HOW WELL DOES YOUR IMAGE OF OUR NATION’S AGE DISTRIBUTION MATCH REALITY?
If you are like many, you may still imagine that we live with a population breakdown like that at the beginning of the twentieth century. At that point, about 3 million Americans were 65 years of age or older, making up only about 3% of the population. Those 85 years of age or older represented fewer than 100,000 individuals. This predominantly younger population affected all aspects of the modern American’s experience, from portrayals in popular media to the way tax dollars and healthcare was allocated. However, as changes in all of these areas of life reflect, the age-mix of the population has changed, drastically.
” MOST OLD PEOPLE ARE SICK AND LIVE IN NURSING HOMES “
As is the case with many myths, this one reflects a vast misunderstanding of a related fact. Statistics do support the fact that over 50% of people over 65 years of age have been diagnosed with a least one chronic disease. Typically, these include arthritis or hypertension, although cardiovascular disease and diabetes are also among the most common.
However, to portray this age group as sick and miserable is certainly a misrepresentation!
Thanks to improved medical therapies and health styles, most of these individuals enjoy a much greater quality of life than could ever have been expected by those in earlier generations with the same diagnoses. To continue on this positive paths, older patients should continue to seek out the dental services they need as they age, especially as their home care becomes somewhat more challenging.
” A DRY MOUTH IS A NORMAL PART OF GROWING OLD “
Study after study has taken on this question, and all of them have come to the same conclusion: it’s false! Minimal salivary flow and composition changes have been shown in healthy adults as they age. If the results are so clear, though, where did this common myth come from?
Dry mouth, although not a normal part of aging, is still highly prevalent in older patients.
This correlation occurs because of the diseases, and medicines, commonly affecting older people. Patients who experience dry mouth because of a medical condition or treatment should let their dentist know right away, because disrupted salivary flow can become a serious issue if not addressed.
Saliva is one of the most important protectors of the whole mouth, and when it is inhibited, a number of harmful and unpleasant side effects can occur, including: rising acidity within the mouth and impaired taste, swallowing, speaking, chewing, and use of oral prostheses. If this is something you or a loved one have experienced, be sure to work with your dentist and physician to address the problem.
” MOST OLD PEOPLE HAVE LOST THEIR TEETH “
This myth represents one of the amazing transformations that has occurred over the past century. It used to be common for older people to lose their teeth; in fact, even in 1971, approximately half of all Americans over 65 years of age were lacking teeth. However, twenty years later, studies showed that this number in patients ages 65-74 had dropped to above 27%.
Even as the loss of teeth has decreased among older patients, preventative and restorative dental services have improved to address losses that do occur. Although dental care providers in the past may have assumed that losing teeth was inevitable as patients aged, and thus did not emphasize proper treatments, at Kauffman we know that our older patients do not need to be resigned to toothlessness. So, we want to make sure that our older patients are aware of the advantages of both preventative and restorative services available to them.
Dr. Alisa Kauffman teaches caregivers how to perform oral care on those who refuse or are unable to care for their own teeth. Alisa always tells her patients, “we only brush the teeth that we want to keep!”