Now that people are living longer than ever, diseases associated with old age are more common. Below you’ll find descriptions of some of the most common ailments affecting older adults, along with their symptoms and treatment.
As our bodies age, they can become more susceptible to disease and other chronic conditions. We need to be mindful of how we care for our bodies in order to live a long and healthy life and make good choices to decrease our risk of disease. However, sometimes poor health is unavoidable.
What are common diseases in the elderly? The following are diseases in the elderly that every CDPAP caregiver should be familiar with.
Arthritis refers generally to pain, swelling, stiffness, and even loss of function in the joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, but the most common type is degenerative, or osteoarthritis. In this case, the cartilage that cushions the ends of our bones wears away and the resulting bone-on-bone friction causes the joints to become weak and painful.
For the most part, a person’s risk of developing the condition increases with age. However, weight gain and injury can also cause cartilage to wear away and lead to arthritis. Staying active when possible is one way to help prevent the onset of osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis
The following symptoms may indicate that a person has some type of arthritis:
– Joint pain or tenderness
– Stiffness or loss of mobility in the joint
– Inflammation in or around the joints
– Warm, red skin over the affected joint
Treatments for Arthritis
Some types of arthritis can’t be avoided, but there are treatments to slow the onset of symptoms, such as keeping a healthy weight to avoid adding more wear and tear to the joints.
There is no cure for arthritis, but those with the condition can be made more comfortable with the following treatments:
– Occupational or physical therapy to improve range of motion in the joints
– Hot or cold compresses to help relieve pain
– Joint protection such as splints
– A balance of exercise and rest to keep joints mobile but also give them time to recuperate (leading a sedentary lifestyle will only make the condition worse)
o Water exercises are often a good option to avoid putting too much stress on the joints
– Drugs to relieve pain and inflammation
– Assistive devices such as canes, walkers, and shoe inserts to stay mobile with maximum comfort
– Surgery, such as joint replacement
Heart disease is also a general category and it can include several types of conditions that affect the structure or function of the heart. These diseases are particularly dangerous because they are “silent killers,” and sometimes come on without warning.
It’s important to maintain good health as you age in order to keep your heart healthy. Signs that your heart may be at risk include high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes, and excessive alcohol use are all major risk factors for heart disease.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Some of the most common heart diseases and their symptoms include:
– Heart attack, which can be indicated by:
o Chest pain or discomfort
o Upper back or neck pain
o Indigestion or heartburn
o Nausea or vomiting
o Extreme fatigue
o Upper body discomfort
o Shortness of breath
– Arrhythmia, which is a problem with the rhythm of your heartbeat, is indicated by:
o A fluttering feeling in the (palpitations)
o Dizziness and fainting
o Shortness of breath
o A slow heart rate
– Congestive heart failure, which is a condition that occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently. Symptoms include:
o Shortness of breath
o Swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins
o Rapid heartbeat
Treatment and Prevention of Heart Disease
It’s important to consult a cardiologist or any doctor about any heart issues to get specific advice, but in general, health professionals recommend the following to treat or prevent heart disease:
– Stop smoking
– Maintain good nutrition
– Reduce your cholesterol
– Lower high blood pressure
– Be physically active every day
– Maintain a healthy weight
– Manage diabetes
– Reduce your stress
– Limit alcohol intake
– Take medication if necessary
– Understand the symptoms of the diseases and see a doctor as soon as problems arise if and when you are at risk of a heart attack.
Without making important lifestyle changes and taking medications, some people will need surgery to treat their heart disease.
Cancer is a category of disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in the body, resulting in tumors. It affects 1 in 3 people in the US alone. There are over 100 different kinds of cancer and some can spread to other parts of the body, making it harder to treat.
Cancer has many different causes, including lifestyle habits (such as smoking), genetics, and exposure to cancer-causing agents in the environment. However, sometimes there is no obvious cause.
Symptoms of Cancer
Because there are so many different types of cancer and it can occur anywhere in the body (including the blood), symptoms vary widely. However, some signs should not be ignored, including:
– Extreme fatigue that doesn’t go away after rest
– Unexplained weight loss or gain of 10 pounds or more
– Eating problems such as a lack of appetite, trouble swallowing, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
– Swelling or lumps anywhere in the body
– Unexplained pain that won’t go away or gradually gets worse
– Skin changes such as lumps or moles that bleed, turn scaly, or change shape
– A new mole
– A sore that does not heal
– Jaundice (the yellowing of the skin or eyes)
– A cough or hoarseness that does not go away
– Unexplained bleeding or bruising
– Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, that won’t go away
– A long-term change in how your stools look
– Bladder issues such as pain when passing urine, blood in the urine, or needing to pass urine more or less often
– Fever or nights sweats
– Severe, unexplained, or sudden headaches
– Vision or hearing problems
– Changes in the mouth such as sores, bleeding, pain, or numbness with no known cause
There are many treatments for cancer, depending on what part of the body it affects, how long the uncontrolled cell growth has been occurring, and the size and spread of the tumor.
Some of the most common treatments for cancer include:
– Surgery to remove tumors
– Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells throughout the body
– Radiation therapy to target cells in one area of the body
– Bone marrow transplant, or stem cell therapy, to replace cells destroyed by cancer, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy
– Immunotherapy to boost the body’s natural defenses and help it fight off the growth of cancer cells
– Hormone therapy to stop the growth of cancer cells that use hormones to survive
– Targeted drug therapy to interfere with proteins that cause cancer to grow and spread
– Cryoablation to kill cancer cells with extreme cold
– Radiofrequency ablation that directs heat to the tumors to kill cancer cells
Some treatments are still experimental. Depending on where you live and the type of cancer you have, you may need to enroll in a clinical trial to gain access to cutting-edge treatments.
A respiratory disease refers to any affliction of the airways and lungs and that affects your respiration (breathing). They can include anything from chronic conditions such as asthma to acute diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia.
As we age, our lung tissues and muscles often change and affect breathing. As lung capacity declines, the elderly can become more susceptible to a variety of respiratory diseases.
The most common lung diseases include:
- Bronchitis (the swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Lung cancer
- Pulmonary edema (a buildup of fluid in the lungs)
- Pulmonary embolism (a blocked lung artery)
Symptoms of Respiratory Diseases
Anything that affects our ability to take in oxygen can leave us exhausted.
Other symptoms of respiratory diseases include:
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain or tightness
– A chronic or productive cough (producing phlegm, or sputum) that won’t go away
Treatment of Respiratory Diseases
Respiratory diseases can affect the airways, lung tissue, or blood vessels in the lungs, so treatments vary.
Depending on your respiratory condition, treatments can include:
– Medications, such as antihistamines
– Intravenous treatments, such as certain steroids
Alzheimer’s disease affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. It is a progressive disease that gradually damages brain cells and the connections between brain cells. As cells degenerate, a person’s memory, behavior, and other important mental functions can decline and interfere with daily living.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s can start to affect the brain decades before people exhibit symptoms. These signs and symptoms can include:
– Memory loss
– Poor judgment leading to impaired decision-making skills
– Loss of spontaneity or initiative
– Taking longer than normal to complete daily tasks
– Repeating questions
– Trouble handling money and paying bills
– Wandering and getting lost in familiar places
– Losing things or misplacing them in odd locations
– Mood and personality changes
– Increased anxiety and/or aggression when confronted about changes in behavior
Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medications and management strategies that may temporarily improve symptoms or slow down the progression of the disease.
The only pharmaceutical intervention with FDA approval to treat the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease is aducanumab (brand name Aduhelm). According to the FDA, aducanumab reduces beta-amyloid plaques, which can reduce clinical decline and allow patients to retain their memories and independence longer.
Other medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors and glutamate regulators, can help treat the memory loss and confusion that can accompany Alzheimer’s disease. An orexin receptor antagonist (brand name Belsomra) may also be used to treat the insomnia that accompanies the disease. However, these medications may not be appropriate for every patient, so anyone exhibiting symptoms should talk to their doctor about the best course of treatment.
Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. Our bones break down and regenerate constantly, but osteoporosis slows down the rate of regeneration so that it cannot keep up with the rate of degeneration.
Some patients have no symptoms until they easily fracture a bone for the first time.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Symptoms of osteoporosis can include:
– Back pain (that is often caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra)
– Loss of height over time
– Stooped posture
– Bones that break much more easily than expected
A sedentary lifestyle, poor diet (with suboptimal calcium intake), and excessive smoking or alcohol use can all be risk factors for osteoporosis.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
Medications and lifestyle changes are the most common ways of treating osteoporosis symptoms. Treatment often involves pain management, lifestyle changes such as exercise and proper diet, and posture improvement.
Bisphosphonates are usually the first choice for pharmaceutical treatment of osteoporosis. These drugs include alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel), ibandronate (Boniva), zoledronic acid (Reclast), or IV injections.
Denosumab (brand names Prolia, Xgeva) are other drugs that are unrelated to bisphosphonates, and used in people who can’t take a bisphosphonate (such as those with reduced kidney functions).
Other drugs can include bone-building medications, but it’s important to be screened by a doctor regularly to understand when osteoporosis starts to become a problem.
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. When you consume food, your body breaks it down into sugars (aka glucose). This signals your pancreas to produce insulin, which allows the sugar to be used by your body’s cells for energy production.
Those with diabetes either don’t produce adequate insulin or the body does not use it properly. This leads to blood sugar staying in your bloodstream instead of being used by your cells. This can ultimately result in health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
There are 3 types of diabetes:
– Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops the body from making insulin. It’s usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, and we don’t yet know how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
– Type 2 diabetes occurs when a body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. 34.2 million adults in the US alone have diabetes, and 1 in 5 of them don’t know they have it. People may not notice symptoms, so routine blood tests are important. It can often be prevented with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet.
– Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women and usually goes away after the baby is born. However, it increases a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
Symptoms of Diabetes
There may be no symptoms of Type 1 or 2 diabetes, but when there are they can include:
– Increased thirst
– Frequent urination
– Blurred vision. In some cases, there may be no symptoms.
There are often no symptoms of gestational diabetes and a blood sugar test during pregnancy is used for diagnosis.
Treatment of Diabetes
The goal of diabetes treatment is controlling blood sugar. This is most commonly accomplished by:
– A healthy diet
– Insulin treatments
– Oral medications such as metformin (brand names Fortamet, Glumetza, etc) which work by lowering glucose production in the liver and improving a patient’s body’s sensitivity to insulin
Diabetes patients should monitor their blood sugar to help determine their treatment options.
Influenza and Pneumonia
Both influenza and pneumonia are respiratory diseases, however, influenza is a highly contagious disease while pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation of the lungs.
Influenza is a common cause of pneumonia, especially in the elderly and those who live in a nursing home. While most cases do not lead to pneumonia, when they do, the condition tends to be more deadly.
Influenza symptoms include:
– High fever
– A productive cough (one that produces phlegm)
Signs that pneumonia may be a complication include:
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain when breathing or coughing
– Lack an appetite
– Confusion or delirium
Treatment for Influenza and/or Pneumonia
Influenza and some types of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines. The vaccines are not 100% effective and change each year depending on the most dominant flu strain. That’s why it’s necessary to get a flu vaccine every year.
If you get pneumonia and your doctor suspects it’s caused by a bacterial infection, you will likely need to be treated with antibiotics. Elderly patients may need to be hospitalized.
Depression is both a common and serious mood disorder that negatively affects how a patient feels, thinks, or acts. However, it is not a normal part of aging.
Those who experience depression in their younger years have a higher incidence of recurrence when they’re elderly.
Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms of depression vary widely, but include:
– Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
– Irritability (and even angry outbursts) over small matters
– Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities a person once enjoyed
– Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
– Tiredness and lack of energy
– Social isolation
– Reduced appetite and weight loss or weight gain
– Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
– Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
– Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or self-blame
– Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
– Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death
– Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts (Call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide)
– Unexplained back pain or headaches
Treatment for depression
Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and psychotherapy are the most common and effective treatment for most people with depression of any age.
In cases of major depression that can’t be treated with medications or therapy, doctors may employ a technique called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This procedure involves placing electrodes on a person’s head to deliver a mild electric current to pass through the brain.
Another treatment called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) uses magnets to target only specific regions of the brain to reduce side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or memory loss that could happen with ECT.
Serious cases of depression may require hospitalization.
Shingles is a skin condition that’s triggered by a reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox. No one is sure what causes it to reactivate, but it tends to do so in older adults with weakened immune systems.
Shingles involves a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the face or body. The rash can turn into blisters that usually scab over in 7 to 10 days. The infection often clears up in 2-4 weeks.
One of the major complications from shingles is postherpetic neuralgia in which patients experience long-term pain even after the rash has cleared.
Symptoms of Shingles
The main sign that a person has shingles is the telltale itchy rash. This can be accompanied by:
– Upset stomach
– A burning or tingling sensation in one part of the body
– Fluid-filled blisters
– Skin sensitive that is red and sensitive to the touch
Treatment of Shingles
The treatment of shingles involves antivirals, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, and pain medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics.
Long-lasting nerve pain has also been successfully treated with mindfulness meditation techniques.
Oral health can be a problem in the elderly in states that do not include dental coverage in their Medicaid care.
Oral health issues common among the elderly include tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss (complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older). For those who wear certain types of dentures, nutrition can be a problem because fruits and vegetables are less easy to chew.
Oral cancers are also a problem among the elderly. The median age of diagnosis is 62.
Symptoms of Oral Health Issues
It’s never a good idea to ignore oral issues because they tend to get worse over time. Symptoms of oral health problems include:
– Tooth pain
– Bleeding or swollen gums.
– Changes in the color of gums
– Changes in the look or feel of the tongue
– Growths in the mouth
– Deteriorating gums
Treatment of Oral Health Issues
Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing natural teeth is the best way to prevent oral health issues at any age. For those who wear dentures, cleaning regimens will depend on the type of dentures.Treatment for oral health issues should be determined by a dentist and the exact issue will determine the personalized treatment regimen.