Senior Citizen Health | Common Illnesses of Senior Citizens and How to Prevent Them
As you approach age 65 and beyond, you’ll observe different physiological changes happening in your body. More than that, you acquire higher risks for certain illnesses that are associated with being a new member of the senior citizen clique.
Age-related health conditions and illnesses
Risks for different illnesses increase with aging. Listed below are the illnesses and health conditions that are most common in the senior citizen population:
Muscle, bone, and joint problems
Have you noticed bone creaking sounds when you do some of your daily chores? As you get older, muscles and bones undergo a decrease in their density that often results in muscle loss and low bone mass.
Muscle fibers shrink from their normal sizes while muscle tissues get replaced by tough tissues. These age-related changes in the muscles lead to decreased muscle strength, muscle fatigue, and reduced endurance and resistance to exercise.
Likewise, bones become weaker and brittle and increase your risks of falling and bumping incidents. Joints, on the other hand, become stiff and lose their flexibility due to their decreasing lubricating fluid.
The different changes in the muscles, bones, and joints make senior citizens or older people more prone to gout (a complex form of arthritis), osteoporosis (bone loss), and arthritis (joint inflammation).
However, with a more active lifestyle even before reaching the senior citizen stage, these health conditions may be reduced or prevented.
About 84 percent of adults aged 65 years and above die from heart disease – making this disease a leading threat to senior health. Heart or cardiovascular diseases are health conditions that directly affect the heart or the cardiovascular system.
In the United States, coronary artery disease, or CAD, is most common. CAD is associated with perilous cardiovascular events that include heart attack, chest pain, heart failure, and arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.
When your heart gets older with aging, it may not be able to pump properly and supply blood throughout the body. Changes in your heart include degeneration of heart muscle cells and thickening of heart valves and capillary walls.
Common heart problems include angina (temporary chest pain due to decreased blood flow to the heart), arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries due to fatty plaque buildups), hypertension or high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).
To lessen your risks of heart disease, it is advisable to watch your weight, stop smoking and minimize alcohol intake, exercise regularly, and eat heart-healthy foods.
Certain types of cancer
Cancer can be acquired by people of any age, but seniors are at higher risks of acquiring this disease. There are different types of cancer, but the most common ones for the senior population are cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, colon, lung, skin, and brain.
Worldwide, the top 3 cancer deaths in men are lung, bronchus, & trachea cancer, liver cancer, and stomach cancer. In women, the leading cause of cancer death is breast cancer, followed by lung cancer, and colon and rectum cancer.
Cancer risks heighten with aging. For example, breast cancer affects 1 out of 25 women aged between 70 and 80 as compared to breast cancer chances of 1 out of 227 for women aged between 30 and 40, says nihseniorhealth.gov.
Cancer.net also supports that “aging is the single biggest risk factor for developing cancer.” However, every person ages differently. While your actual age may be young, your body’s physiologic or physical and mental age may be older.
To reduce your cancer risks, you are required to minimize sedentary behaviors, eat healthy and plant-based foods, get regular medical care, participate in cancer screenings, and stop smoking.
Neurologic problems and disorders
Like other organs and body systems, the nervous and neurological system also undergoes different age-related changes. The brain and the spinal cord undergo atrophy and lose nerve cells which result in slower nerve cell function and communication to other body systems.
The most common neurological disorders experienced by seniors or the elderly include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke.
Lipofuscin, also called as the aging pigment, is a fatty brown pigment that can build up in the nerve tissues. Lipofuscin buildup is also a result of brain plaques and tangles brought about by Alzheimer’s disease. This disease can also cause dementia or severe loss of memory.
On the other hand, a stroke happens when normal blood flows to a part of the brain stops. Because of this, brain cells lack oxygen and glucose so they begin to die. The senior population is at greater risk for stroke; that is why regular exercise is recommended.
Add nerve-friendly foods and vitamins in your diet like B-vitamin-rich foods and Omega-3 fatty acids. Along with good nutrition, brain exercise, physical exercise, enough rest, and stress reduction can help protect your brain and nerves from different neurological disorders.
Diabetes is a health condition termed for excessive amounts of glucose in the blood or in simpler terms, high blood sugar. About 29 million Americans over age 20 are diagnosed as diabetic. Last year, more than 11 million adults ages 65 and older in the US had diabetes.
Although diabetes can be acquired regardless of age, older people have higher risks of becoming diabetic. For one type of diabetes, which is type 2 diabetes, being over age 45 poses a greater risk.
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (for pregnant women). Too high glucose in the blood can lead to health complications such as stroke, loss of vision, kidney, heart, nerve problems, and gum infections.
Symptoms of diabetes to watch out for include intense feeling of hunger and thirst, fatigue, often urination, effortless weight loss, slow-healing sores, dry and itchy skin, numbness, and blurry vision. However, for some diabetic patients, there are no symptoms at all.
To prevent diabetes, you need to monitor and manage your blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels with the help of a physician. If you smoke, you should quit now.
There are four leading age-related eye diseases, or AREDs, that significantly affect senior citizens and older people. These four AREDs that are commonly experienced by 1 out of 3 Americans are glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataract, and diabetic retinopathy.
Glaucoma, the number one cause of blindness in the United States, is an optic nerve damage that results in vision loss and blindness.
A cataract is another age-related eye impairment that happens when clouds form in the lenses of the eyes. This cloudy mass in the eyes can grow larger and impair clear vision.
Age is the greatest risk factor in another visual condition called macular degeneration or MD. With MD, the macula in the retina deteriorates and results to the gradual loss of central vision.
The fourth in the AREDs list, diabetic retinopathy, is a complication of diabetes. Diabetes causes the blood vessels of the retina to leak, break, and bleed that result to distorted vision, pain in the affected eye, and partial loss of vision.
To protect your eyesight and prevent having visual impairments, you need to prioritize a healthy and active lifestyle, get your eyes checked, stop smoking, and protect your eyes from UV light.
General prevention of age-related health conditions
It is inevitable that the senior population will have greater chances of experiencing the different age-related illnesses listed above. However, choosing to live a healthier lifestyle can make seniors live long and healthy.
Here are health tips on how to shield and prevent yourself from acquiring different age-related illnesses:
Physical exercise and activity
Starting to engage in physical activities starting at a young age can significantly affect how your body will age. With exercise, you may age biologically, but your physical and mental health will stay young and healthy.
Researchers found out that many signs and symptoms linked to aging are caused by inactivity. One way to prevent or reduce the risks of age-related diseases is through engagement in physical activities, they added.
If you haven’t had the chance to live an active lifestyle in your early years, it’s never too late to start today. There are numerous low-impact exercises designed to get senior citizens moving.
Proper diet and nutrition
Along with physical activity, swapping unhealthy food choices with healthy and nutritious ones can make you healthy. Significant changes to your diet can help prevent or control obesity, heart ailments, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.
With healthy eating and proper nutrition, you can control and manage your weight. Staying light can keep you away from joint problems that are most common for obese and overweight seniors.
Eating healthy should be made a lifestyle. Pack on more omega-3 rich foods, whole grains, calcium-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats in your meals.
Health screening and tests
Prevention through health screenings and tests can help diagnose possible illnesses and treat them even before they become severe. There are different screenings, tests, and vaccinations offered by different health care providers.
These screenings and tests include blood pressure and cholesterol screening, bone density test, visual exam, hearing test, dental exam, diabetes screening, thyroid hormone test, and many others.
For women, added screenings that should be prioritized include a mammogram and pelvic exam. In men, a prostate cancer screening is likewise recommended.
With aging, the function of the body’s immune system dies down making senior citizens at high risks of falling victim to infectious diseases. To avoid catching infections that could lead to different health complications, vaccinations must be considered.
Once a year, influenza or flu vaccine must be administered to avoid being stricken with the constantly changing flu virus. Another recommended vaccine for elders is the pneumonia vaccine. Adults age 65 and above should be vaccinated. In addition, therapies like that of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy help in treating hormone imbalance experienced by aging adults.
It may sound cliché, but prevention through vaccinations will always be better than cure. However, before having vaccinations, allergies must be taken into consideration.
Putting a stop to smoking
Smoking doesn’t only burn your pocket, it also burns your future of a healthier senior life – or worse, your opportunity to age and live longer. Smoking leads to lung cancer that tops the list of cancer deaths in both men and women.
Besides the lungs, smoking also significantly affects all other parts of the body including the autoimmune system, heart, blood, vision, bones, and reproductive system. In men, smoking can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
About 480,000 Americans die prematurely per year due to cigarette smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke. Decide to quit smoking today or choose to die early.
Stress doesn’t only speed up the aging process; it also worsens health conditions. Different studies confirmed that stress also adversely affects the healthy function of the immune system and reduces the body’s immune response to vaccinations.
A study also shows that the cortisol hormone released during chronic stress can suppress telomerase activation in the body’s immune system. It shortens telomeres and leads to cell aging and replication of original cells that may result in cancer and other illnesses.
Try meditation and yoga for relaxation and de-stressing. Exercise and physical activity can also help reduce stress. Likewise, thinking positively can help you de-stress and live healthy and happy.
There may be different risks of illnesses and health conditions that come with age, but an ounce of prevention even through little lifestyle changes can help better your future. Be armed for the aging battle and experience the senior citizen life at its best!