World Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) draws attention to the importance of our health and well-being, with an emphasis on different healthcare-related topics or issues each year on April 7. This year, the WHO is calling for action to eliminate health inequities, as part of a year-long global campaign to create a fairer, healthier world – with equal access to health care regardless of age, race, religion, or background. This applies more than ever to the elderly loved ones in our lives, who often have age-related health conditions that need to be regularly monitored and treated. By learning about what the top health concerns are for seniors, you can make some adjustments to their lifestyle that will allow them to age as safely and painlessly as possible.
Common Health Concerns for the Elderly
Family history, genetics, and lifestyle play a large role in the risk for certain medical conditions in your elderly parent. However, many health concerns are age-related and can be prevented – or at least the progression slowed – by making smart, healthy choices and by taking them to the doctor for regular screening. Some of the common conditions include:
1. Vision or hearing loss – Age-related eye issues like macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma affect millions of older adults, and 43 percent of people who experience hearing loss are 65 or older. Regular screenings for vision and hearing are vital as people age so that conditions can be detected and treated as early as possible.
2. Issues with balance and mobility – Falls in the home – especially the bathroom – are the leading cause of injury in older adults. So helping them maintain balance and mobility is key in fall prevention. The use of handrails, walkers, and canes as well as ensuring that floors are not slippery will also help prevent falls. Regular exercise will strengthen muscles and maintain flexibility so that your loved one can remain mobile for as long as possible.
3. Osteoarthritis or osteoporosis – According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, around 54 million adults over age 50 have osteoporosis, and almost all adults over age 80 have some form of osteoarthritis. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients can help protect your seniors’ bones and joints.
4. Respiratory diseases – Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can appear or worsen, the older we become. There are effective medications and therapies available that will allow your loved one to breathe easier.
5. Viruses and pneumonia– Infections like the flu or pneumonia affect all of us. However, seniors are more vulnerable to them and due to weakened immune systems, will often struggle with recovery. As we’ve observed from CDC data, the same goes for Covid-19. It is our older population that is most severely impacted. So regular vaccinations are important to reduce the chances of getting infected or having severe symptoms if infected.
6. Oral health problems – Issues like gingivitis (gum disease) that leads to periodontitis, a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth, can be common in older adults. Proper oral hygiene and deep dental cleaning every six months can help ensure that your senior’s teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.
7. Memory loss – While some cognitive decline is common as we age, developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is not. It’s important to know about and recognize the warning signs since early intervention and treatment can be key in slowing the progression of the disease.
8. Heart disease – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults over the age of 65. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are crucial factors in heart health, so need to be carefully monitored and managed – especially if there is a history of heart conditions in the family. Taking good care of their heart is vital to avoid developing heart disease.
9. Cancer – The risk for some types of cancer increases as people age. Women are more at risk for breast, cervical, or endometrial cancers, while men have a higher risk for prostate cancer. While we can’t prevent cancer, early detection of certain cancers can help effectively treat them.
Simply stated: We want our aging loved ones to be with us for as long as possible! By adhering to a program that includes a healthy diet, exercise, and cognitive care, combined with regular checkups, screenings, and preventative care, you will not only decrease the risk for age-related health conditions, you will also help your senior enjoy a longer, happier and healthier life.