which people should appreciate and use it as a reflection of the accomplishments they gained in life. As an individual gets old, the immune systems become weak, and they cannot fight any illnesses effectively. It is a risk which should be assessed so that the aging people can be provided with a healthy environment where they are less predisposed to diseases. The individuals suffering from chronic illnesses age differently from the healthy individuals as they have to adjust their lifestyle completely live with medical attention all through and follow all the doctor’s instructions or failure would lead to death or disability. There is also a financial burden to the family as the person cannot live without medicine. In case the families were to consider their aged member as a burden, they can take them to a nursing home where they will pay for the services, and the individual will be looked after. The nurses have the duty of assessing, preventing and managing the health issues facing the elderly. Educating the aged on the lifestyle they should adopt is important as it promotes healthy living whether an individual is aging normally or with a chronic illness.

References

Avlund, K. (2010). Fatigue in older adults: an early indicator of the aging process? Aging Clinical And Experimental Research. 22(2), 100-115.

Baumgartner, L., M. (2011). The Role of Adult Learning in Coping with Chronic Illness. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 130, 7-16.

Donna, R., F. (2009). Medical and psychosocial aspects of chronic illness and disability. 4th edition. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Ebersole, P., Hess, P., Touhy, T., Jett, K., & Luggen, A. (2008). Toward healthy aging: Human needs and nursing response, 7th edition. St Louis: L Mosby.

Eliopoulos, C. (2005). Gerontological nursing, 6th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Esther, M., L., & Amanda, J. (2008). Chronic illness and disability: Principles for nursing practice. Chatswood, NSW: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Franchini, M. (2006). Haemostasis and aging. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 60:144.

Livneh, H. (2016). Quality of life and coping with chronic illness and disability. Rehabilitation Counselling Bulletin. 59(2), 67-83.

Miller, J., F. (2000). Coping with chronic illness. 3rd edition. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis.

Mollaoalu, M., Fertello, T., K., & Tuncay, F., A. (2011). Disability in elderly patients with chronic neurological illness: Stroke, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 53(2): e227-e231

June 12, 2023
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