Older adults face many life challenges. Things are changing constantly – rapidly for some. As we age, we find ourselves facing new and unique issues. Here are ten of the most common health issues seniors experience.
1. Chronic Health Conditions
About 92% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, according to the National Council on Aging, and 77% have at least two.
The most common chronic health conditions affecting seniors include:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory diseases
Arthritis is one of the most common conditions affecting people aged 65 and older. An estimated 49.7% of adults over the age of 65 are battling this chronic condition, according to the CDC. Arthritis can lead to pain and lower a senior’s quality of life.
Heart disease is the leading killer among adults over the age of 65. This chronic condition affects 37% of elderly men and 26% of elderly women.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among seniors, affecting 21% of women and 28% of men over the age of 65.
2. Physical Injuries
Seniors are at greater risk of falls and injuries. Impaired mobility and balance coupled with other physical issues make it more likely for seniors to fall or injure themselves. In fact, a senior is admitted to the emergency room for a fall every 15 seconds. Every 29 minutes, a senior dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors.
As we age, our bones start to shrink and our muscles lose their strength and flexibility. As a result, seniors are at greater risk of losing their balance, bruising and fracturing a bone.
Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, two diseases common among seniors, may also contribute to physical injuries.
Home modifications, mobility aids, education and increased physical activity can reduce the risk of falls and physical injuries.
Seniors can reduce the risk of falls by:
- Using mobility aids when needed
- Removing slippery throw and area rugs
- Keeping hallways and floors clear of clutter
- Installing more lights to ensure that all walkways are illuminated
- Installing grip bars in bathrooms to aid in balance
3. Cognitive Decline
Many seniors contend with cognitive issues, particularly dementia. An estimated 47.5 million people across the world have dementia, and that number is expected to triple by 2050.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among the elderly. About five million people over the age of 65 are battling the disease in the U.S. Approximately 92,604 people over the age of 65 died due to Alzheimer’s in 2014, according to the CDC.
Other chronic health conditions can increase the risk of developing dementia, including substance abuse, depression, hypertension, diabetes, smoking and HIV.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging, so it’s difficult to estimate how many people are living with this chronic condition.
While there is no cure for dementia, medications and a treatment plan can be devised to manage the disease.
4. Mental Health Conditions
For many seniors, it’s the invisible injuries that are the most difficult to overcome. About 15% of seniors are battling a mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization.
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions among seniors, affecting about 7% of the elderly population. Older adults account for more than 18% of the suicide deaths in the United States.
In many cases, depression is a side effect of other chronic health conditions. Treating those conditions can help. Practicing self-care, adopting healthy lifestyle habits and seeking support from family and friends can also help improve depression symptoms.
Malnutrition is underdiagnosed in seniors and can lead to other health issues, including muscle weakness and immune system issues. These two issues can increase the risk of falls or contracting disease.
Malnutrition can be caused by a wide range of factors, including other health conditions, alcoholism, depression, social isolation, dietary restriction and limited income. Seniors with dementia, for example, may forget to eat.
Seniors can prevent malnutrition by making small changes to their diets, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Food programs are also available to older adults with limited incomes or those who have difficulty preparing meals on their own.
6. Sensory Impairment
Hearing impairment is extremely common among seniors. According to the CDC, one out of four older adults has a hearing impairment and one out of six has a visual impairment.
Fortunately, this is an issue that’s easily treated and managed with the help of corrective eyewear and hearing aids. Financial assistance may be available for both hearing aids and corrective eyewear.
7. Bladder Control
Incontinence affects many seniors and can negatively impact their quality of life. In some cases, bladder control issues are a side effect of other health issues, such as eating a poor diet, or a chronic medical condition.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly can help prevent this issue.
Even if incontinence cannot be prevented, it can be easily managed.
8. Substance Abuse
Older adults face many life changes. In addition to retirement, many are battling health issues, grieving the deaths of loved ones and having to adapt to a new lifestyle. Some older adults have difficulty accepting these changes and turn to substances, such as alcohol, to cope.
The number of seniors dealing with substance abuse problems is expected to double and reach five million by 2020, according to the National Council on Aging.
Substance abuse is often overlooked in medical check-ups, and many are prescribed multiple prescriptions that must be taken long-term.
According to the National Institute on Drugs, substance abuse among the elderly is typically the result of a mental health issue. Some seniors cannot afford their own medication, so they take other patients’ medications instead. This can lead to abuse and dependence.
9. Oral Health Issues
Healthy teeth and gums are important to a senior’s overall health. But about a quarter of seniors have no natural teeth, according to the CDC.
Proper oral care is essential for older adults, particularly because the mouth becomes drier and cavities become more difficult to prevent as we age.
It’s important for seniors to receive regular dental check-ups to prevent disease, such as mouth cancer and gum disease. But many seniors are unable to get the dental care they need due to lack of insurance coverage or a limited income.
Seniors who suffered chicken pox as a child can develop shingles as an older adult. One out of three people over the age of 60 will develop shingles, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 50% of all Americans will experience shingles before the age of 80.
Shingles typically only affects one side of the body. It starts with severe pain or tingling. Some will develop itchy rashes or blisters.
Vaccines are available for shingles, so seniors should talk to their doctors about it.
Allie has worked in care facilities for the last 15 years providing mobility and health care to seniors of all skill levels. She is passionate about senior advocacy and is and loves to spend her free time in the outdoors.