Getting older can seem daunting—greying hair, wrinkles, forgetting where you parked the car. All jokes aside, aging can bring about unique health issues. With seniors accounting for 12 percent of the world’s population–and rapidly increasing to over 22 percent by 2050–it’s important to understand the challenges faced by people as they age, and recognize that there are preventive measures that can place yourself (or a loved one) on a path to healthy aging.
Here’s more common medical conditions that tend to affect older people.
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.
Vision loss among the elderly is a major health care problem. Approximately one person in three has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. The most common causes of vision loss among the elderly are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy. Age-related macular degeneration is characterized by the loss of central vision. Primary open-angle glaucoma results in optic nerve damage and visual field loss. Because this condition may initially be asymptomatic, regular screening examinations are recommended for elderly patients. Cataract is a common cause of vision impairment among the elderly, but surgery is often effective in restoring vision. Diabetic retinopathy may be observed in the elderly at the time of diagnosis or during the first few years of diabetes. Patients should undergo eye examinations with dilation when diabetes is diagnosed and annually thereafter.
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. Adults aged 85 years and older, the “oldest old,” are the fastest‐growing age group in the United States, yet relatively little is known about their cancer burden.
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.
Cancer treatment can be more challenging and complicated for older adults. This is because older adults are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Even when you are healthy, your body will most likely respond differently to treatment than a younger person’s body. For example, older adults are more likely to have serious side effects from chemotherapy.
Some things to consider:
- Age significantly increases the risk of cancer. In elderly people, other lifestyle- associated risks will also accumulate.
- Early-stage cancer can often be operated even though a patient is elderly. Surgery may improve the patient’s quality of life, even if the aim is not to extend her or his life span.
- There is only little research data on antitumor and radiation treatments of elderly patients.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy cause side effects more often and in greater severity to the elderly than to the young. Elderly patients also recover from treatments more slowly.
Depending on age and general health, you might care more about feeling well than curing cancer permanently. This might be especially true if you have a chronic health condition or you feel that your quality of life is poor. But if you are very healthy and enjoy many activities, you might want aggressive treatment. You might have plans many years in the future. If so, you might want your health care team to do everything possible for a cure.
6. Chronic Bronchitis
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common disease in elderly patients. It is characterized by high symptom burden, healthcare utilization, mortality, and unmet needs of both patients and their caregivers. The treatment of the older patient with COPD is highly challenging. Although COPD is a major cause of respiratory failure and dyspnea in the elderly, multiple other disease entities, including heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and anxiety; medication effects; and other conditions, including deconditioning and malnutrition; may exacerbate COPD symptoms.
Randomized controlled trials, which provide the strongest evidence for guideline recommendations, may underestimate the risk of adverse effects of interventions for older patients with COPD. The focus of guidelines on disease-modifying therapies may not address the full spectrum of both patient and caregiver needs engendered by the increasing burdens of advanced disease, particularly the high rates of bothersome symptoms, risk of functional and cognitive decline, and need for end-of-life care planning.
Older patients tend to have a substantial disease burden coupled with functional and cognitive decline complicating the successful implementation of COPD treatments. Meeting the many needs of older COPD patients and their families requires that clinicians supplement guideline-recommended care with treatment decision making that takes into account older persons’ comorbid conditions, recognizes the trade-offs engendered by the increased risk of adverse events, focuses on symptom relief and function, and prepares patients and their loved ones for further declines in the patient’s health and their end-of-life care.