Common Health Concerns For Seniors

Before joining Brentwood Medical Clinic in 2011, Dr. Ali Ghahary worked with a large percentage of geriatric patients, including at the Louis Brier Home & Hospital in Vancouver – a long-term care facility funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority.

In 1914, Dr. Ignatz L. Nascher wrote the first book on geriatrics. The term “geriatrics” is derived from the Greek work “geras,” meaning old age, and “iatrikos,” meaning physician, and is the field of medicine that specializes in the healthcare of elderly patients.

In 2014, over 6 million Canadians consisted of geriatric patients aged 65 and up. That number is expected to rise by as much as 7 percent in the year 2030. According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in Canada is 82.2 years of age. As seniors are now living healthier and longer lives, this is an umber that is also expected to rise over time. However, elderly patients often require more healthcare resources including assisted living and extended care facilities.

As soon as we are born the aging process begins, though it progresses at different rates in each individual. Certain factors such as genetics, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and occupational hazards as well as physical and social environments all play a part in how we age. It is important for elderly individuals to see their physician for regular check-ups to ensure optimal health. Below are some examples of common physical changes and diseases that elderly patients may experience:

Integumentary
• Bruising
• Signs of infection
• Hair thinning/loss of hair colour
• Dry skin/skin that loses its elasticity
• Development of wrinkes
• Age spots
• Increased sensitivity to cold
• Skin cancer

Nervous
• Problems with balance
• Difficulty with body temperature regulation
Sleep problems

Sensory
• Eyesight changes/cataracts
• Smell and taste receptors less sensitive
• Hearing diminishes

Musculoskeletal
• Less muscle strength and flexibility
• Slow movements
• Osteoporosis
Arthritis

Respiratory
• A decrease in breathing capacity
• Lung infections

Urinary
• Incontinence (lack of bladder control)
• Difficulty emptying bladder completely
• Decrease in kidney size

Digestive
• Increased constipation
• Increased flatulence
• Slower digestion of food
• Other digestive problems such as GERD

Cardiovascular
• Narrowing of blood vessels
Heart problems

Endocrine
• Decrease in estrogen and progesterone
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Hot flashes
Weight gain

Reproductive
• Cease of menstruation/ovulation (females)
• Enlarged prostate gland (males)

Alzheimer’s Disease versus Age-Related Memory Loss

Dr. Ali Ghahary
Dr. Ali Ghahary

Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Burnaby, British Columbia, treats patients at all stages of life. Having previously served in a practice with a high percentage of elderly patients, Dr. Ali Ghahary draws on an in-depth knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of advanced age.

In its early stages, Alzheimer’s disease may closely resemble the natural forgetfulness of later life, though certain key differences are noticeable. Many older individuals report trouble forgetting appointments or the names of new acquaintances, but this manifests differently in a patient with early-stage Alzheimer’s. These patients forget new information often and frequently need to have the same information repeated multiple times.

Many older people forget the day of the week or the month, but they are able to recall this information after thinking on it for a moment. Patients with Alzheimer’s, by contrast, may lose track not only of dates but also of their sense of time. They may not be able to understand events that are not happening immediately, and they may forget the current season and even lose track of their surroundings.

Similarly, although it is normal for an older person to misplace an item occasionally, patients with Alzheimer’s may not be able to retrace their earlier steps and find where they may have laid down the item. They may accuse others of stealing the item, particularly if they are experiencing the personality changes or increased moodiness that often characterizes the disease. These social challenges, combined with a new inability to follow conversations, may make patients with Alzheimer’s disease more withdrawn, as well.

Concussions: Risks and Prevention

With thousands of children and teenagers now back to school and also partaking in after-school activities, health professionals in Canada, like Dr. Ali Ghahary, will begin to see contact sport-related injuries on the rise such as sprains, bone fractures and concussions.

concussionA concussion occurs when the brain impacts the inside of the skull, usually the result of a direct blow to the head, and causes damage that ultimately changes how your brain cells function.

While concussions are common among athletes and school-aged children, kids and adolescents are also at higher risk of developing a concussion due to the fact that their brains are still growing. Symptoms of conclusions can be physiological (including headaches, dizziness and nausea, cognitive (including lack of concentration, memory loss and slurred speech), as well as emotional (depression and anxiety.) As concussions can have serious and sometimes life-altering effects, it is important that these symptoms are taken seriously and treated immediately. It is also important to watch out for late signs of a concussion, as symptoms can take as long as hours, days, or even weeks to develop. If left untreated, a concussion can lead to a traumatic brain injury (500 out of every 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed with a TBI each year), and can even be fatal.

Children are not the only age group at high-risk of developing concussions, however. Seniors are also susceptible to developing concussions, usually the result of a fall, something that is quite common with age. Studies have also shown that seniors with concussions had a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as opposed to those who have not had any previous head injuries. Seniors that do develop a concussion may require hospitalization and long-term rehabilitative care depending on the severity of the injury.

In order to prevent a concussion, one should always ensure that they are taking appropriate steps to reduce that risk. These steps include wearing the proper headgear and padding during sports, wearing appropriate footwear, wearing a seatbelt while in a vehicle, and keeping your home safe by moving any clutter and keeping dark spaces well lit. Regular, low-impact exercise in older individuals will also help to strengthen the bones and muscles, improve balance, and decrease the risk of falls.

Caring for Patients with Dementia

dementiaDr. Ali Ghahary is a general practitioner at Brentwood Medical Clinic with experience treating chronically ill and geriatric patients, including those suffering from dementia. Alzhiemer’s is the most common form of dementia affecting the brain functions, especially those concerning memory. This happens because the brain cells and connections die, affecting the ability to think coherently and remember things both in the long- and short-term. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but there are ways to help advance the field and assist the people suffering, including both patients and loved ones.

There are multiple types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common, accounting for 60% to 80% of cases. Dementia is a term that means loss of memory and other cognitive functions, which interfere with activities of daily living. Living with any form of dementia can take a toll on the patient and caregivers. It can come as a shock, and it will be a moment of crisis where strong support is needed.

The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada is an active community-centered organization dedicated to helping those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Their focus is to provide adequate and thorough education, counseling, support, and resources for help outside the doctor or hospital setting not only to patients, but to families, caregivers, and healthcare professionals who work with Alzheimer and dementia patients.

Alzheimer Society of CanadaAdvocacy is an important role of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. They work closely with government officials and the community to push for legislative changes that will improve the programs that work towards finding a cure or better treatment for this degrading disease. The goal is to improve the care offered to Alzheimer and dementia patients, while providing the support needed to those who suffer alongside them.

Alzheimer Society of CanadaNo referrals are needed to contact your local Alzheimer’s Society of Canada chapter. Even if you are unsure if there is even a diagnosis of dementia lurking in your family, this organization can help you figure out the best healthcare providers in your area who can make a diagnosis and recommended treatment options.

Mounting research and evidence shows that the earlier the disease is caught, the better the patient and family tend to fare. There are services offered by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada that will help newly diagnosed patients and families become more familiar with symptoms and how to handle them. For example, First Link is a referral service that helps you find the appropriate practitioners; MedicAlert Safely Home is a program offered to help ensure the Alzheimer sufferer does not get lost or injured, assisting with a safe return home. On the MedicAlert bracelet is critical information about the person’s health, so as to avoid medical errors if there is an emergency.

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.