10 Health Conditions to Watch For as You Age
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The “golden years” aren’t what they used to be — they’re getting even better, thanks to advances in medicine and nutrition. And because of this headway, the United States is experiencing an unprecedented increase in its senior population. By 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans will be age 65 or older, and the average life expectancy has passed 80 years for women and 75 years for men. But that doesn’t mean those run-of-the-mill senior health threats (such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s) are going away. On the contrary: It’s more important than ever to keep your bones, belly, and brain in tip-top shape. Your first step? Know which common conditions — and symptoms — to watch out for, so you can take steps to prevent or treat them.
2 / 11 Osteoporosis
Healthy bones are critical to senior health. As you age, your body begins to absorb old bone tissue faster than new bone tissue can be created, and your bones tend to become thinner and weaker. This leads to a condition known as osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become very fragile and can easily break during a fall or even when you're making everyday movements. More than 1.5 million fractures occur every year due to osteoporosis. The condition in and of itself has no symptoms, so ask your doctor to schedule you for a bone density test, called a DEXA scan, to check the health of your bones. These scans can identify osteoporosis and a less serious loss of bone density called osteopenia.
3 / 11 Macular Degeneration
Vision often begins to deteriorate with age, but the age-related vision problem called macular degeneration is a serious threat to sight. In people with this condition, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail, the macula, begins to break down over time. The macula is located in the center of the retina, the back of the eye wall that senses light and helps transmit images to the brain. With macular degeneration, central vision becomes blurry, and you might have trouble reading or recognizing faces. People age 75 or older have a 30 percent risk of developing macular degeneration, so be sure to schedule regular eye check-ups to look for any signs of vision trouble.
4 / 11 Glaucoma
Another age-related health problem affecting vision is glaucoma. Most types of glaucoma involve an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye, which can gradually damage the optic nerve that connects the retina to the brain. Researchers believe more than 4 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half are aware of their condition. There are no symptoms at first, but a person with glaucoma can gradually lose peripheral vision and eventually even direct vision may be affected. Because glaucoma can result in blindness if left untreated, your ophthalmologist or optometrist will check for glaucoma as part of regular office visits. If you don't yet have an eye doctor, make an appointment to see one.
5 / 11 Hearing Loss
About 43 percent of Americans with hearing loss are age 65 or older, making this an important issue in senior health. The most common form of age-related hearing loss is presbycusis, in which the ability to hear high-pitched sounds gradually decreases. Noise-induced hearing loss, the second most common type, occurs when you're exposed to loud sounds over time. In both cases, the ability to hear high-frequency sounds usually is lost first. You may have difficulty hearing hard, high-pitched consonants like "S" or the voices of women or children. Don't let hearing loss rob you of the ability to socialize with friends and family – ask your doctor about getting regular hearing tests, and use a hearing aid if it will help.
6 / 11 Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease erodes the ability to remember and think clearly, eventually rendering some people helpless to perform even basic tasks. It's a progressive disease of the brain and is irreversible. Researchers estimate between 2.4 and 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, most older than 60. People developing Alzheimer's often will experience memory lapses at first. However, if you find yourself feeling forgetful, don't automatically assume the worst — normal aging affects memory, too. Just check in with your doctor if you're concerned.
7 / 11 Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive impairment is the medical term for age-related memory loss that has not become Alzheimer's but is more serious than what typically occurs with aging. Your lifetime chance of having some form of cognitive impairment is 68 percent if you are age 65 and older. People with mild cognitive impairment can carry on conversations and solve problems, but they're often forgetful and can become confused when taking on more complex tasks like paying bills or following multiple-step directions. If you think that you or someone close to you may have symptoms of cognitive impairment, ask you doctor for an evaluation.
8 / 11 Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is another problem that affects the health of many seniors. Women older than 50 are most likely to have the condition, because pelvic muscles lose strength and become less able to control the bladder with age. Men with enlarged prostate glands, another symptom of aging, also are likely to have incontinence. If you experience incontinence, speak to your doctor about the many available treatments.
9 / 11 Arthritis
Arthritis is a common condition that affects one in every six Americans, amounting to nearly 43 million people in the United States. Arthritis occurs when the fluid and cartilage in a joint wears out, causing bones to scrape against each other and create pain. The most common form of arthritis affecting senior health is osteoarthritis, which results from a lifetime of wear and tear on the joints — especially in the fingers, hips, knees, wrists, and spine. There are many treatments for arthritis, so don't hesitate to consult your doctor for help if you're having joint pain.
10 / 11 Balance Issues
As people grow older, they often report problems maintaining balance. About 8 million Americans have chronic difficulties with balance, and 2.4 million Americans have chronic dizzy spells during old age. While inner ear problems are often the cause, some balance problems are due to medications they're taking or other medical conditions. If you feel as though the room is spinning around you or that you are moving even when you're sitting still, be sure to let your doctor know as soon as possible.
11 / 11 Constipation
More than 4 million people in the United States experience frequent constipation, with adults ages 65 and older most often complaining of the ailment. Doctors define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Constipation occurs when the colon absorbs too much water from food passing through it, resulting in hard, dry stools. Lack of fiber in your diet, lack of physical activity, and dehydration are among the possible reasons for constipation. Check in with your doctor if irregularity is a regular issue for you.
ALZHEIMERS.....A SAD, FORGOTTEN PAST
CAnne and Bill Uhler have been married 49 years. Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia in 2012, and Anne has been his primary caretaker since that time.
Barbara Bath remembers her husband, Jim, as “brilliant.”
A military veteran from Ellsworth, Jim Bath was a reading specialist, and a history and psychology teacher at Wichita South High School. He retired in 1994 and got a job that he loved delivering cars for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
Christmas was his favorite time of year, Barbara said.
Then, nine years ago, “When we started to put the tree together, he just could not figure out how to plug the sets of lights together,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s not my Jim.’
“Decision making and problem solving are among the first things to go,” she said.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias are evolving into a burden of dramatic proportions for Kansas and the nation as baby boomers enter old age at a rate of 10,000 people a day.
While the likelihood of any one person getting dementia appears to be falling as overall senior health improves, the total numbers of people with dementia are rising. In the U.S., the number of people afflicted with dementia is projected to more than double – from 5.2 million now to 13.5 million by 2050 – according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
That would mean that by 2050, 3 percent of the U.S. population would have dementia. Those who work in the field say the federal government, state governments and American families haven’t prepared for the size of the problem.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in 2015, dementia care cost $226 billion a year. Without a medical breakthrough, that will rise to $1.1 trillion annually by 2050.
That will mean higher taxes or less spending by Medicare and Medicaid on costs not related to dementia. It will also mean more “memory care” facilities for those who can afford it. It will mean more research and treatments to slow or lessen the effects of dementia.
And, as Alzheimer’s and dementia become more common, it will mean less stigma. The disease will no longer be embarrassing or the subject of mean-spirited humor, said Stephen Benson, a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping dementia patients and their families.
“It was a punchline, and even today I still hear jokes all the time,” Benson said. “You laugh, but it’s not OK. The person is losing how they define themselves.”
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