by Alan Kronhaus, MD, CEO of Doctors Making Housecalls
Americans are living longer -and healthier- lives than ever before. But we can’t escape the fact that as we age, our bodies and minds do change. For many seniors, identifying and managing chronic conditions effectively is key to helping them stay ahead of health risks and lead active and healthy lives.
It is important to know what to expect as our bodies age – some changes may be part of the normal aging process, while others may signal a more serious medical problem. Partnering with a primary care clinician who specializes in geriatric medicine can help older adults recognize issues early and create a care plan that allows them to live better and fuller lives with chronic illness in check. Learning more about the 8 most common chronic health concerns for seniors and working with your physician to manage them helps you prevent a larger medical event, control pain and enjoy a better quality of life.
Arthritis affects 49.7 percent of all adults over 65. Although arthritis can discourage you from being active, it’s important to work with your doctor to develop a personalized exercise activity plan that, along with taking the right medication and properly resting your joints, may help with arthritis symptoms. Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, helps keep joints moving, lessens pain, and makes muscles around the joints stronger.
2. Heart Disease
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease remains the leading cause of death among adults over age 65. As people age, they’re increasingly living with cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that increase the chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. Moderate daily exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting a good night’s rest, can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease as well as improve overall senior health. Older adults, particularly those with a family history of heart disease, should work with their primary care physician to closely monitor for any changes to heart health.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death among people over age 65, with an estimated 28% of men and 21% of women over 65 living with cancer. If caught early through regularly scheduled screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks, many types of cancer are treatable. And though it’s not always possible to prevent cancer, it is possible to improve quality of life as a senior living with cancer, including during treatment, by working with your medical team and maintaining healthy senior living recommendations.
4. Respiratory Disease
Chronic respiratory diseases, such as COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, are increasingly common to older adults. Respiratory disease increases other senior health risks, including vulnerability to influenza, pneumonia and other air borne infections. Seniors with respiratory conditions should quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke; chemicals like perfumes, house-hold cleaners, and aerosol sprays that can irritate airways; think nutrition to give the body the extra energy necessary for labored breathing; get regular lung function tests to monitor changes; and take medications or use oxygen as instructed.
5. Alzheimer’s Disease
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in nine people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease. And, experts acknowledge that cognitive impairment has a significant impact on senior health across the spectrum, from issues of safety and self-care to the cost burden of care in the home or a residential facility. Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life. A physician specially trained in geriatric medicine can prescribe medication for symptom relief, help monitor the condition long-term and make recommendations for changes in care as they become necessary.
Osteoporosis thins and weakens the bones to the point that they become fragile and break easily. Patients with osteoporosis can become less mobile and as a result, more susceptible to falls. Usually occurring without symptoms, patients may not know they have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break, resulting in a trip to the hospital, surgery, or a long-term disabling condition. The good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated. Your physician can perform simple tests to determine bone health and recommend healthy lifestyle changes to help prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures.
Roughly 24% of men and 18% of women over the age of 65 are living with diabetes, and the significant health risks it poses. Complications such as hearing loss, vision problems, cognitive impairment, and mobility difficulties are especially apparent in seniors whose diabetes isn’t properly managed. Your physician can diagnose diabetes in its earliest stages with simple blood sugar level testing. The sooner you know you have or are at risk for diabetes, the sooner you can make changes to control the disease, improving long-term outlook.
According to the American Psychological Association, over 15% of Americans over 65 have experienced depression. Depression can lower immunity and compromise a person’s ability to fight infections. In addition to treatment with medication and therapy to improve mood, increasing physical activity may help alleviate feelings of depression. Similarly, more social interaction with family and friends has been shown to reduce depressive thoughts.