As people age, common senior health concerns need to be taken into consideration. Risk factors can accumulate quickly and should be taken seriously early in the aging process.
In addition, older adults need to be aware of their family history of healthcare issues, as well as any chronic conditions they have been experiencing throughout their lives.
Some of the more common health conditions that seniors need to be aware of include such things as:
Chronic health conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic lung conditions can lead to debilitating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD) in older adults.
Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in a population of older adults exhibiting more obesity, poor eating habits, and low physical activity levels. All of these chronic conditions can lead to more acute health problems such as angina (chest pain), congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and stroke.
Let’s take a deeper look into health concerns that every older adult should keep an eye on as they age:
Many older adults suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety when it comes to the aging process and chronic health conditions.
Physical restrictions, loss of independence, and chronic issues such as constipation and incontinence of the bowel or bladder can be overwhelming and stressful.
Financial worries and the need for caregivers or additional assistance from loved ones can be troubling for older people.
In addition, looking in the mirror and not recognizing themselves or seeing someone who resembles their parents as they grew older can cause anxiety and depression. Left alone, these can continue to plague older adults and only increase over time if not addressed.
The fear of serious age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a very real concern for older adults. Losing their mental capacities can be frightening.
Other progressively debilitating physical health conditions such as Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, or joint destructive arthritis can significantly alter an older person’s quality of life.
Most older people can be fiercely independent and ready to fight the aging process head-on. Having to succumb to the aging process can be very distressing.
One of the most important aspects of senior health is fall prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for seniors.
Not all falls result in death immediately; many die from complications related to the fall. This includes health conditions such as pneumonia, sepsis from decubiti (bedsores), and blood clots all of which are related to the injury and decreased mobility or being fully bedbound due to the injuries.
From 2009 to 2018, older adults aged 65 + demonstrated a 30% increase in fall rate. As seniors age the rate of falls increases. Those 85+ have the highest fall rate. The good news is that falls can be prevented, and the numbers can be reduced.
The CDC conducted a study and has developed an initiative to help seniors prevent falls known as STEDI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries. The initiative works to train the entire healthcare team including the patient, caregivers, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, therapists, and inpatient and outpatient care services, in a coordinated effort to improve patient safety and prevent falls.
Older people often exhibit balance issues. Balance issues can result from a variety of sources such as poor lifestyle choices including obesity and reduced physical activity, vision or hearing deficiencies, and weakened bones, muscles, and joints from aging or injury.
Another issue is the development of a fear of falling which changes gait, stance, stiffness, and balance.
With early intervention, treatment, and a focus on a healthy lifestyle, many of the complications from these common health concerns can be minimized or delayed.
Utilizing the available health services and having routine screening for medical conditions is encouraged.
Preventative care has been proven to be the most effective. Seeking help from geriatric specialists and making long-term care plans with medical specialists, social workers, and care advocates can ease the burden of financial, mental, and physical demands of care and assistance.
Creating a healthy lifestyle, improving healthy eating habits, increasing safe physical activity, and improving mental health status can all work together to reduce risk factors and maintain as much independence as possible.
For seniors, the goal of healthy aging is to maintain a good quality of life and maximize independence. This is accomplished by managing chronic conditions and other health concerns to prevent complications from occurring down the line.
Managing chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, vision and hearing impairments, and Type 2 diabetes can help to improve quality of life and build a healthy lifestyle. This will involve medication, diet, exercise, and appropriate devices. Annual screenings, at a minimum, are advised to check for any necessary changes or adjustments.
Increasing awareness around common health concerns can help and making healthy lifestyle choices will lead to reduced risk factors.
The aging process cannot be stopped, but the effects can be well managed with a healthy diet, appropriate physical activity, compliance with medications, and following up regularly with medical care and screenings.
Preparing for the future and the eventuality of increased caregiving and health care needs will also help to improve a senior’s quality of life. Situations can turn on a dime.
Having a plan for that day will help reduce the burdens and improve coping mechanisms. Something to be aware of is that Medicare does not pay for caregivers in any setting for custodial, non-skilled care.
Following a qualifying hospitalization (minimum 3 days) for an acute illness or injury may qualify an older adult for up to 100 days in a skilled nursing facility. However, this will depend on rehabilitative status.
Once the rehabilitation goals have been met, the skilled nursing facility will have to discharge or begin charging the patient for care. Medicare will pay for home health care intermittent services if the patient qualifies, but this is not shift based care or a long-term solution.
Caregiving is expensive in both time and money. There are a few options to help pay for caregiving services.
If you are an older adult, try establishing a plan with your relatives to share in the care responsibilities to meet your needs and safety.
Kathy Quan is a Registered Nurse with 40+ years of experience, focusing primarily on home health and hospice care in a variety of roles from Field Nurse to management. She has also written several books and blogs for healthcare professionals and caregivers. In addition, she teaches online courses for nurses and caregivers.
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