Keep Them Moving: Where Are the Centres for Geriatrics in Lagos?

Old age is a very interesting. Over the years, working as a physiotherapist, I have encountered several older adults i.e. people over the age of 65, present with a mix bag of ailments -hypertension, high sugar levels, back pain, neck pain, knee pain etc. I am not exactly sure if this is what stroked my interest in Geriatrics Physiotherapy but what I know for sure is, I genuinely enjoy spending time with old people. I find their jokes interesting, their words, thoughts provoking and their reduced mobility or physical struggle quite an interesting challenge to help them manage.

The adage “use it or lose it” cannot be truer as we all start to age. You might be shocked to hear that from sometime in your 30s you will start to lose muscle mass and function. This is called sarcopenia. This process starts to happen faster at about 75 years of age but for some people,that might be as early as 65 years or as late as 80 years. The obvious symptoms,of course,include generalised body weakness and loss of stamina which naturally translates to increased dependency and increased care needs.

Though sarcopeniais an inevitable condition in old age, it has been found to be made worse by inactivity or sedentary lifestyles. The primary treatment for sarcopenia therefore is exercising, specifically resistance or strength training exercises.

In the Western world where ageing and ageing populations impose very clear economic costs on society, they have gone a long way in building social and healthcare systems to manage and delay the costs of ageing. These policies and systems promote the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet, refraining from alcohol and engaging in physical activities that will help maintain muscle mass, preserve brain function, delay care dependency and reverse sarcopenia.

As such, countries like the UK have older adult centres where old people can attend daily or for a few days in a week to engage in various forms of exercises and get advice on staying fit and less dependent for longer. In Japan, regular group exercises among older adults were found to have improved functional health and delayed physical disability in old people.

Sadly, in Lagos, there is absolutely nothing in place for older adults. From my experience, the opportunity most older adults have to really stretch their joints, limbs, muscles etc. is limited to attending church or the mosque once a week. Otherwise, these older adults mostly spend their time in front of TV, watching African Magic or CNN.Countless academic studies have found that for older adults,an active life contributes considerably to having a long healthy life. So, we are setting our older adults off for all sorts of debilitating ailments by deploying cable TV to granny sit them.

Activity centres for older adults greatly encourage them to be more active and this not only by exercising but engaging in fun group activities such as games and visiting malls, museums, galleries, cinemas, parks etc. together. They also swap useful information about healthy diets, dentition, tips on rest and sleep etc. We desperately need such centres in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. They will greatly improve the health and overall quality of life of our older adults. The various body elements that older adults visit physiotherapists to treat, would be spotted and managed early at such centres before they really get serious. The centres will also afford them the opportunity to interact with people and have meaningful conversations apart from the interactions with the “carer” and the TV.Some of them will discover opportunities to use their skills to help people solve problems, either as a business or pro bono basis.Whichever, the benefits to their minds and bodies will be immense.

Nkiru Jibuaku has practised as a physiotherapist for 18 years in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom. 


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