Senior's health club: Common medical issues affecting older men

Fathers are special beings, and as the world marked Father’s Day last Sunday, it was clear we are appreciating them more. They play a significant role in our lives. However, when it comes to matters of health, men don’t pay much attention. They will ignore that lingering headache on assumption that it will fade away after popping a few painkillers. Doctors warn that as men age, they are susceptible to some illnesses and as a caregiver, you should not ignore them. 

  1. Broken hips, wobbly knees
    When your old man casually tells you they accidentally fell down, or that jumpy calf pulled a fast one on him as he was trying to tie it somewhere, don’t take it lightly.
    As years go by, bones become fragile, weak, and brittle. What may seem like a simple fall can set one back hundreds of thousands of shillings in medical care, including joint replacements where necessary. This is in addition to the emotional and psychological toll it will have on you as a caregiver. People over the age of 65 are more likely to suffer hip fractures. Unfortunately, three out of every four of them will be women. Your old man should avoid alcohol, walking when they have taken medicines that cause drowsiness, slippery surfaces, or shoes without a good grip. Buy him a good shoe and make sure he basks out in the sun as much as possible. 
  2. Unrelenting pains
    The old man may have had a long-forgotten injury back in his more youthful days, decades back. This rears its head as osteoarthritis, unexplained pains, and misery. Or, it could just be the wear and tear from many years of work. These pains are unexplainable and migrate depending on which side the old man slept, or where he sat that day or on the walk to ‘inspect’ the farm and the fruits of its soil. Arthritis and other degenerative conditions of the musculoskeletal system are the most common causes of pain, but nerve pain and pains due to cancer are also culprits giving the old man sleepless nights and miserable days.
    Consult a physician, and let the old man get help to avoid falling into the temptations of using painkillers, some of which may cause more harm than good.
  3. Dementia
    Memory loss, confusion, struggling to keep up with conversations, mood changes, or forgetting some daily activities are not part of normal aging and should not be taken lightly.These may be early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease being the most common type of dementia. Knowledge and experiences gathered over one’s life span, old memories and language do not change. But, according to the US CDC, the occasional misplacement of items, forgetting names, or something else but recalling it later or loss of recent memory is considered part of normal aging. Although there is no cure for some types of dementia, there are treatments to help manage the symptoms.
    Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is also important, as is discussing this with your old man and family and offering support, patience, and love.
  4. Hearing impairment
    An ENT surgeon once told me that he had encountered situations where an elderly wife was complaining that her now elderly husband of many years was ignoring her, and she had to shout to get his attention.This was not the case when his fellow old men came visiting, they had hearty conversations reminiscing about the youth. Well, as men age, the high pitch tone of women just does not register in their hearing. Men are also more likely to experience this age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) than women, and earlier. It is also likely to be more severe in men than women. Be patient with the old man, repeat when you have to, and be understood more often than not.
  5. Loneliness
    There was a generation of children that left the brood as soon as they were off to college or university. They only showed up when introducing their potential partner in life. A man’s wife became more religious – Mama Kanisa, Chair of the Women’s League and Fellowships. When she’s not in a fellowship and church activity somewhere, she’s leading her fellow women in Chamaa discussions or visiting her now-grown children. Your old man suddenly realises that his buddies are either stuck at home like him because of illness or just old age has caught up with them, wiping away the fun of getting ‘one for the road’. Loneliness creeps in, and other emotions men don’t know how to deal with. Talk to the old man often, visit him, take him for walks, and just bond.
  6. Prostate enlargement
    The old man notices that the pee stream is becoming shorter by the day. He pees, but still feels like peeing moments after the first attempt. When he feels like peeing, he has to go. It doesn’t matter where you are. Even in the middle of a journey, you have to stop for the old man to relieve himself. And it will be frequent. Don’t wait for him to be completely unable to pee. That’s a terribly bad sign that the prostate has enlarged so much to block the urethra. The moment one hits 40, it is good practice to get the prostate checked regularly. When one has these urological symptoms, see a specialist at the earliest opportunity. The good news is that this happens with age, and it is not cancerous but just an uncomfortable way of life for anyone, your father included.
  7. Diabetes
    This goes without saying – lifestyle diseases that catch up with us, especially if one is from a family with a history of diabetes. Diet has to change; a number of medicines or insulin becomes the way of life and it can be distressing. When not managed well, complications from high blood sugar are often waiting to pounce at any organ of the body be it the kidney, the heart, eyes, or feet among others. Regular checks of blood sugar are useful to catch a rise early and subsequent management with the right medication, diet, and lifestyle changes will help the old man live comfortably with the disease.
  8. Hypertension
    This is diabetes’ other sibling, coming into one’s life almost at the same time. Stress, years of smoking cigarettes, unhealthy lifestyle among others are the most common causes in our setting, not forgetting a family history of high blood pressure. Early detection through regular checks is important as well as getting the right treatment regime and following it to the letter. This will save you financially and emotionally from the complications such as strokes or heart attacks that may occur due to poorly controlled high blood pressure. A good medical cover that guarantees your old man access to good health services no matter which part of the country they are in comes in handy.
  9. Prostate cancer and other cancers
    The commonest cancer in men is prostate cancer, according to the Nairobi Cancer Registry. About 17 per cent of cancers in men are prostate in origin, accounting for 10 per cent of cancers in Kenya. Men between 35 and 60 years are likely to develop prostate cancer, especially where there is a family history of the same.
    When diagnosed early, this cancer is manageable. It might show up as the same peeing symptoms one would have when they have an enlarged prostate, don’t ignore it, and do a regular prostate screening. Other cancers to watch out for are the cancer of the oesophagus, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancers.
    Regular checks with a doctor will help you pick out signs and symptoms early enough to avoid much worse complications.
     There may be many other things about your father that you should worry about, talk to them often and you will be able to pick out or solve them unknowingly.
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