Each stage of life brings its own set of challenges. As people reach their senior years, they face specific health challenges unique to those over age 65. Of course, people of all ages benefit from healthy lifestyle choices, such as following a balanced diet, remaining active, engaging in regular aerobic activity, and staying tobacco-free, but this is especially important for those entering their golden years.
According to the CDC, the average lifespan for Americans once they reach age 65 is 84.3 years (85.5 for women and 83 for men). Of course, the goal is not simply living the longest life possible. You also want to enjoy great quality of life. That means working with your healthcare provider to manage chronic diseases and taking special care with issues that present a greater risk as you age.
According to the CDC, nearly half of all adults aged 65 and over have some form of arthritis. This chronic condition is often painful, making it difficult to maintain an active lifestyle and sometimes interfering with the patient’s daily routine. Luckily, your physician can help you manage your arthritis and discover a level of activity that keeps you active and helps alleviate symptoms.
2. Common Illnesses: Influenza and Pneumonia
Your immune system grows stronger as you age; however, around age 65, your immune system begins weakening. When this happens, you become more susceptible to common illnesses like influenza and pneumonia. In addition, weaker immune systems correlate to increased mortality from these viruses and infections. In fact, nearly 90 percent of flu- and pneumonia-related deaths are in patients over age 65. To protect yourself, get vaccinated every year against influenza. In addition, talk to your doctor about a pneumococcal vaccination and how often you need one.
3. Cognitive Health Issues
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 20 percent of Americans over age 60 have some type of neurological disorder, with some form of dementia affecting over 47 million people around the world. Though researchers still do not know what causes dementia, they do know that certain factors increase your risk, including depression, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, and substance abuse. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes to help reduce this risk, such as improving diet, quitting smoking, and following a regular exercise routine.
Diabetes affects approximately one-quarter of all Americans over age 65, and caused over 54,000 deaths in 2014 according to the CDC. With proper treatment, patients can easily manage this chronic condition. Your annual wellness visit is a perfect opportunity for blood tests to diagnose and begin treating the disease. Once diagnosed, work with your doctor to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control your condition.
5. Eyesight Issues
Like every other part of your body, age begins affecting your eyesight as early as your 40s. You may not realize, however, that a variety of chronic health issues also negatively impact vision, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Your annual wellness checkups should include an eye exam. However, certain symptoms indicate the need to visit an eye doctor immediately, including:
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Darkness or blackness encroaching on your field of vision
- Distorted, loss of, or narrowed vision
- Double vision (sometimes called ghost images)
- No longer seeing color or colors
- Seeing spots and/or floaters
- Sudden pain or redness in your eyes
6. Heart Disease
The leading cause of death in Americans over age 65 is heart disease. Common causes of this chronic disease include high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes. Fortunately, even though heart disease affects so many Americans (over one-third of men and around one-quarter of women), healthy lifestyle choices help prevent it. Work with your doctor to develop a diet and exercise program, and quit smoking to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.
7. Mental Illness
Seniors are often more susceptible to behavioral health issues, due in part to lingering social stigma attached to mental illness. Depression is fairly common among seniors due to a variety of factors, and suicide is the tenth highest leading cause of death, with older Americans making up nearly 20 percent of all suicide-related deaths. Thankfully, depression is treatable. It is often a side effect of certain medications, and even certain chronic conditions, so talk to your doctor if you experience signs of depression.
As people age, bone growth slows. As a result, bones become thinner and more brittle, and therefore more susceptible to breaking. In addition, when a bone breaks, healing takes much longer. You help build stronger bones by eating a diet rich in calcium and performing strength-bearing exercises, such as walking and weight lifting.
9. Physical Injuries
According to the CDC, the fourth leading cause of death for seniors is accidental injury. This is due in part to reduced balance and flexibility related to aging, but also to the aforementioned dangers, osteoporosis and arthritis. Once again, a healthier lifestyle that includes regular exercise helps protect you from falls and other accidents, as it improves strength, balance, and flexibility.
10. Respiratory Illness
Chronic lower respiratory disease is on the CDC’s list of leading causes of death among older Americans. This includes conditions such as asthma, COPD, and emphysema. These diseases also increase your risk of contracting influenza and pneumonia. If you receive this diagnosis, work with your doctor to manage your condition.
The Final Diagnosis
No matter your age, taking a proactive approach to your health is important. Schedule your annual wellness visit, practice preventive care, follow a healthy lifestyle, and follow your physician’s instructions to improve both the quality and quantity of the years ahead of you.