Increasing life expectancy means that the number of older people is growing. Average life expectancy increases by about one year every decade. There are no indications that this trend is about to be broken. Of Sweden's 10 million inhabitants, 18 per cent are currently above the retirement age of 65. In 2030, the over-65s are expected to make up more than 30 per cent of the country's population.
How long you live depends on a number of factors. Your biological inheritance from your parents and ancestors affects how long you live. Your lifestyle and the environment in which you live also has an impact. Growing old involves many changes that are not only physical, but also psychological and social. You cannot do anything about your inheritance, but you can make changes to your lifestyle that affect how you age.
The Public Health Agency of Sweden highlights four areas that are significant to healthy ageing:
- physical activity,
- good eating habits,
- social interaction, and
- meaningful activity/feeling necessary.
Even at an early age your lifestyle can have an impact on your health when you get older. Smoking, poor eating habits, stress, inactivity, drugs and alcohol are bad for us all. Eating well and exercising throughout your entire life can contribute to you being health and well when you get older. This can contribute to you living longer.
The physical changes of ageing are minor up to the age of 40, then they increase. The genes (DNA) in the cells control the biological ageing process that takes place at various levels in your body. The ageing process, when and how you age, differs a lot between different people. Some people get grey hair and wrinkles early in life, others later on.
All in all, the physical changes of ageing involve us becoming shorter, lighter and at the same time drier. The reduced metabolism means that we are at a greater risk of dehydration. It is important to drink water.
Reduced metabolism and because ageing often involves becoming less active means we do not need to eat as much. It is therefore extra important that the food we eat is high quality and that it contains a good balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Older people need significantly more light than younger people to see well, it is therefore important to have good lighting at home. It also becomes more difficult with age to perceive high tones and to differentiate speech in noisy environments.
Old people have more difficulty keeping their balance and fall more easily than younger people. There are many interventions in the home that can reduce the risk of accidents. For example, you can remove rugs and thresholds that are easy to trip on.
For several reasons, older people are more sensitive to medicines than younger people. Older people have less liquid in the body and more fat. This means that some medicines that are fat soluble stay in the body for longer than was intended.
The brain also changes with age. The number of brain cells decreases and the brain gets smaller, but the functions remain largely unchanged. Many memory functions remain unaffected and unchanged for a long time and general knowledge is often remarkably good far into old age.
The risk of dementia increases with age. However, the memory becoming poorer need not be due to dementia. Examples of healthy forgetfulness include not remembering where you have left your glasses or keys. Not remembering that you have glasses or keys at all or getting lost in a previously familiar environment are signs of pathological forgetfulness.
It is good to keep both the body and the mind active. The brain wants to learn throughout your entire life, via words, images, songs, music, play and humour, animals, nature and social contact. The brain never becomes too old to learn new things, but it takes longer to learn when you get older.
The brain also becomes more sensitive to many types of medicine, primarily psychopharmaceuticals such as sedatives and sleeping pills, but also morphine-related preparations that are found in many painkillers.
At the retirement age, a period begins in which, perhaps for the first time in your life, you are able to decide for yourself how to use all your time. Increasing numbers of older people keep working past the retirement age of 65 and many also do voluntary work, without receiving a wage.
Quality of life and a good life in your later years is strongly dependent on how you perceive and manage your situation so that it becomes comprehensible, manageable and meaningful. Research indicates that social interaction is important for quality of life – the ability to be active, feel needed and having good relationships with other people.
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