It’s one of the most confusing and distressing parts of getting older: not knowing for sure whether a health concern is a “real” problem, or simply a normal part of ageing.
In many cases, both answers are true. Yes, certain health problems can naturally become bigger concerns with age – but by accepting this as “normal”, many people will hold back from the activities that can ease them; even prevent them outright.
None of these solutions are entirely simple and straightforward, but nor should they be taken for granted. Which of these issues is your biggest concern? Are you doing enough now to prevent it?
1. Balance problems
The sense of balance will naturally fade a little with age. This doesn’t mean it’s going for good – just that it will take some active work to maintain the same level of balance you had while younger.
Doing this could require some specific balance-based exercises (many of which can thankfully doable quickly at home), or modifying your existing activities to challenge your sense of balance that little bit more, thus making it stronger.
This (combined with poor bone health – see below) is the main reason falls become a serious problem when we get older, so a few minutes a day here really could save you some serious strife.
For more information, see our guide on how to improve your balance with age.
There are certain things you can do to prevent hearing loss: avoid cleaning your ears with cotton buds; adjust your diet; avoid everyday noisemakers such as hair dryers.
The unfortunate fact is that for some of us, hearing loss is normal and inevitable. But the worst of the actual consequences can largely be avoided – if you recognise a problem and see help early.
Studies show the use of a hearing device can help you avoid some pretty catastrophic long-term issues – not just social frustration and alienation, but even physical brain deterioration and dementia. The right technology could be enough to completely sidestep these risks.
For more information, see our guide on how hearing aids can prevent mental decline.
This is a tricky one. Many of us will suffer from arthritis at one point or another, and there currently isn’t much we can do to prevent it – besides looking after our basic bone health (see below).
Once again, the key is to not take it for granted if it happens. It can be eased. It can be fought. You’ll need to keep your body active and your joints well-exercised during this time, or else you may find yourself physically weaker and more vulnerable by the time it passes.
The instant sore joints become a concern, see your doctor or physiotherapist to arrange regular sessions. As the instinct will be to avoid physical activity, a basic “forced” routine is a must.
Regular trips to the pool are another great option, as they allow a wide range of exercises without the pressure and pain you would usually feel. For more information, see our short, helpful introduction on how to exercise with arthritis.
4. Weak bones
Two in three Australians over 50 currently have either osteoporosis or osteopenia – and the majority of us have never had this diagnosed. This means you may be far more vulnerable to injury and joint pain than you “need” to be. Osteoporosis is not a natural part of ageing, but a preventable illness.
Thankfully, compared to many other health concerns, keeping your bones strong is a surprisingly straightforward process that boils down to four steps: 1. eat more dairy; 2. do more walks and weight-bearing exercises; 3. get more vitamin d through sun exposure; 4. ask your doctor if you’re at risk.
For more information, see our guide on how to keep your bones health over 60.
While there’s no single, easy way to guarantee good eyesight in the coming decades, a few basic practices will certainly help. Wear sunglasses; avoid strain; give your eyes regular, varied “exercises”.
Beyond this, healthy eyesight can depend on the same things as the rest of your body: regular hydration; no smoking; well-managed blood-sugar levels; regular sleep. For more information, see our guide to the ways you can keep your vision strong.
Regular eye checks are a must. Be sure to ask your specialist about some of the preventative measures you can take – or do a little online research – to see what day-to-day activities can prevent the worst down the track.
6. Oral hygiene
While it becomes harder to maintain oral hygiene with age, it’s not impossible. Thankfully, losing our teeth is no longer a foregone conclusion; we live in privileged age when modern medicine can help us patch up and correct
But of course, this means doing something most of us are extremely reluctant to do: book a dentist appointment at least every six months. It’s as simple (and frustrating, and expensive) as that.
Once you pass that (admittedly tough) hurdle, there are a surprising number of ways to course correct and keep your teeth in the process. Learn more about how you can regain your oral health as you age.
The golden rule
Ultimately, if you’re concerned, do your research or see your doctor. There are very few ailments – physical or mental – that cannot be improved with continued effort and specialist intervention. And while this is certainly easier said than done, your body is worth fighting for.
Which of these issues is your biggest concern? Do you feel you’re doing enough to prevent/improve it? If not: what’s your biggest challenge in taking the right step?