How many times have you heard the phrase “Oh it’s just because he/she/it’s old”.
Well I’ve heard it a lot.
Now it’s not that I disagree that ageing increases the risk of ill health or other aches & pains, what I do disagree with however is the assumption that just because you are more advanced in years you must settle for said creaks & chronic conditions. That is just not good enough for me.
Find a podcast I recorded with The Natural Healthcare Network on this topic here.
The process of ageing is actually (& quite appropriately) just a loss of efficiency. The body has been performing all of its myriad functions for a long bloody time, & like any well oiled machine, it comes to a point when it’s a little tired.
But would you consign your favourite *insert cherished item here* to the scrap heap merely because it developed a squeak?
I think not.
No you’d probably have a good old look, oil some hinges & then treat it with a little extra care the next time you came to use it.
So why don’t we do the same for ourselves & our loved ones?
If we transfer our gaze away from our memory sparking material things to the human body now there are a few notable changes that we see in people as they reach a certain life stage, I summarise these below.
Now those things all seem like they are talking about totally separate parts of the body but if we start to look a little closer we see they are all actually interlinked.
So the lessening of stomach acid production is a good starting point – many of our minerals, in addition to Vitamin B12, require strong stomach acid to be chemically changed for optimal absorption. As we progressively produce less of this vital digestive secretion we will see a lower absorption rate of those nutrients, in addition to a decreased ability to break down things like complex proteins. The combination of those will then go on to impact someones energy levels as they don’t have as much fuel to feed the fire, that would then probably make them less active – cue muscle wastage and a speedier rate of skeletal demineralisation because one of the fundamental ways we preserve both of these is through load bearing physical activity.
See, totally, 100%, interlinked.
And of course this also feeds into things like increased fall rates, a tendency towards dehydration, urinary tract & kidney infections, memory concerns, overall lower immunity & the cycle continues.
So what do we do to counter this? Well I have listed my top things below, & as you’ll come to see, this is definitely a situation where small changes will make a HUGE difference.
If you are concerned that a loved one is potentially going down this path & you would like to speak in more detail please do not hesitate to be in touch.
A simple 1 to start but hugely important.
In addition to being integral for the maintenance of bone density, Vitamin D holds the lining of the intestines together, is vital for immune function, & most notable preserves mental faculties. In fact in therapeutic doses Vitamin D is shown to aid in the clearance of amyloid beta plaques from the brain (the mechanism behind Alzheimer’s Disease).
As people age they tend to cover up more even on warm days, so as we see their requirement go up, many will actually be slipping further into insufficiency/deficiency states.
A good quality oil based supplement would be an omnipresent necessity in my opinion, at ~3000IU a day at least.
Similarly to D, B12 is integral for many things but most notably for energy production, liver detoxification & neurological function.
Although only comprising 10% of our body mass the brain uses 90% of our energy so no wonder when this falls we see a decline in cognition.
This is linked to optimal stomach acid levels & the production of another compound known as intrinsic factor, so once again I would turn to a bioavailable supplement of combined active B12 (there are numerous forms) for someone.
And this is potentially the most integral of all. I often see that the elderly lose their appetite. Perhaps they have issues swallowing, perhaps they’ve been unwell, perhaps they find themselves alone & have no desire/are unable to cook, or perhaps they are taking numerous medications that interfere with that stomach acid production.
All of the above will see a reaching for simple energy sources – biscuits, snack style things, small portions & pre-made options, which progressively will lead to that lower energy state & depressed immune function. The building blocks of proteins – amino acids – are also the building blocks for neurotransmitters (brain hormones) so with a lower protein intake we can see lower moods, interrupted sleep patterns etc.
As a simple way to bypass all the above issues I turn to a protein powder – simply included once a day (or more if they are recovering from surgery/a hospital stay/have dropped a significant quantity of weight or are immune compromised). I recommend the Motion Nutrition Organic Whey proteins to those who can tolerate dairy products, or the Recover blend as a dairy free option. Simply mix with warm/cool water & drink, or bake into pancakes, biscuits or muffins.
The change here can be miraculous, & then once that person is more energised & feeling better you can turn your attention towards tweaking their diets – looking at eggs (easy to cook & easy to eat!), poached or slow cooked chicken/meat/turkey, simple fishcakes (make with tinned or fresh fish) etc to keep their intake up.
As I write this I hear the words of my Grandpa “But when I was young we never drank water”. Yes this is potentially true but I’m assuming he also wasn’t sat still in a centrally heated room wrapped in 6 layers of insulated clothing in June…….
Dehydration is not simply a case of being thirsty, all of our cells are bathed in intracellular fluid, we have to produce digestive juices, flush waste through our kidneys to be removed, basically we need a constant influx of water for many things beyond keeping our mouths from becoming dry.
What we often see is the elderly do not, & will not, increase their fluid intake because they aren’t moving enough to feel thirsty, they don’t want to keep having to go to the toilet because their mobility is compromised or they have incontinence/prostate issues & feel they are already up & down all the time, or they just don’t see drinking water as part of their routine.
This is not to be left alone – falls related to dehydration are huge, & the consequences of these – hospital stays, broken hips, a loss of confidence, are far more serious than sitting your loved one down & impressing the importance to them that they must keep their fluid levels up. The simple act of increasing someone’s water intake can almost halve their likelihood of developing urinary tract infections, which if you’ve ever worked with/looked after the older population you’ll know are probably the most common health concern, & secondary to those we then see confusion & whip back round to falls etc. As a secondary point here if you do have someone with repeated UTIs then the inclusion of D Mannose supplement (with or without a cranberry extract) can be transformative. It should be kept in once the infection has cleared & you will see that there is no recurrence.
Herbal teas (either warm or cold), water infused with herbs, fruit slices, or even a little natural fruit cordial/dilated fruit juice are all options here (the last 2 being the least preferable but still an option!). Also make it a visual thing – place a jug next to them with markers of the times of day down the side that they must reach, be forceful, it’s for their own good!
ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES & ANTIOXIDANTS
As I began by saying the process of ageing is a loss of efficiency, & actually what we are attempting to do is slow the progressive damage/loss of cells through oxidation.
As much as possible we want to get in our beautifully vibrant coloured vegetables & fruits as it’s those colourful pigments that offer that protection.
Again being mindful of swallowing issues, a lower appetite etc my key point here is nutrient density – maximise on every bite so that fewer bites overall need be taken to effect the same change.
ROOT VEGETABLES – colourful squash, beetroot, carrots, sweet potato & parsnips are brilliant, bake or steam them, turn them into smooth mashes/purées but don’t stop there! Add tahini, or cream cheese, white beans or chickpeas – what you’re doing is imbuing that delicious purée with additional fibre, protein & fat, which not only increases the overall macronutrients they gain, but also aids in the absorbability of the specific vitamins & minerals within those foods.
GREENS – always a sticking point as these fibrous things require chewing, & many don’t want to/can’t chew as well as they’d like. Again bypass this – turn to a simple blitzed pesto, add copious quantities to soups, stews or slow cooked dishes, or if they’ll try it, a simple smoothie with the protein powder mentioned above, a handful of berries & a good fistful of spinach is a fantastic option.
FATS – a sticking point as I know when I talk to those in the generations above me they have ingrained ideas about fat & the cardiovascular system in particular. All I will say is nuts/seeds/their butters, avocados, oily fish & full fat, organic dairy products are amazingly nourishing & the nervous system is entirely composed of these wonderful things so get them in! A spoonful here & there to start makes a wonderful beginning, & even the simple transformation of a morning snack from a biscuit to an oatcake with houmous or nut butter will do no end of nourishing good to that person.
So I hope that has offered some insight into how we can offer just a little more support to those who have come before us.
As I have titled this post I think our elders deserve far more than respect in the sense of being in awe of their wisdom. They deserve care, they deserve attention, & they deserve individualised & targeted assistance to keep them as pin sharp as they once were for as long as is humanly possible.