Health as We Age: Seniors

The Golden years can be as fulfilling and exciting as any stage of life. Just because you don’t look or feel the same as you did in your twenties, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life as much as you did when you were younger.

With age comes wisdom, but also health concerns unique to this age group. From increased mobility issues to changing nutritional needs, seniors have to be more educated and proactive about their health. During this stage of life, changes may come on drastically or slowly as the body responds both physically and mentally but being prepared makes the transition easier.

In the next segment of our “Health as We Age” series, we’ll look at 10 common health concerns and medication needs for seniors age 65 and older.

Mobility issues and joint pain

Eighty percent of people over the age of 60 and an even higher percent of seniors over the age of 80 have some form of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage between the joints starts to wear away. Smoking, excessive weight gain, and old injuries can exacerbate the condition and affect all joints in the body, including hips, knees, feet, and spine.

While over the counter medication and pain relievers can help reduce discomfort, keeping active with joint-friendly exercises like yoga and swimming is also recommended.

Analgesics like acetaminophen and tramadol can help with pain, but they don’t reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen and aspirin are some of the most popular medications but could cause stomach upset or bleeding if overused.

Prescription opioids like hydrocodone can also be prescribed but can be highly addictive.

Corticosteroids like prednisone or cortisone reduce swelling and can be taken as a pill or as an injection. Though effects can last about two months, these can also suppress the immune system.

Cognitive Issues

As we age, cognitive health becomes more of a concern. The most common cognitive health issue seniors face is dementia, or the reduction of cognitive functions. It is estimated that 47.5 million people suffer from dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s Disease is another major concern. The National Institute on Aging predicts that the number of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s is as many as five million in the United States.

Currently, no cure exists for dementia, but treatments and medications can be used to manage the disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved cholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne, and memantine drugs, such as Namenda, as medications to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Reminiscence therapy can help in some cases of dementia and could also bring more joy in the life of those suffering by talking about their childhood, favorite hobbies, or treasured items. Other therapies include cognitive stimulation tasks like doing puzzles, cooking from a recipe, or playing group games.

Chronic conditions

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) estimates that 92 percent of seniors have at least one chronic disease. The most common chronic health conditions include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.

Regular treatment and communication with a physician can help manage or prevent these chronic diseases, as can changing lifestyle behaviors that exacerbate the conditions.

Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise is often recommended to prevent disorders, such as heart disease or diabetes, and improve existing conditions.

Loss of Senses

As we age, so do our eyes and ears. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every six seniors has some sort of vision loss, and one out of four have hearing impairment.

While many age-related sensory impairments can be alleviated with hearing aids and glasses, newer technology is being created to help fight against hearing loss and blindness.

Common vision problems for seniors include macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. Until recently, treating macular degeneration was a challenge. Verteporfin therapy is a new treatment for those with macular degeneration, according to the National Institute of Health.

Other age-related sensory loss can include changes in taste, smell, and touch.

Depression and mental health

Depression is a serious problem among the elderly population and can be a side effect of chronic conditions or injury. According to the World Health Organization, more than 15 percent of seniors age 60 and older suffer from mental disorders or depression.

Stress stemming from the loss of a loved one, changes in the body, genetic disposition to depression, and isolation are common causes of depression and mental health in senior adults.

Antidepressants can be prescribed to help control mood or stress, and psychotherapy is often recommended alongside medications. Getting out of the house or being social are ways to alleviate loneliness, depression, and other mental issues.