Getting older can seem daunting—greying hair, wrinkles, forgetting where you parked the car. All jokes aside, aging can bring about unique health issues. With seniors accounting for 12 percent of the world’s population–and rapidly increasing to over 22 percent by 2050–it’s important to understand the challenges faced by people as they age, and recognize that there are preventive measures that can place yourself (or a loved one) on a path to healthy aging. Here are the most common elderly health problems –
“Arthritis is probably the number one condition that people 65 or older contend with,” says geriatrician Marie Bernard, MD, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. The CDC estimates that it affects 49.7 percent of all adults over 65 and can lead to pain and lower quality of life for some seniors. Although arthritis can discourage you from being active, it’s important to work with your doctor to develop a personalized activity plan that, along with other treatment, can help maintain senior health.
According to the CDC, heart disease remains the leading killer of adults over age 65, accounting for 489,722 deaths in 2014. As a chronic condition, heart disease affects 37 percent of men and 26 percent of women 65 and older, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. As people age, they’re increasingly living with risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that increase the chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. Dr. Bernard’s advice for addressing this senior health risk not only helps with heart disease but can improve senior health across the board: “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.”
Cancer is the second leading cause of death among people over age 65, with 413,885 deaths in 2014, according to the CDC. The CDC also reports that 28 percent of men and 21 percent of women over age 65 are living with cancer. If caught early through screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks, many types of cancer are treatable. And though you’re not always able to prevent cancer, you can improve your quality of life as a senior living with cancer, including during treatment, by working with your medical team and maintaining their healthy senior living recommendations.
Alzheimer’s disease accounted for 92,604 deaths of people over age 65 in 2014, according to the CDC. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in nine people age 65 and older, which is about 11 percent, have Alzheimer’s disease, but because diagnosis is challenging, it’s difficult to know exactly how many people are living with this chronic condition. Still, 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, either in the home or a residential facility.
“Osteoporosis can contribute to becoming less mobile and potentially disabled should you fall and have a fracture or as the vertebral bodies collapse,” Bernard said. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 54 million Americans over age 50 are affected by low bone mass or osteoporosis, putting them at risk for a fracture or break that could lead to poor senior health and reduced quality of life. What’s more, they estimate that by the year 2020 that number will rise to 64.4 million.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to avoid these elderly health issues is the smartest thing you can do. There are often effective medical treatments, and older adults should not be embarrassed to discuss with their physicians.