The hiccups of ageing

ea01742f1877.jpgThe study was done in 22 villages near the Kruger National Park in an extremely impoverished area of Agincourt. The study found that, in general, the population over the age of 50 reports good quality life, but, the increased rate at which they are dying is linked to untreated chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hyper-tension.

‘€œThe general health of our older population, that is, the generation over 50 is good, but we found high rates of high blood pressure. We also found that, in general, these people report good quality of life. Older people are not tragic victims, but yes, they are facing challenges. One of them is the rate of people dying is increasing in older people and it points to the direct effect of HIV/AIDS or TB’€, says Professor Thorogood, one of the investigators in the study.                                                                                                

In Mofolo, Soweto, about 200 elderly women gather annually for a joint walk to help flex and exercise their bodies to improve their health. They say they are determined to live long and healthy lives. Some are suffering from arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes. Seventy-four year-old Winnie Mataboge, says nothing beats exercise.

‘€œYour health is very important. Exercise helps the body a lot. Look at me, for instance’€¦ Even your diet is important. Watch what you eat. We are also doing a lot of sports here. We run and play games to keep us fit’€.

Mimmie Masango, another elderly woman, is a diabetic. She is also an exercise fanatic and is conscious of what she eats in the interest of her health. But in spite of that her diabetes is not in control. She says she is struggling to find the medication prescribed to her by her doctor to keep her healthy. This is because whenever she goes to the clinic, she is told the medication is out of stock.

‘€œI have been trying hard. My last check-up showed that my diabetes is uncontrolled. I told my doctor that ‘€˜we never get this medication you prescribe to us from the chemist’€™. So, how can we get better’€™?’€ says Masango.                                                                                                                                                            

Professor Thorogood says Masango’€™s predicament is a classic case of poor management of chronic diseases. She says continuous treatment is very important.

‘€œYou need long-term management. You need to go on taking your medicine or go on having your blood sugar levels taken if its diabetes in order to prevent the undesirable side-effects that come with those conditions, such as strokes’€.

Joyce Ncala, a former nurse and the organiser of the annual joint walk for the elderly people in Soweto, says she teaches the elderly how to look after themselves and age gracefully. She says her observation over the years as a nurse, is that nobody has the time to explain the illnesses to elderly people.

She says she focuses on empowering them with information so they understand the illness they are living with. Ncala says there is no price for good health.

‘€œYou can have all the money in the world, but if you do not have health, you won’€™t even be able to enjoy that money. Health is a basic need and you as an individual you are the one who has to care and know more about your health. Make sure that you eat a well-balanced diet and you should exercise. A balanced diet has all the nutrients like your proteins, carbohydrates and minerals and it is important to drink water – at least, eight glasses – per day’€, Ncala explains.

Professor Margaret Thorogood from the University of Warick in the United Kingdom, says one of the key health challenges that came out of her study was the need to develop a health system that can deal with chronic illnesses over a long period of time.                                                                              

‘€œOne of the health challenges is to develop a health-care system that can manage on-going chronic diseases, so that people are managed over years. Another challenge is that older people are left to manage children from a younger generation, probably because of HIV/AIDS or they have gone away to find work.

So, older people are left caring for their grand-children at a time when they are probably not feeling so great themselves. Then, there is also the financial challenge because they rely on the old-age pension’€.

Professor Thorogood says living healthily with a chronic illness and managing it so that it does not interfere with your day to day life, is a big challenge.

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