Even seemingly healthy seniors and retirees may suffer from health conditions that limit their life activities. Knowing about the top age-related health concerns may help caregivers and family members understand and assist their senior loved ones.
Most people expect minor memory issues as they age, but memory issues that disrupt daily living could be warning signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive decline. Forgetting a phone number or the locations of eyeglasses or keys are minor frustrations, but forgetting to bathe, eat, or do the dishes signals more serious cognitive issues.
Hearing and Vision Loss
Sensory deterioration—such as if a senior can’t hear an oncoming car when taking a walk or has trouble reading the instructions on their prescriptions—can put seniors in danger. Seniors should have regular auditory and vision exams to detect and address any sensory decline.
Balance and Mobility
Falls are major causes of injury and even death in older people. Muscle loss and brittle bones are common side effects of aging, so seniors must be able to enjoy safe home environments in which to move about. As with hearing aids and glasses, seniors can sometimes resist adopting mobility aids such as walkers and canes, but when an elder begins to show signs they might need to start using a cane, it’s time to have a serious discussion about how these assistive devices can enable a safer and even more active life.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Seniors have sex, and they often don’t use protection. A surprisingly high percentage of new HIV infections and deaths occur in people over 55. Seniors may disregard protection because pregnancy isn’t a risk without thinking about protection from disease. Worse, symptoms of HIV may mimic problems of ordinary aging, so the disease may be missed or diagnosed too late to provide effective treatment.
Risk from heart disease and stroke increases with age. High blood pressure and hardening or clogged arteries can contribute to heart and lung problems and strokes. Symptoms of stroke can look like other top age-related health concerns, such as vision problems, balance issues, and headaches. A face drooping on one side, weakness in the arms or the inability to raise an arm overhead, or difficult or slurred speech may all be signs of a stroke that warrant a 911 call.
Mental Health Issues
Isolation and depression are serious issues for older people. Physical decline is frustrating, and seniors may turn to alcohol or other substances for solace, causing additional health problems. Keeping seniors engaged and, above all, respecting their experience, their personhood, and their wisdom are key elements to helping older people feel valued and less alone.
Consult your physician, your local senior center, or your local department of aging for additional information about caring for or helping seniors.