An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

The upcoming Census 2010 will help
Cayman to learn more about our changing population demographics.

In many parts of the world, seniors
are the fastest growing population group. However, many seniors (often more
than 25 per cent) aged 65 and older have restrictions in their daily activities
because of health problems, and this percentage increases with age.

Following the advice of a qualified
doctor or therapist, and using properly fitted, appropriate equipment can help
you to maintain a healthy, fulfilling and active lifestyle for as long as
possible.

My profession, occupational
therapy, recognises the value that “occupation”, by its broadest definition,
has in determining a person’s health. An occupation is any role that you play,
or any activity that you do, that you find personally meaningful and
purposeful.

Most activities in an active
lifestyle can be considered “occupations”. By this definition, meaningful occupation
may include activities such as driving, gardening, fishing, playing dominoes,
or completing all the myriad tasks necessary to be a mother. When ill health or
disability strikes, our occupational performance can be negatively impacted.
For example, carpal tunnel syndrome may make it difficult for you to type on
the computer keyboard at work, or to complete a crochet project in your leisure
time. Difficulty driving safely after experiencing a stroke can make a person
feel even more dependent and “hemmed in”. Following good advice on preventing
the onset of disability, or further illness, is crucial in order to maintain an
active lifestyle as you age.

Your physician, physical therapist
or occupational therapist, chiropractor, or other health professional may
recommend exercises to maintain good muscle strength, balance, coordination,
and function. These same professionals may provide equipment advice for an
aging loved one.

Using a wheelchair or walker may
seem cumbersome at first, and installing grab bars in your tub may seem like an
unnecessary hassle, but it is better to be stable and safe, than to incur a
broken hip from a fall.

One recent study, published by the
Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that nearly 25 per cent of adults
who break their hip when they are 50 years of age or older, die within five
years of the initial hip fracture diagnosis.

“There are a lot of negative
consequences to fractures. They reduce the health-related quality of life,
patients with fractures are in chronic pain, some of them too afraid to leave
their homes because they’re afraid of falling again,” said George Ioannidis,
the lead author in this study. “There are many other consequences other than
mortality.”

If a relative must sit in a
wheelchair, or lie in their bed for long periods of time, health care
professionals may give you advice about proper seat and back cushions for a
wheelchair, or a pressure-relief mattress overlay. These items should not be
considered luxuries – pressure sores (or “bedsores”) can be lethal. A pocket or
chasm of infection may develop under the outer layers of skin, infecting even
bone and causing widespread infection throughout the body, and in extreme
cases, loss of limbs or life.

Remember, prevention is better than
cure. Talk with your doctors and therapists as you and your family members age.
Ask how to prevent illness and disability, and follow the advice given to you
by your licensed and qualified health care professional.

Some health insurance plans may
cover the cost of necessary medical and rehabilitative equipment if these items
are prescribed by a doctor, so don’t automatically assume you will have to do
without them. Be proactive and keep living as actively as possible for as long
as possible, in order to maintain your physical health and social, mental,
emotional and spiritual well-being.

Kimberly Voaden is an occupational therapist based in the Cayman Islands.

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