We are now at a stage where people over the age of sixty outnumber those under sixteen. The numbers of eighty-five-year-olds are predicted to double in the next ten years. There appears to be a fall in fertility rates and an accompanying increase in longevity with around seventy percent of those over eighty years of age being female.
It is important to remember that different parts of the body age at different rates. It is also a well-known fact that poorer pensioners are more likely to become sick or disabled than their richer counterparts. Additionally, mortality rates of older people living in council homes are greater than the national average. Over a third of pensioners live alone.
It is an unfortunate fact that elder people may be discriminated against due to their age and thus not be offered the same treatments as younger people. They are more likely to be treated as passive patients accepting conditions as part of the ageing process.
As we live longer our body systems respond in different ways. The volume and strength of muscles reduce. The kidneys and lungs become less efficient and arteries, especially of the heart harden and shrink. There are also significant issues with oral health not just from tooth loss, tooth wear and root caries but also the impact of dry mouth as a result of the side effects of medication and the degeneration of salivary glands. There is also a higher incidence of mouth cancer. These disabling effects often lead to difficulty with eating and also avoiding conversation. Those with eating difficulties tend to have reduced food intake and the variety of food types and textures were lacking leading to nutritional defects. Patients with no teeth have significantly reduced plasma levels of vitamins A, C and E.
Whilst it is encouraging to see that more people are retaining their teeth, dental teams need to be aware of this special group of patients and improve their skills not only in behavioural therapy but also that of gerodontology.