Senior Citizen Health Conditions and How to Prevent Them

Julie Kirk
Contributor: Mary Gormandy White
Doctor taking man's blood pressure

For senior citizens, health conditions should not be taken lightly. At the first sign of a medical problem, it's essential for seniors to see a medical professional. With all of the diagnostic and treatment options available, many illnesses can be successfully treated when discovered early.

Common Senior Citizen Health Conditions

As people age, they experience an increased risk of contracting many types of illnesses. While there are few, if any, diseases exclusive to the mature population, it's a fact that there are many health conditions that impact seniors more so than others. It isn't unusual for seniors to experience health challenges that include:

Arthritis

  • Arthritis is typically described as inflammation in the joints causing joint pain and/or joint disease which will typically worsen over time.
  • There are over 100 different types of arthritis and conditions associated with arthritis.
  • The two most common types are osteoarthritis which causes cartilage at the joints to break down and rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune disease that attacks the lining of the joints.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 54.4 million adults are affected by arthritis in the U.S. (More than 1 out of 4 people.)
  • The risk of getting arthritis is higher if you are a woman and if you have a family history. To help prevent or reduce the risk you should maintain a healthy weight and include physical activity in your daily routine.

Alzheimer's Disease

  • Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. It affects the parts of the brain that control memory, thought and language.
  • Alzheimer's begins with gradual memory loss that worsens over time. Eventually, it will progress to the inability to have a conversation or perform routine daily activities.
  • Scientists do not know what specifically causes Alzheimer's disease but believe it's a combination of factors. Age, family history and genetics are known components.
  • About 5.7 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer's and this number is projected to rise to 14 million by the year 2050.
  • A healthy lifestyle may help prevent Alzheimer's disease which includes 30 minutes of exercise three to four times a week, eating a Mediterranean diet and getting enough sleep.

Cancer

  • The most common cancers found in the senior age group include breast, lung, colon and prostate.
  • There has been a 26% increase in the incidence of cancer in those 65 years or older.
  • Cancer-related deaths have increased by 15% in the 65 years and older population.
  • The chances of getting cancer do increase with age, however, there are ways to help prevent this which include eliminating the use of tobacco products, limiting alcohol intake, eating right, exercising and maintaining weight.

Diabetes

  • Diabetes is a condition that causes your blood sugar levels to rise above the normal range. Type 2 diabetes is the most common in seniors.
  • A few risk factors that could increase your chances of getting diabetes include a family history of diabetes, hypertension, a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight or obese.
  • Over 30 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes. 23 million are diagnosed, 7 million undiagnosed.
  • A few ways that may help prevent type 2 diabetes include losing weight, exercising more, adding more vegetables and whole grains to your diet, eliminating fats and sugars and reducing stress.

Heart Disease

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women.
  • As you age, the heart and blood vessels may stiffen and can lead to heart failure, coronary artery disease and atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure and the build-up of cholesterol can also contribute to heart disease.
  • About 630,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease a year.
  • The best way to prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease is to stop smoking, exercise, eat well and reduce stress.

Respiratory Diseases

  • Respiratory diseases are found in the airways and various structures of the lungs.
  • The respiratory diseases that most affect seniors include COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma and pulmonary hypertension.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD alone.
  • A few ways to prevent or handle respiratory disease is to quit smoking, eat healthy, exercise and take frequent lung function tests.

Additional Conditions

The following are additional conditions commonly found in senior citizens:

  • Dementia is actually an overall term that describes a group of symptoms that include a decline in memory, thinking skills and social abilities that are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of progressive dementia.
  • Depression is common in seniors and can be associated with additional issues such as other medical conditions, chronic pain, side effects of medication, and stress.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) is prevalent in seniors and a contributing risk factor of heart disease and stroke.
  • Influenza and pneumonia are infections that seniors become more prone to as they age. A flu shot and pneumonia vaccine may be the best plan for prevention.

  • Obesity is known to negatively affect the body and can predispose many diseases. It is commonly associated with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and joint problems.
  • Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease that commonly affects seniors. With age, bones lose minerals such as calcium and become porous and fragile. This leads to a higher risk of a bone break if there's a fall.
  • Strokes are prevalent in seniors. A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or becomes blocked depriving the brain of oxygen. This causes brain cells to die within minutes.

Prevention Is Key to Senior Health

senior woman making salad

While some health problems are genetic, and others strike with no apparent reason or cause, steps can be taken to prevent or delay the onset of many senior citizen health conditions. Even though there is no certain way to prevent every ailment, there are steps that every adult can take to reduce their likelihood of developing many types of health-related problems.

Follow a Healthy Diet

There is a significant role between nutrition and serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer. A few suggestions on how to eat healthy include:

  • Monitoring the diet closely.
  • Eliminating or limiting junk food, sugary snacks and fried foods.
  • Eating a sufficient amount throughout the day.
  • Eating lean sources of protein and foods that are rich in fiber.

Everyone, seniors included, should strive to consume a diet that follows the USDA Food Plate. It's also essential for seniors to consume a sufficient quantity of calcium in order to offset the natural bone loss that starts to occur as people age.

Exercise Regularly

Getting plenty of exercise is important for people in every age group. Individuals who continue exercising regularly into their senior years enjoy many health benefits associated with staying in good physical condition. A few examples of activities that seniors can participate in on a regular basis include:

Exercise can play an important role in preventing and controlling diabetes, obesity, and many health conditions related to vascular health.

Stay Connected

It's important for seniors to maintain social contacts throughout their lives because:

  • They may find they are lonely once they are no longer interacting with coworkers on a regular basis.
  • They may feel isolated as their children and grandchildren grow up and move away.
  • This isolation can worsen as lifelong friends and relatives begin to pass away.

Making a point of staying connected with others can ward off depression and have a positive impact on overall health and wellness.

Seek Preventive Medical Treatment

Seniors should visit their physicians for regular checkups because:

  • It is the best way to make sure that any health problems that start to develop can be caught, diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
  • They need to discuss all relevant information about their family medical history. This will help the doctor determine what types of tests to run, based on the health conditions a particular patient might be genetically predisposed to.
  • They also need to discuss and to follow their physician's advice regarding diet, exercise, and medication.
  • Even if they are in good general health, they should visit their doctor a minimum of once per year.

Be Proactive

Seniors can face various, unexpected health challenges as they age. If they are diagnosed with a particular disease, it is best that they become proactive and ask questions on how to best manage the disease in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Senior Citizen Health Conditions and How to Prevent Them