Common Health Problems in Older Adults (Chronic Diseases After 50)
Several chronic diseases may arise as you become older and this is not uncommon. Most people over the age of 60 will have a chronic disease, like hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes mellitus and various other conditions. In fact it is estimated that in some nations this may be as high as 9 in 10 older adults have at least one chronic condition. Understanding what conditions may arise and what you can do to manage or even prevent it can impact your quality of life and even your lifespan.
It is not uncommon for older adults to have two or more chronic conditions. As many as 8 in 10 adults over 60 may have two or more chronic diseases simultaneously, which is known as comorbidities. This further impacts upon quality of life and lifespan. With the link established between coronavirus deaths and comorbidities, older adults with chronic diseases are therefore at greater risk and more likely to die from COVID-19 infection. It is important that middle aged and older adults take greater responsibility for their health. Prevention is best but with early detection, rapid treatment and ongoing management, these chronic diseases can be less severe.
1. Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Hypertension is one of the most common conditions to affect people after the age of 50. It can start much earlier in life, often in the 40s and sometimes even in the 30s or even late 20s. The blood pressure is persistently higher than the normal range and this gradually damages blood vessels. Over time this blood vessel damage can lead to a narrowing and eventually may become blocked with a clot. This may manifest as a heart attack or stroke. However, hypertension can cause other complications and also damage other organs like the eyes and kidneys.
2. Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes mellitus is another common condition that can occur at any age. However, the more common type which is type 2 diabetes tends to arise later in life. As with hypertension, it can occur at anytime from the 40s but the risk increases with advancing age. Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the body cannot maintain the blood glucose levels within a normal range. The high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels and organs over time. Untreated diabetes eventually affects the kidney, eyes and heart among various other organs.
3. Heart Disease
There are various different types of heart disease which can arise at any age. However, heart disease tends to be more common among the elderly, with hypertension, diabetes mellitus and hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) being some of the more frequent causes. Ischemic heart disease is one of the common types of heart disease. This is where the heart tissue becomes inflamed due to insufficient blood supply to the heart. It is usually a result of a narrow coronary artery (coronary artery disease) and can eventually result in a heart attack.
Cancer is another condition that is seen more commonly in the senior years of life. This is where a malignant tumor forms which destroys organs and can spread throughout the body. It can occur in any age, even in children. However, the risk of cancer rises sharply with age after 50. Not every senior will develop cancer. However, there are several cancers which may be prevented or the risk of developing these cancers can be reduced with changes in diet and lifestyle, such as quitting smoking, losing weight and minimizing prolonged sun exposure.
Osteoarthritis may not be life-threatening like the other conditions mentioned above but it can severely impact a person’s quality of life. This is a condition where there is wear and tear of the joint cartilage and bone. It is very common among seniors but starts much earlier in life although symptoms only become evident later in life. There is gradual degeneration of the joint cartilage and eventually the body is not able to repair it to a sufficient degree. It impacts joint function and causes pain and stiffness.
Weakening of the bones is more likely to occur in the senior years of life. This is known as osteoporosis. It is more common among elderly women and is linked to the decline in the female hormone levels with menopause and post-menopause. Bone is constantly remodeled where it is deposited to replace parts that have been resorbed. However, with osteoporosis this bone deposition is slower and leads to weak and even brittle bones that fracture easily. Diet, lifestyle and supplements can help slow this process.
Dementia is often associated with old age but it can occur earlier in life due to various reasons. Age-related dementia is mainly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There is a gradual decline in memory, thinking ability and reasoning skills, among other cognitive functions. It does not affect every senior but is common among the elderly. It may start as early as the 60s but severe cases are usually associated with the 70s and 80s or older. It may be linked to some of the other conditions above but hereditary factors also play a major role along with age.
8. Sensory Loss
Diminished senses or even sensory loss is almost inevitable with advanced age. It may not always be debilitating and is not always a complete loss of a specific sense. While loss of taste and smell may not be considered too serious, diminished sense of touch or loss of vision and hearing can negatively impact on the quality of life and even pose a danger. Sensory impairment is more likely to be associated with conditions like diabetes mellitus, especially in poorly managed cases, but some degree of sensory impairment is inevitable even in healthy seniors.
Depression is not uncommon among the elderly and occurs for various reasons. It may be linked to loss of loved ones, health conditions and the socioeconomic impact of being older and retired among other possible causes. Sometimes the exact cause cannot be identified. Depression in seniors may be missed initially as some of the symptoms of depression are incorrectly attributed to the effects of ageing. Apart from counseling and medication, depression can sometimes be prevented and managed with changes in lifestyle and socialization.
10. Other Conditions
From back pain and bladder problems to fatigue and a weaker immune system, there a host of changes that occur with ageing. Some are like to chronic diseases that arise with age. Other conditions may occur with advancing age despite the lack of any underlying chronic disease. It is important for the elderly to undergo routine screening in order to identify chronic diseases. This can lead to earlier diagnosis, quicker treatment and even minimize complications. However, not all age-related changes in the body can be delayed or event prevented.