Falls, urinary incontinence, and memory loss are just a few of what are classified as geriatric syndromes. A geriatric syndrome is a condition that is not a disease entity itself but is known to increase our risk of losing independence by affecting function and quality of life. When talking with someone who is experiencing one or more of these syndromes, I first need to know if this person is ageist. You see, many people, even older adults, are ageist and assume that these syndromes are a normal part of aging and accept them without a challenge, thereby living a poorer quality of life. But let’s get past that and come to understand that we can alter the course of aging and improve our function and quality of life.
Falls, for example, can be caused by a number of risk factors such as medications, leg weakness, protein malnutrition, vitamin D deficiency and urinary incontinence, all of which can be altered with a little knowledge and effort. If we are protein malnourished we can always eat more protein, and that combined with the proper exercise regimen can improve our leg strength. We can also do balance exercises that help reduce our risk of falling, along with altering some of those medications known to cause falls, such as blood pressure medications, medications for insomnia among many others. Incontinence can be managed with behavioral modifications thereby avoiding medications that can affect our memory and cause falls. Vitamin D deficiency, known to be associated with poor balance, falls, and memory loss in some, can be corrected with the right replenishment of vitamin D. All of these are easy to identify when screened for and easily altered to improve function and quality of life. We all know our body’s organ systems decline with aging but we can slow down that decline and alter the trajectory with these interventions.
What I recommend is to go to the National Institute of Aging web site at: www.nihseniorhealth.gov or www.nia.nih.gov, and go to the Publications section, Age Pages, and search for the condition that affects you or your loved one. The brochures can be printed in PDF format or can be read on line with altering text size for those with low vision. It’s a great way to continue your life-long learning and age well. One other point is that medications themselves can cause geriatric syndromes which are assumed to be a normal part of aging. A medication review with an experienced pharmacist can help identify medications associated with geriatric syndromes and help you age in place. Don’t subscribe to the stereotype that falls, urinary incontinence and memory loss are always a normal part of aging. They may not be in your case!