Aging is a natural process that starts from the day of birth itself. As a baby grows into an adult and later transitions into the geriatric phase, physical as well as mental changes occur naturally. The geriatric phase is the last phase of the life cycle of a human being. Modern medicine as well as Ayurveda has a separate branch related to Geriatric care, which means treatment and support for older patients, typically above the age of 65 years.
Geriatric care in Modern Medicine:
Modern medicine has a strong forte in the management of diseases and chronic health conditions due to old age, especially in emergency conditions. Modern science describes aging as a physiological change that gets more complex as time advances in the life cycle of a human. This advancing chronological change leads to degeneration of bodily structures and functions and ultimately cessation of life. After the age of 60, every individual becomes more vulnerable to health issues and needs higher quality of medical management than a younger adult. Various illnesses such as sensory impairment, lack of comprehension, degenerative conditions like arthritis, risk of drug side effects, atypical presentation of disease etc are commonly seen in the geriatric phase.
Geriatrics in Ayurveda:
Ayurveda mentions the process of aging based on the Dosha cycle in the life of a human. In childhood, Kapha is dominant which controls growth, Pitta in adulthood dominates the metabolic activities and Vata is dominant in old age that leads to degeneration. The main purpose of geriatric care, that is Jara Chikitsa in Ayurveda is to delay the aging process. This is achieved by the use of Rasayana and various preventive healthcare modalities in middle age itself. This helps in keeping the youthfulness intact as well as prevention of geriatric diseases in the later phase of life.
Other important factors which are affected by aging as per Ayurveda are weak digestive fire (Agni), degeneration of bones and tissues, loss of energy and strength, and low immunity. Thus, Ayurveda emphasizes on prevention and promotion of health since childhood for a smoother transition into, as well as management of the geriatric phase.
Common Geriatric health conditions:
Both Ayurveda, as well as modern medicine, have described similar health conditions as the age advances. Some of the common health issues faced by the elderly population across the globe are:
- Cardiovascular – Hypertension, MI, CCF
- Respiratory – Asthma and other breathing difficulties
- Musculoskeletal – Osteoporosis, spasm, drooping shoulder, and poor posture.
- Gastro-intestinal – Loss of appetite, flatulence, constipation, IBS
- Genito-urinary – Nocturia, prostate enlargement, Urinary incontinence
- Locomotor issues- Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, gout
- Endocrinological – Hormonal imbalance, Diabetes, Thyroid dysfunction becomes chronic in old age.
- Ophthalmic – Senile cataract and glaucoma are also common.
- Hearing – loss of hearing and hard hearing are a few major hearing problems of old age.
- Nervous – Insomnia, poor quality of sleep, memory loss leading to dementia, or Alzheimer’s is also common.
- Skin and Hair – Skin begins to lose lustre and becomes saggy, there is noticeable hair fall and even baldness in men.
- Menopausal – Women go through another major transition known as menopause, which affects their hormones. Postmenopause, the geriatric phase for women begins.
Ayurvedic Preventive and Therapeutic Measures for Geriatric Care
As age advances, Vata dominates further, and thus different digestive disorders are commonly seen in the elderly. Intake of warm, well-cooked food and timely consumption of fresh meals is highly recommended. The inclusion of Ghee, Milk, cooked vegetables, soups, rice, and lentil soups helps to balance digestion.
Elder individuals frequently face loss of appetite and indigestion. An appropriate diet based on individual Prakriti, geographical location, and existing health issues should be advised. Avoiding heavy food at night, especially a larger amount of macronutrient intake (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) should be well considered. A nutritious breakfast, balanced lunch, and a light dinner should be the key to stay healthy.
Vitamin deficiencies are common in the geriatric phase; hence a nutrient-rich diet is recommended over a mere calorie-rich diet.
Lifestyle and exercise guidelines:
Regular exercise is essential even after the age of 60 years. Age-appropriate exercises under the guidance of experts are highly recommended. Taking long walks in the morning or evening, swimming, and slow-paced cardio exercise is useful. Practicing Yoga and Pranayama is also recommended to keep the physical as well as mental health in check. Yoga improves posture as well as flexibility and Pranayama is useful to control breathing as well as improves sleep quality.
Ayurvedic therapeutic measures to improve lifestyle include following the Dinacharya, Ritucharya as well as undergoing Panchakarma therapies under the supervision of Ayurveda Physicians. Panchakarma is a preventive therapy that is followed by the intake of customized Rasayana to promote good health. Rasayana is considered a dietary as well as a therapeutic supplement to rejuvenate aging body cells.
Massaging the body regularly with sesame oil known as Abhyanga is recommended to keep the skin and joints healthy. Another useful therapy known as Shirodhara helps to improve sleep and mental health conditions immensely.
Useful Ayurvedic herbs:
Ayurveda recommends an intake of Prakriti specific as well as general herbs which improve health in the geriatric phase. These herbs should be a part of regular consumption in the form of Rasayana or supplementation throughout the lifecycle. Ayurveda implies that intake of various forms of Rasayana from childhood helps to build better immunity and delays the aging process. It not only helps to regain strength and aid rejuvenation in the elderly but also accelerates the healing process in case of any health issues.
- Guduchi – Rasayana herb, best immunomodulator, and hepato-protectant.
- Ashwagandha – Another Rasayana, helps to improve sleep quality and is a potent anti-aging herb. It also helps to regain strength and improves musculoskeletal functions.
- Shallaki – Boswellia which is incredibly useful in geriatric conditions such as arthritis, is a potent anti-inflammatory herb.
- Brahmi – It is a nootropic herb, which improves the functioning of the nervous system. It is useful in the regulation of stress-induced hypertension, and especially in dementia and early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Yashtimadhu – Licorice is known to improve psychomotor performance as well as regulate metabolically