None of us love to admit that we’re getting older. Our youth obsessed society seems to want to shove seniors out on an ice floe never to be seen again. But there are amazing benefits to getting older.
You have time to do the things you love. You get to have grandchildren who think you’re the best thing since ice cream. You can be unapologetically cranky. We get away with things when we’re older because young people think we just can’t help ourselves.
But along with the freedom that growing older brings there are downsides. Among them are the common health problems for older people.
- Arthritis – The deputy director of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, Marie Bernard, MD states “Arthritis is probably the number one condition that people 65 or older contend with.” The condition affects nearly 50% of adults over 65. It leads to pain and can lower the quality of life for many seniors. Work with your doctor to develop your personal activity plan that, along with other treatments, can help you remain active and feel better.
- Heart Disease – Heart disease remains the leading killer of people over 65 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 37% of men and 26% of women 65 and older suffer heart disease as a chronic condition. Increased age means increased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol that increase the chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. “Exercise, eat well, get a good night’s rest. Eating well means eating in a fashion that will allow you to keep a healthy weight with a well-balanced and healthy diet,” says Dr. Bernard. You’ll improve not only your risk of heart disease but your overall health.
- Cancer – According to the CDC, 28 percent of men and 21 percent of women over age 65 are living with cancer. It is the second leading cause of death for people over 65. Screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks can help catch cancer early while it is treatable. If you do get cancer work with your medical team and maintain healthy living practices, even during treatment.
- Respiratory Diseases – COPD and other chronic lower respiratory disease are the third most common cause of death for older folks. Approximately 127,000 people die from these diseases yearly. 10% of men and 13% of women (approximately) are living with asthma. According to the CDC an additional 10% of men and 11% of women have chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Having a chronic respiratory disease increases your health risks for diseases like pneumonia there are steps you can take to preserve your health and quality of life. Get lung function tests and take the medications your doctor prescribes and use oxygen if instructed.
- Alzheimer’s Disease – The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in nine people age 65 and older live with this disease. That’s about 11% of seniors. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is challenging so it’s difficult to know exactly how many people are living with this disease. And the cognitive impairment significantly impacts senior health care from safety and self-care issues to the cost of care in home or in a residential facility.
- Osteoporosis – The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 54 million Americans over the age 50 are affected by low bone mass or osteoporosis. This puts those people at risk for a fracture or break that could lead to poor putting them at risk for a fracture or break that could lead to a lower quality of life and increase other health risks.
- Diabetes – This disease is a significant health risk for people over 65. About 24% of men and 18% of women over 65 are living with the disease. With simple blood test for blood sugar levels the disease can be identified and treated early. Lifestyle changes can help control diabetes and improve your long term health prospects.
- Influenza and Pneumonia – These are not chronic conditions but they are among the top seven causes of death in people over 65. They fall just behind diabetes. Because seniors are more vulnerable and less able to fight them off it’s recommended that seniors get an annual flu shot and the pneumonia vaccine if your doctor recommends it.
- Falls – As we age the risk for falls requiring emergency room treatment increases. And one-third of people who are treated in the emergency room for a fall will be back there in a year. Most falls happen in your own home so be aware of the hazards; slippery floors, bathtubs, and area rugs are common causes of falls.
- Substance Abuse – The National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions data suggests that one in five people over 65 have an alcohol or substance abuse problem at some point. The most common nonmedical substances abused by seniors are alcohol and tobacco. Possible interactions with prescription medications
- Obesity – Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are all chronic conditions that affect quality of life and can cause death. Obesity is a health risk for developing any one of these diseases. And obesity causes people to be less active, increasing the risk for other conditions such as osteoporosis. In adults between the ages of 65 and 74 almost 75% are overweight.
- Depression – Depression can lower immunity and compromise the ability to fight infections. Increasing physical activity can improve mood and social interactions are very important to fighting depression. Seniors, on average, report spending only 8 to 11% of their free time with family and friends. Medications and therapy can also be helpful in overcoming depression.
- Oral Health – As you age your mouth becomes dryer and cavities are more difficult to avoid. According to the CDC 25% of people over 65 have no natural teeth. Healthy teeth and gums are important for your overall health. Regular checkups and proper oral health care is imperative for older people.
- Poverty – Older women are slightly more likely to live in poverty than men. In 2013, half of all people on Medicare had incomes less than $23,500, which is equivalent to 200 percent of poverty in 2015 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This means seniors are foregoing doctor visits, medications, and other essential health care.
- Shingles – The National Institutes of Health says that 50% of all Americans will experience shingles before they are 80 years old. One out of every three people over 60 will get it. This incredibly painful condition usually affects only one side of your body. It starts with tingling or severe pain then develops into an itchy rash and may blister. There is a shingles vaccine available so talk to your doctor.
Taking care of your health is important at every stage of life but, as you age, it is even more important to know the risk factors and take steps to prevent disease. You can live a long, healthy life if you take care of yourself.