Long-term medical conditions currently affect around four million older people in the US. This is set to rise because of our ageing population. In fact, experts predict that by 2030, around seven million older people will have some form of long-term medical condition.
The ageing population and the increased prevalence of long-term medical conditions have had a huge impact on the NHS. Falls are the biggest cause of emergency admissions for older people and significantly impact long-term outcomes, especially for those who suffer from a medical problem.
Common Medical Conditions in Older People
Advances in healthcare have helped people in the world live longer than ever before. As a result, medical conditions have become a more pronounced part of older life. On the other hand, it is becoming less of a challenge to live with these medical conditions. Therefore, older people are now in the best position ever to manage them on a day-to-day basis.
It’s important for us all to understand the most common medical conditions, so that we are more prepared to deal with them if diagnosed. This includes understanding the condition itself, its symptoms, and the treatments available. Furthermore, we should understand how to prevent common illnesses and how to live with them.
Here’s our guide to the most common medical conditions that tend to affect older people.
Arthritis is the breakdown of tissue inside the joints. It can restrict movement in the joints and cause pain and inflammation. Arthritis is very common in the US, affecting more than 10 million people of all ages.
Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is incredibly common. According to the NHS, more than one in four adults in the US have high blood pressure but many won’t even realize it. The only way to find out is by having your blood pressure checked.
Noticeable symptoms of hypertension are rare. In fact, the only time someone will notice symptoms of hypertension will be when their blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as hypertensive crisis. Symptoms for this include severe headaches and anxiety, chest pain and an irregular heartbeat.
Asthma occurs when the body’s airways are sensitive to allergens and become inflamed. This inflammation can cause a painful and frightening attack, which causes the airway muscles to tighten and narrow, making it hard to breathe.
Around two million people are living with sight loss here in the US, with 360,000 people registered as blind or partially slighted.
The leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects more than 600,000 people in the US. AMD is caused by a build-up of deposits on the macula (a small area at the centre of the retina) and can also be caused by abnormal blood vessels developing under it.
1 in 2 people will develop a form of cancer at some point in their lives. There are over 200 types of cancer, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.
Cancer is a disease where cells in the body replicate abnormally and cause a mass known as a tumour. These abnormal cells multiply, either causing the tumour to grow or the cancerous cells to spread through the bloodstream.
6. Chronic Bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis is a condition which affects the lungs and airways. It’s one of several lung conditions which come under the umbrella of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
7. Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death here in the US. According to the NHS, coronary heart disease (CHD) is what happens when fatty substances build up in the arteries, blocking the blood supply to the heart.
Dementia is a progressive disorder that affects memory and overall brain function. It is more common in older people, affecting around 1 in 14 people over 65. This increases to 1 in 6 people over the age of 80.
The most common and well-known kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is another type of dementia that develops as a result of a stroke or blood vessel deterioration.
Older people are susceptible to developing diabetes. In fact, half of all people with diabetes in the US are over 65. Diabetes is a lifelong condition, caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. It affects an astonishing 3.9 million people here in the United Kingdom.
Among the older population, type 2 diabetes is a growing problem, and a larger proportion of newly diagnosed diabetics are from the older generation. In fact, one in 10 people over 40 are now living with the condition. To help avoid Type 2 diabetes, the NHS encourages the following lifestyle changes:
- Healthy eating – Increasing the amount of fibre and reducing sugar and fat intake.
- Losing weight – Do this by gradually reducing calorie intake and becoming more physically active.
- Exercising regularly – It is important to keep active by completing both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that results in seizures. Oddly, epilepsy is common in those at opposite ends of the age spectrum. It is most common in young children and people aged over 65. In fact, one in four people with epilepsy are over 65. Every day, 87 people are diagnosed with the condition.
Epilepsy can be caused by head injuries, strokes, tumours or certain infections. You’ll normally receive a diagnosis if you’ve had two or more seizures. This is because many people have a one-off epileptic seizure during their lifetime.
11. Motor Neurone Disease
Motor neurone disease is a rare neurological condition where the nervous system degenerates over time. It leads to muscle weakness and loss of mobility. Motor neurone disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), occurs when motor neurons that control activities like walking and speaking stop working.
- Difficulty swallowing (and sometimes excessive drooling).
A weakened grip, usually first noticed in one hand.
Small twitches and flickers of movement, known as ‘fasciculations’.
Difficulty speaking or slurred speech, known as ‘dysarthria’.
12. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. The condition can cause serious disability, but the main symptoms are a wide range of problems with vision, movement and balance.
There are more than 100,000 people in the US living with the condition. The MS Society estimates that each year 5000 more people are diagnosed. That’s approximately 14 people every day. They go on to say that around one in every 600 people has multiple sclerosis (MS).
Osteoporosis affects over three million people across the US, with more than 500,000 people receiving hospital treatment for fragility fractures every year as a result. This condition develops slowly over time and is often left undiagnosed until a fall or impact causes a bone fracture.
This is because osteoporosis is a condition that weakens the bones. Losing bone mass is a natural part of the ageing process, however some people do lose density faster than normal. This leads to osteoporosis and a higher risk of fracture injuries.
14. Paget’s Disease of the Bone
Paget’s disease of the bone disrupts the normal cycle of bone renewal. It’s triggered by a flaw in the bone cell regeneration system, which causes bone weakness and even bone deformity.
Paget’s disease is a common bone condition that affects the pelvis, spine and other areas of the body. It is a very common condition in the US, mostly affecting people over the age of 50. The condition affects 8% of men and 5% of women by the age of 80.
15. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive condition which damages and affects parts of the brain. The NHS estimates that there are around 130,000 people in the US living with Parkinson’s disease. That’s 1 in every 500 people.
Having a stroke can be life-threatening if you don’t seek medical attention straight away. A stroke will occur when the blood supply to a part of your brain is cut off. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged and may even die.
Strokes are particularly common among older people. The average age for suffering a stroke is 74 for men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For women, this is slightly higher, with the average being 80. Across the US, strokes are a leading cause of disability, with around two thirds of all survivors being left with a disability.
It’s very important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke. The sooner you and your loved ones react, the less complications there will be afterwards. As mentioned, strokes can be life-threatening so it’s important for treatment to begin as soon as possible. Memorise the signs of a stroke with the word F.A.S.T:
Face – The person may be unable to smile and their face may have dropped on one side, with their mouth or eye drooping.
Arms – The person may be unable to lift both arms and keep them there.
Speech – The person may suffer from slurred or garbled speech, or may be unable to talk at all.
Time – Don’t waste any time! Dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
17. Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is quite common among older people here in the UK. There are sevearl other medical conditions which affect the kidneys and can lead to chronic kidney disease. These conditions include kidney infections, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney inflammation.
18. Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in your deep veins, most commonly in one of your legs. This condition is most common in people over the age of 40, and can also lead to further complications, including pulmonary embolism.
Shingles is a skin condition which is very common among older people, especially those over the age of 70. This is due to the fact that your body’s immune system becomes weaker as you age.
This medical condition is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox, and only those who have had chickenpox can develop shingles. The infection will cause a painful rash or blisters to form on your skin, which may become extremely itchy.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is created by your liver and is also found in some foods. Lipoproteins in the blood carry cholesterol around the body. There are two types of lipoproteins: low density and high density. You might have heard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol – ‘good’ refers to high density lipoproteins while ‘bad’ refers to low density.
Having high cholesterol is bad for your health. A number of lifestyle choices and medical conditions can lead to high cholesterol. These include:
- An unhealthy diet.
- High blood pressure.
- A family history of stroke or heart disease.