Understanding Health Problems that Primarily Affect Older People

Understanding Health Problems that Primarily Affect the Elderly: Hands of a young girl and an old lady together touching a red rose.

If you’re lucky enough to have your elderly loved ones in your life, it’s a good idea to be clued up with a few different problems that may begin to affect them as time goes on. Sure, this isn’t something that many of us want to think about. It’s never nice thinking about the eventual decline in the health of people we care deeply about.

Caring for those who have raised you on a more physical level can be an odd experience. You’re used to them having fussed over you for years, like fretting about outbreaks or rashes and showing concern if you have a little cough or a runny nose. Not to mention still wiping your cheek as an adult if you have somehow managed to get some food or a mark on it!

But when someone has dedicated their entire life to looking out for you and your best interests, it’s important that you return their care and effort. Especially if a time arises that they need a little extra care and attention themselves. There’s no better way to keep an eye on your elderly loved ones’ wellbeing than knowledge, organisation, and preparation. And it’s reassuring to know that helpful treatments for older people, such as massage and spa, are more accessible than ever before.

older grey-haired man getting a shoulder massage.

So, here are a few problems that affect hundreds and thousands of elderly people across the world every single year. The more you know, the more likely you are to detect early signs or indicators of potential problems. And in turn, the sooner these can be confronted and treated.

Dementia

Dementia is a condition that terrifies most of us. However, this often means that people ignore the warning signs in hope that it might go away. This is irresponsible, as not only will ignoring the issue do little to slow or stop the condition’s effects, but it also gives everyone involved less time to prepare for the lifestyle changes that dementia entails. The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the more likely the individual suffering from it will have of living a full and active life in spite of the illness.

Various organisations and research charities such as the NHS, Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society, and Alzheimer’s Research UK have put time and effort into working out the early warning signs for people to look out for. Here are just a few of them:

  • Memory loss. Does your loved one easily forget names, events, and who certain people are? Do they frequently repeat themselves or ask the same question time and time again?

 

  • Concentration. Can your loved one focus on given tasks or activities?

 

  • Organisation. Are they able to plan events or day to day tasks and chores?

 

  • Communication. Can the individual hold a conversation as they usually would? Are they able to find the right words to put their thoughts across?

 

  • Counting. Can they count change? Relay telephone numbers that they’ve had memorised for years? Do they remember significant dates such as annual occasions or celebrations?

 

  • Changes in personality. Has your loved one’s personality significantly changed? Are they showing less sensitivity, empathy, or compassion than usual?

 

These warning signs could all have alternative causes, of course. But it’s always worth tracking them and raising your concern with a healthcare professional if any become prominent or particularly noticeable. While we may not yet know exactly what causes dementia, it is important to bear in mind that it is a progressive disease, getting worse as time goes on. So don’t hesitate to raise issues sooner rather than later.

An elderly man holding one hand in the other, wearing a brown, white and black chequered shirt and khakis.

Arthritis

There are over one hundred different types of arthritis, and the disease affects different people in different ways. However, it is most commonly observed in adults over the age of 65. Two of the most common types of arthritis, however, are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In short, it is an inflammation of the joints and can affect one joint or multiple joints in any given individual.

The symptoms of the disease are altogether unpleasant. They can include stiffness, joint pain, and swelling. These can all cause the sufferer’s range of motion to become reduced. If you believe that someone you care for is suffering from this, you should encourage them to visit their healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. Again, this is a problem that worsens with time. While we may not have a cure for the problem, there are certain treatments and procedures that can reduce its symptoms and make life more comfortable for the individual affected by it. Massage can be particularly beneficial.

It’s important that you do not self-diagnose or treat this condition. As we have noted, there are various types, each which entails a different course of treatment. So it’s always best to get a professional diagnosis and advice that is specific to the individual in question.

Sensory Impairment

There are plenty of cultural stereotypes that allude to the common occurrence of sensual impairment in the elderly. Elderly characters are often depicted as hard of hearing or being particularly short or long sighted. So let’s tackle each of these areas separately.

Visual Impairment

While it is generally advised that you have your eyes checked every one or two years, you should encourage the elderly to check in more frequently. Especially if they believe that they’ve experienced a noticeable change in their vision. Once people hit the age milestone of forty, presbyopia is likely to kick in. This is completely normal and expected. It involves the hardening of the visual lens inside your eye and results in difficulty focusing on objects that are closer to your eyes.

From this point on, your visual ability is likely to slowly deteriorate. Hopefully, changes won’t be too significant. But there are certain age-related eye conditions that can have major effects on eyesight. You need to keep an eye out for these with the elderly.

Many people will automatically assume the worst and believe that they are slowly going blind. This can cause them to go into denial when a simple trip to the optometrists could result in a diagnosis, treatment, and the restoration of their usual eyesight. Cataracts are perhaps one of the most common problems that people face. They cloud the eye’s lens, making vision hazy and blurred. Thankfully, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and has become so routine that success rates are profound. There are also more major age-related eye issues to keep a lookout for.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in senior citizens, while glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy also cause serious issues. The most simple way to go about dealing with visual impairment in the elderly is to ensure that they book into an optometrist for an eye test. This is simple, pain-free, and any issues that are detected can be dealt with from that point on by specialist professionals.

Young man with hand outstretched and holding in his palm some sensory aids including audio aids.

Auditory Impairment

Where vision begins to wane with age, so does our hearing. Medically termed presbycusis, auditory loss in the elderly is an expected part of life. However, this doesn’t mean that the elderly have to suffer in… well, silence. Approximately one in every three people aged over 65 in the USA is affected by hearing loss. Consequently, a whole lot of research and work has gone into identifying problems and offering solutions.

Most problems stem from changes that occur in our inner ears as we age. Much of our sense of sound relies on the functioning of tiny, delicate hairs in our inner ears and as time goes on these can begin to flatten or become damaged.

We will also usually lose our hearing in both ears at an equal speed, meaning that many of us won’t recognise the problem ourselves. For many elderly people, the problem has to be pointed out to them, as they grow so used to changes in their auditory ability. So, if you notice that you have to repeat yourself several times to your loved one, or that they have the television or radio turned up to a particularly loud volume every time you check in on them, it might be time to encourage them to take a hearing test.

Hearing tests, like eye tests, are simple and stress and pain-free. So reassure your loved on that there’s no need to avoid going to one! If any problems are identified, the audiologist will go through the necessary course of treatment in more detail, or hearing aids will be prescribed. This will make things much easier for everyone, from your loved one to every single person that they interact with on a day to day basis.

Don’t delay

These are just a few different conditions that can seriously affect your elderly loved one’s ability to get by with their usual activities on a day to day basis. So keep an eye out for them. The sooner they’re confronted, the more everyone involved can learn about them. In turn, the sooner effective treatments can be tried out, or specialist equipment can be used to make things simpler.

Remember that these aren’t the only potential issues out there. So whether you notice any of the above symptoms in loved ones or begin to pick up on some that haven’t been detailed here, make sure that you contact a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. They will be able to carry out a full examination and give a proper diagnosis.

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