Getting sick is a part of life. There may be people who have never experienced illness, but I haven’t met them. When we were children, our parents worried about measles, mumps, chickenpox, diphtheria, and polio. (Thankfully, there are now vaccines for all these childhood diseases.) In our teenage years, we passed around colds, flu, strep throat, mononucleosis, stomach flu, and even sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
New Time of Life, New Health Concerns
Now that we are in our later years, we have new diseases and conditions to worry about. 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. There are ten common health conditions to watch for as you age:
More than 1.5 million fractures occur every year due to osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become very fragile and can easily break during a fall or even when making everyday movements. Osteoporosis and osteopenia have no symptoms and are identified through a bone-density test.
- Vision Loss
Macular degeneration and glaucoma are common in seniors. In macular degeneration, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail—the macula—begins to break down over time. Glaucoma is a condition that increases the fluid pressure inside the eye, which can gradually damage the optic nerve. Regular eye check-ups with an ophthalmologist or optometrist can spot any signs of vision trouble.
- Hearing Loss
About 43 percent of Americans with hearing loss are aged sixty-five or older, the ability to hear high-frequency sounds usually is lost first. Get regular hearing tests, and use a hearing aid if it is advised by a physician or audiologist.
- Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive impairment is the medical term for age-related memory loss that’s more serious than what typically occurs with aging. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible disease of the brain. Alzheimer’s erodes the ability to remember and think clearly, eventually rendering some people helpless to perform even basic tasks. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s it’s still important to be evaluated.
5. Incontinence and Constipation
About 26 percent of women and 16 percent of men over sixty-five experience chronic constipation caused by lack of fiber in your diet, lack of physical activity, and dehydration are among the possible reasons for constipation. Women older than fifty are most likely to have urinary incontinence. Men with enlarged prostate glands are also likely to have incontinence.
Almost one-third of people over sixty-five have arthritis. The most common form of arthritis that affects senior health is osteoarthritis, which results from a lifetime of wear and tears on the joints — especially in the fingers, hips, knees, wrists, and spine. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are many ways to reduce pain and increase mobility.
7. Balance Issues
About 40 percent of all Americans will have a bout of balance problems in their lifetimes, and studies suggest that 24 percent of people over seventy-two suffer from dizziness. While inner ear problems are often the cause, some balance problems are due to medications or other medical conditions.
8. Heart Disease
As the heart ages, it may need to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Although some changes are normal with aging, other changes can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men over sixty-five. Classic signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and nausea or lightheadedness. It’s important to note that women may have less prominent as well as different symptoms than men. If you experience any of these, call 911.
In the United States, more than 25 percent of people over sixty-five have diabetes. Your blood sugar — the amount of sugar, or glucose, in your blood — is too high, which can eventually lead to complications. Early signs of diabetes include feelings of extreme hunger or thirst, fatigue, and a frequent need to urinate, as well as blurry eyesight. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness characterized by sudden symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, and fatigue. There’s a greater risk of complications for seniors, including pneumonia, an infection in the lungs that can lead to severe illness or even death if not treated. The CDC estimates that between 71 and 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people over 65.
What to do if you get sick …
- Know when to call a healthcare provider.
Sometimes it’s fine to rest and let your cold symptoms pass. Other times, it’s a better idea to contact your healthcare provider. Some symptoms worth calling your healthcare provider about include:
- Significant abdominal pain that’s persisted for twenty-four to forty-eight hours
- A headache accompanied by fever, a stiff neck, or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- A sore throat that makes swallowing difficult
- Painful coughing or chest tightness when you breathe1
- A fever over 100.4 degrees F accompanied by congestion
- Keep your germs to yourself. Stay home.
It can be tough to know when to call in sick. But if you have these symptoms, it’s better for you and your coworkers if you stay home and rest:
- Contagious rash
- Don’t be afraid to skip your exercise.
Exercise is important, but there are times when it could do more harm than good—both for you and those around you.3 If you have a fever, skip exercise until it breaks.
If you have a few cold symptoms but otherwise feel OK, you may be able to get some light exercise in if you feel inclined, but it’s best to avoid the gym so you don’t spread your illness to those around you. Always listen to your body and remember that rest is important, too.
- Save the ER for emergencies.
A lot of people go to the emergency room when they have the flu, even though they don’t really need to be there. Although influenza makes you feel terrible, chances are good that it’s not a true emergency.
- Go to the hospital if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or severe abdominal pain
- Severe muscle pain
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe vomiting or vomiting that won’t stop
- Not urinating
- Fever or cough that worsens or comes back after improving
- Think about postponing your flu shot.
It’s important to get a flu shot every year, but you may want to wait until you’re healthy. In some cases, getting vaccinated while you’re sick could make recovering from your illness take longer. Talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms before getting vaccinated. If nothing else, getting a flu shot assists with herd immunity, which can prevent others with compromised immune systems from getting the flu.5