Weighty Matters: Changing habits in Later Life

Author: Ourania Pinaka, GP, 5th Regional Health Authority of Thessaly & Sterea, DYPE

Elena lost her husband ten years ago. Now 69 years old she lives in a village in central Greece, close to her married daughter. Her other child, her son lives with his wife and her two grandchildren in a nearby village. Elena is now retired and feels she has a comfortable economic situation and is able to sometimes help out her daughter financially.

Earlier in life, Elena and her family lived in Germany for many years. When they returned to Greece, they set up a shop based in the ground floor of their house where she worked as a cook. After her husband’s death, Elena stopped working and converted this space as a place to meet her friends, have coffee and to make sweets and pies for the ladies’ club. In retirement, she says “I love cooking for family and friends”. Unfortunately, since the onset of COVID-19 she is no longer to host these meetings with her friends.

These days, Elena lives alone on the top floor of her two-storey terraced house. Climbing the stairs has become a serious challenge. Obese at 120kg and a smoker who enjoys ten cigarettes a day, she has been diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis and suffers from lower back pain for which she takes daily painkillers. After a few recent unpleasant falls, Elena developed a fear of falling over, so she decided to limit her movements. This bothers her because it prevents her from going on trips to monasteries with her friends.

Elena also suffers from a number of other serious health problems. She has been diagnosed with heart failure, atrial fibrillation, hyperlipidaemia, obstructive sleep apnoea and depression. Every month she visits her GP for her medicine prescription. Although her doctor advises her to stop smoking, control her eating and to exercise, she doesn’t follow the medical guidance. Elena also pays an annual visit to a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. Because of the obstructive sleep apnoea, her pulmonologist prescribed a CPAP machine which she has been using now for four years, in order to improve her sleep quality.

Elena is well aware that many of her health issues could be alleviated if she could lose weight. She is also at risk of developing diabetes in the future which will complicate her health condition. On several occasions, attempts to lose weight have been unsuccessful. After trying on her own, Elena resorted to spending money from her pension to secure the services of a dietitian, but she has still not managed to meet her weight loss ambitions. This situation is likely exacerbated by her reducing mobility due to fear of falls.

When asked how technologies could assist, she suggests an electronic box that could check all my health problems and inform me of my health condition.” As important as advances in how to monitor and manage her chronic diseases and health conditions at home clearly are to Elena, her lived experience also reminds us of the value of technologies that could help bolster her confidence with walking and movement as well as helping identify, track and encourage her progress with weight loss goals.

Things were further complicated in Elena’s life when she experienced a serious episode of depression three years ago following the deaths of her husband and sister. For a long time, she did not go out of the house, she was not in the mood to do the housework, she did not meet her friends. She visited a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with depression, and since then, she has received medication.

Despite these accumulated physical and mental health problems, Elena is a lively person who loves life. She regularly volunteers for her church charity and she likes knitting. She continues to drive and likes small trips with her friends in nearby villages. Looking into the future, Elena wants to be in good health and dreams of being able to travel all over the world.

Release Date

October 2020

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Woman in her kitchen with plastic bag of groceries on kitchen table.