Health Issues in Older Adults

Out of the total population in the United States, about 49% are 65 and older. By the year 2060, the American population will include an estimated 98 million older adults. 

For most older adults, good health only becomes more important over time. When you're in good shape physically and mentally, this increases the likelihood that you’ll have more independence, more security, and more productivity as you age. 

Are you struggling with experiences like chronic disease, falls, oral health concerns, or mental health issues? You’re not alone. Many older adults face challenges like these, which can negatively impact their quality of life. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to address these health issues.

Common Health Issues in Older Adults

It’s normal to experience challenges with your physical health as you age. Here are a few of the most common health issues experienced by older adults.

Heart health. As you get older your cardiovascular system goes through changes. Your blood vessels and arteries may start to stiffen, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood. The heart then adjusts to the increased workload. This causes it to rest at the same rate without increasing during activities the same way it used to. These changes increase your risk of high blood pressure and other heart-related diseases.

Bones, joints, and muscles. As you age, your bones shrink and become less dense. This makes them weaker and more likely to fracture if you become injured. Muscles also lose strength, flexibility, and endurance. All of these can negatively impact your balance, coordination, and stability.

‌Digestive system. You can also expect your digestive system to change as you age, especially in your large intestine. This can lead to increased instances of constipation. Certain medications, lack of exercise, and not drinking enough water may contribute to more frequent, severe, or problematic bowel movements. 

Bladder and urinary tract. As you get older, your bladder becomes less elastic. This creates the feeling that you need to urinate more often. Your bladder and pelvic floor muscles also weaken. It can then be more difficult to empty your bladder completely. This can produce an uncomfortable sensation and make going to the bathroom unsatisfying. 

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Memory and cognitive skills. A decline in memory or cognitive skills can take a few different forms. You may forget people's names, have trouble recalling information or facts, or have difficulty multitasking. 

Eyes and ears. It’s normal for your vision to worsen as you age. It may be more difficult to focus on objects close up. You might be more sensitive to glare. You may find it challenging to see in the dark. You may also experience clouded vision, also known as cataracts. 

Your hearing may also diminish with age. This can make it more difficult to hear high-pitched noises or follow conversations in a noisy crowd. 

Teeth. Some people notice that their gums start to pull back from their teeth as they age. Certain medications, like those used to treat high blood pressure or high cholesterol, may cause dry mouth. These factors make it more likely that you’ll experience tooth decay or infection as you age. 

Skin. Your skin goes through numerous changes as you get older. Your skin will become thinner, less elastic, and more fragile. You may also experience a decrease in natural oils, making your skin drier.

As a result, you’re more likely to bruise, have wrinkles, or age spots. You may also develop skin tags, which are generally harmless small growths on your skin. 

Weight. Your body burns calories slower as you age. If you continue to eat the same way you always have, you’ll likely gain weight.

Sexuality. Sometimes as women age, they experience vaginal dryness which can make sex uncomfortable. Men may have a more difficult time obtaining an erection and it may not be as firm. 

Tips to Prevent Health Issues

Healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent and possibly even reverse damage related to health issues. The key is finding what works for you and sticking with it. 

Diet. Doctors always recommend eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Plant-based foods can often help reduce diabetes, heart disease, and the risk of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is especially supportive of heart health. It emphasizes eating veggies, fruits, legumes, olive oil, fish, and nuts.

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Movement. Exercising and physical movement is good for your body overall. This doesn’t have to be a lot all at once. You can start small and gradually build your strength over time. Simply walking a few days a week for 10 minutes or more can make a big difference.

Sleep. Getting good sleep is just as important as what you do during the day. You can help yourself get some rest by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Put away digital devices at least 90 minutes before you go to sleep. Try to sleep in a cool and comfortable dark environment.

Stress relief. It’s normal to experience worries and concerns during any time of life. However, stress is not good for your body, especially when you’re older. Incorporating mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude are all healthy ways to cope and release stress.

Social connection. Keeping up with family and friends can help maintain your mental and physical health. Whether you see people in person or connect with them virtually through online video conferencing, a human-to-human connection is a necessity. Don't overlook it.

As you get older, take small steps to stay healthy and keep your eye on the bigger picture. The choices you make today will affect you later. Do everything you can to set yourself up for success as you age. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 23, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Healthy Habits That Prevent Chronic Disease.”

MAYO CLINIC: “Aging: What to expect.”

ncoa: “Get the Facts on Healthy Aging.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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