Life expectancy is at the highest it's ever been, making aging a long term process for seniors. For those older adults who reach 65, the data shows they can on average live another 20 years or so. For many seniors this means carefully managing chronic conditions to stay healthy into their twilight years. Risk factors like smoking and obesity become extremely threatening for the elderly, making quitting smoking, eating well, and staying active especially important for them.
The most widespread lethal conditions for Americans 65 and older are: coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory illnesses, pneumonia and the flu. Other serious health dangers include accidents and falls (especially falls that result in hip fractures), vision problems, osteoporosis, diabetes, arthritis and mental illness (such as Alzheimer's, Dementia, and Depression).
Elderly Health Risks Increased by Multiple Conditions
A lot of our elders are coping with at least one chronic condition, but what makes health more complicated as people age is that they are often dealing with two or more conditions or illnesses. For example, the elderly are at high risk for osteoporosis, a disease which lowers bone mass, making bones less dense and much more fragile. Seniors with osteoporosis or thus much more likely to break a bone when they slip or fall, which is a common risk for them. These two risk factors together are more lethal than either one on their own. The same is true for other common health conditions, such as respiratory illness. Having a chronic respiratory disease (such as COPD) increases senior health risks—making them more vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia and heart conditions (hypertension, vascular disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease).
A Closer Look
It affects about 51 percent of all adults over 65 and can cause pain and stiffness that may result in a lower quality of life for some seniors. To avoid letting arthritis keep suffers from being active, it's important to develop an activity plan and treatment plan with their doctor.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading killer of adults over 65—accounting for 1,156 deaths per 100,000 people. As a chronic condition, heart disease affects 37 percent of men and 26 percent of women 65 and older. Aging increases risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol that in turn increase the chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. The most effective prevention is to regularly exercise, eat a healthy diet and get a sufficient amount of sleep.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death among people over age 65—responsible for 982 deaths a year per 100,000 people. According to the CDC, 28 percent of men and 21 percent of women over age 65 are living with cancer. Early detection is one of the most important survival factors so cancer screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks are essential. Many cancers are treatable if caught early enough.
Chronic respiratory diseases, such as COPD, are the third most common cause of death among people 65 and older— taking 291 lives per 100,000 people a year. About 10 percent of men and 13 percent of women are living with asthma, and another 10 percent of men and 11 percent of women are living with chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Chronic respiratory disease can also make seniors more susceptible to infections such as pneumonia, which can be fatal in some elderly patients. Getting lung function tests, quitting smoking and taking the correct medications or using oxygen as instructed by your doctor can be powerful ways to maintain a good quality of life while afflicted with these conditions.
Alzheimer's disease claims 184 deaths per 100,000 people over age 65 each year. The Alzheimer's Association reports that as many as 5 million adults over 65 live with Alzheimer's disease, but it is difficult to get an accurate count because of the amount of cases that may go undiagnosed. All degenerative cognitive diseases take a monstrous toll on suffers because of the myriad of issues that arise, from safety to self-care to the high cost of care taking in the home or a residential facility.
Vision Diseases and Conditions
Eye conditions can vary from being a nuisance to causing blindness. They may have few or no early symptoms so regular eye exams are the best protection. If they are detected early, there are oftentimes treatments that can preserve a senior's eyesight. Sometimes the course of action is as simple as prescribing eye drops or an ointment, other times lasers or surgery may be needed to prevent permanent damage.
Common eye diseases and conditions are:
- Cataracts (cloudy areas in the eye's lens causing blurred or hazy vision)
- Corneal diseases (can cause redness, watery eyes, pain, problems with vision, or a halo effect of the vision).
- Dry eye (tear glands don't work well causing itching, burning, or other discomfort)
- Glaucoma (often comes from too much fluid pressure inside the eye)
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (Can harm the sharp vision needed to see objects clearly and to do common things like driving and reading)
- Diabetic retinopathy (may occur if you have diabetes)
- Retinal detachment (when the retina separates from the back of the eye)
The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 52 million older Americans are affected by low bone density, known as osteoporosis. This puts the elderly at heightened risk for a fracture or break. Seniors that break a major bone, such as a hip bone, can become less mobile as a result.
Around 24 percent of men and 18 percent of women older than 65 are living with diabetes, making it a common health risk for aging Americans. According to CDC, diabetes causes 121 deaths a year for every 100,000 adults over age 65. The best way for seniors to fight this health danger is to get a simple blood test for blood sugar levels to diagnose the illness as soon as possible. Once diabetes or pre diabetes is identified, a patient can begin making the dietary changes to control the illness and improve their chances of living a healthier life with the disease.
Influenza and Pneumonia
Flu and pneumonia are among the top seven causes of death in people over age 65, taking the lives of 104 per 100,000 adults a year. Seniors are more vulnerable to contracting these diseases and less competent in fighting them off. Getting an annual flu shot can go a long way in helping to decrease the risk.
About 16 percent of women over age 65 and 11 percent of men suffer from symptoms related to clinical depression. The rate of Depression increases with age, making it a severe health risk for the elderly. Both medication and therapy can be effective in improving senior's quality of life and mood.
As people age they are at an increased risk for a number of health threats and yet they are often leading less healthy lives—with only 11 percent of seniors meeting the national recommendations for exercise and most reporting they spend little time with their friends and family. It is just when seniors need physical and social interaction the most to keep them strong and healthy that they become less active and more socially isolated. Regular doctor visits, health screenings, good nutrition, and an active and engaged lifestyle are crucial to help keep aging Americans as physically strong and mental aware and active as possible.