November 18, 2022
The average life expectancy in the United States is just short of 80 years. This means that by the time you reach retirement, you’re likely to still have a lot of life ahead of you. But with this significant milestone come some additional health concerns you should be aware of that may require your attention and some preventive care.
Whether you’re an older adult already, getting close, or the caregiver to one, here are 11 health issues to keep in mind.
There is a normal level of cognitive decline that naturally happens as we get older. You may notice more frequent bouts of forgetfulness in yourself or a loved one, but usually it’s not severe enough to have a serious impact on daily activities. The best thing you can do to fight cognitive decline is keep your mind stimulated with games, puzzles, and similar activities that exercise your brain. Staying physically active and eating well can help too.
Getting older is one of the greatest risk factors for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. The symptoms usually come on slowly and become gradually worse until basic daily tasks become difficult and caregiving becomes necessary. Early diagnosis and intervention can lead to a better quality of life for people living with the condition. There are also treatments and drugs available that may change the progression of the disease and help manage symptoms.
Like cognitive decline, some level of hearing loss is common. The tiny hair cells in your inner ear that allow you to hear don’t regrow after they die, so years of being exposed to loud noises can have a significant impact on your hearing. Vision loss is also common, generally due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or cataracts. Left unchecked, hearing and vision loss can lead to diminished quality of life, increased isolation, and accelerated cognitive decline. Regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and quitting smoking can all go a long way in preventing hearing and vision loss.
If you notice a change in your vision or ability to hear, contact a medical professional right away. Hearing aids and other assistive devices can be beneficial for those experiencing age-related hearing loss. For vision loss caused by AMD, medications and laser therapy can be helpful. Surgery is the only way to completely get rid of cataracts, but a prescription for new glasses or contacts, as well as some other small changes (like using brighter lights and wearing sunglasses), can help people with early-stage cases see better.
The risk of heart disease increases as we get older. Over time, cholesterol deposits (also known as plaque) can build up in the arteries of the heart and lead to chest pain, heart attack, or even heart failure. A nutritious diet and regular physical activity can go a long way in keeping your heart healthy as you age.
Diabetes is common among people over 65 years old. In fact, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 25 percent of people in this age group are living with diabetes or prediabetes. These conditions can lead to poor outcomes for older people, including kidney disease, heart attacks, stroke, blindness, and death. Maintaining a healthy diet and body weight are key to avoiding and controlling this serious health condition.
Elderly people are at higher risk for osteoporosis, a disease that causes a person’s bones to weaken and more easily break. The condition is often referred to as a “silent disease” because people don’t know they have it until a fracture occurs, usually in the spine, hips, or wrists. A calcium- and Vitamin D-rich diet can help lower the risk of developing this condition.
Falls are a serious cause for concern among older people, resulting in at 300,000 hospitalizations every year. Dizziness from medications or other health conditions can also lead to falls and other injuries. To avoid losing mobility due a fall, many people choose to “fall proof” their house by adding anti-slip flooring and more surfaces to hold on to while standing.
Older people are more likely than others to get influenza (flu), pneumonia, and COVID-19. Weakened immune systems can make it harder to recover from these diseases and can lead to complications. All older people should get an annual flu shot and get fully vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19. They should also take additional care to avoid sick people and large group gatherings during cold and flu season.
Many elderly people suffer from loneliness as a result of becoming isolated. A loss of engagement with peers after retiring or the death of a spouse are common causes of loneliness and can lead to depression and other mental health issues.
Many of the concerns on this list manifest in oral health. Your mouth, which encounters a lot of bacteria, is a main point of access to your digestive and respiratory system. So frequent tooth brushing, flossing, regular dental checkups, and other oral hygiene habits are essential to remaining healthy.
While not unique to elderly people, cancer is a health concern worth noting. Many cancers become more prevalent in older people, and with the passage of time, tumors may have more time to develop and spread.
Of course, any condition that follows a person into old age is a continued risk as they grow older. Obesity is a common risk factor for many of the concerns mentioned in this article, and chronic conditions — such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — may worsen over time.
More than ever, people today are expected to live independently and happily well into their late 70s and beyond. Being aware of the health concerns faced by older adults, and being proactive in addressing them is the best way to ensure that you spend your later days feeling your best!