As we live longer, we become vulnerable to more adverse health conditions. Here are the top 10 on the minds of older adults.
Whether or not you are among the 41 percent of people over age 65 who report very good or excellent health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you no doubt have nagging health worries. The prevalence of chronic diseases has gone up as lifespans stretch out, while the chance of an acute event increases.
Many adults manage lifestyle choices to reduce the likelihood of disease. Not smoking and staying at a healthy weight will lower your risk factor, but “you also need to be physically active and eat a healthy diet,” instructs Jeanne Wei, M.D., PhD., and executive director of the Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
Seniors want to maintain their independence, security and productivity as they age, yet more than three-quarters of adults over 65 are managing at least two chronic diseases, according to the National Council on Aging. Check out the council’s healthy living site for information on managing chronic diseases, fall prevention and healthful living. Find more resources under individual conditions, below.
- Arthritis: Almost half of adults over 65 are affected by arthritis, according to the CDC. Arthritis pain can discourage you from being active, so it’s important to create a plan, with your doctor’s help, to manage the disease. Mild pain medication combined with heat or cold will help to manage the pain, while an exercise routine geared to your own body and needs can keep you moving. Go to the Arthritis Foundation website for more information.
- Heart Disease: Accounting for nearly half a million deaths in 2014, heart disease is still the leading killer of older adults, according to the CDC. Certain conditions that are found more often as people age, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, increase the chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. The leading risk behaviors include physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking and binge drinking. Check for self-management strategies.
- Cancer: Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among people over 65, according to the CDC. Many types of cancer are treatable when caught early through health screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies and skin exams. While we often can’t prevent cancer from occurring, a healthy lifestyle can improve the quality of your life with a cancer diagnosis. The good news is that new treatments are on the horizon. Learn more about the latest cancer research.
- Respiratory Diseases: Chronic diseases of the lower respiratory tract are the third most-fatal class of disease for older adults, according to the CDC. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchitis and emphysema all fall under this category. Older adults coping with respiratory disease are more susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. For these folks, it’s important to get regular lung function tests, take medications and/or use oxygen as directed by a doctor. Find out what to do about common breathing problems.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: About 11 percent of older adults have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. https://www.alz.org Cognitive impairment is hard to diagnose, but experts agree that its impact is significant on the older population, from safety and self-care issues to the burden of care on families and cost of residential facilities. Check if an adult day care center could benefit someone you know.
- Osteoporosis: The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that low bone mass affects more than 54 million Americans above age 50. The condition puts people at greater risk of fractures and breaks, which can in turn affect quality of life. To prevent osteoporosis: Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in a well-balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, eat foods good for bone health, avoid smoking and limit alcohol to two or three drinks per day.
- Diabetes: A quarter of the population 65 and older is living with diabetes, according to estimates from the CDC. To find out if you have diabetes, get a simple blood test to check your blood sugar levels. The sooner you know that you have, or are at risk for, the disease, the sooner you can begin to make lifestyle changes to improve your health outlook. The American Diabetes Association lists frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, and extreme fatigue as symptoms to watch.
- Influenza and Pneumonia: These two acute conditions are among the top eight causes of death in older adults, according to the CDC. Seniors are more vulnerable to these infections than younger people, so getting an annual flu shot is encouraged, and your doctor may recommend the pneumonia vaccine as well. Check out these tips for preventing pneumonia.
- Substance Abuse: One in five people over 65 have had a substance or alcohol abuse problem at some point in their life, according to data analysis done from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. The two biggest non-medical offenders were alcohol and tobacco, the survey found. Mixing substance use and older adults can be particularly dangerous because many seniors are on prescription medication and have a higher risk of falls. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services national health hotline is free, confidential, and available around-the-clock every day of the year in English or Spanish. Call 1-800-662-4357.
- Falls: The danger of a fall that leads to an emergency room visit increases as we age. Nearly 3 million people are treated in emergency departments after a fall every year, according to the CDC, and most of them are older adults. Frighteningly, one-third of those people will wind up in the emergency room again within a year. Most falls happen in the home. The National Council on Aging lists six steps for fall prevention:
Reprinted by permission: Society of Certified Senior Advisors