1. Brain: Memory and Alzheimer's Disease
Many people become anxious about developing memory impairments as they transition into being senior citizens and begin to worry that forgetting details is the first sign of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Confusion and loss of memory were thought to be inevitable parts of aging in the past, but we now know that people can still be able and alert despite aging. Senior citizens and those responsible for providing their elder care should be aware of these changes in memory and work to prevent, identify, and treat them.
Over the past several years, researchers have been looking at a type of cognitive change known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This is separate from cognitive changes related to aging and often progresses to AD over some years. Senior citizens with amnestic MCI have a specific memory difficulty and have ongoing problems with memory, but they do not develop other losses seen in AD like confusion, attention problems, and problems with language.
2. Bones and Joints
As we age, our bones and movable joints are subject to wear and tear. The most common conditions among senior citizens in this area of the body are as follows:
Osteoporosis. This is a disease that causes bones mainly in the hips, backbone, and wrists to weaken to the point of breaking easily. As people, especially women, age into their 40s and 50s, bones start to weaken, and the outer shell of the bone gets thinner.
Arthritis. This is not one type of disease; there are many types of arthritis, and each has different symptoms and treatments. In general, arthritis can become a problem in most any joint in the body. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type in senior citizens. It begins when cartilage begins to wear away, and at its worst, all the cartilage in a joint is worn away, causing bare bones to painfully rub against each other. Conversely, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. People with RA have immune systems that attack the lining of their joints as if it were an injury or disease. It leads to inflammation in the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness for hours.
Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D and including regular weight-bearing exercise in your lifestyle are extremely important in preventing weak bones in senior citizens. Methods of improving quality of life and reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis include weight loss and exercises in light resistance and flexibility. In rheumatoid arthritis, the most effective treatment is drug therapy to modify the immune system response and decrease joint damage.
3. Eyes and Ears: Eyesight and Hearing Changes with Age
Eyesight usually declines around age 40, and cataracts and macular degeneration may develop around age 60. Hearing weakens with age.
Presbyopia. This is a gradual loss of ability to see objects close to you or read small print. This condition is normal in senior citizens, and a usual treatment is simply to get a pair of reading glasses.
Cataracts. These are areas of cloudiness in the lens of the eye that cause loss of sight. Generally, these form slowly without symptoms, and some remain small and do not interfere with vision. Others may grow large or dense, harming vision. Cataract surgery, which is very safe and common, can be very helpful.
Glaucoma. This is a result of fluid inside the eye causing too much pressure. Gradually, this pressure can damage the optic nerve, leading to loss of vision and blindness. Often, senior citizens with glaucoma lack early symptoms of pain or pressure, but annual eye exams that include dilating your pupils can protect you from developing this disease.
Retinal disorders. These disorders are some of the most common causes of blindness in the United States. The most prevalent among senior citizens is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects the area of the retina that provides sharp central vision. Treatment of AMD includes photodynamic therapy, which uses a drug and a strong light to delay the progress of the disorder. Another common retinal disorder is a degenerative disease that affects vision and is called diabetic retinopathy. It is important that senior citizens seek appropriate medical care, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and have frequent follow-ups to help reduce its prevalence.
Two new drugs, ranibizumab (Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin), are now being used to treat neovascular macular degeneration in senior citizens.
Presbycusis. This is slowly progressing hearing loss caused by aging.
Tinnitus. This is a ringing, roaring, or other noise that may come with hearing loss. It may be caused by loud noise, hearing loss, some medicines, and other health problems like allergies or problems in the heart and blood vessels.
4. Digestive and Metabolic.
Gastrointestinal problems are more common in senior citizens. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to close properly, causing the contents of the stomach to leak back-or reflux-into the esophagus. If this sensation of heartburn happens more than two times per week, it may be considered to be GERD, which can lead to more serious health risks.
Many senior citizens are pre-diabetic, which raises their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Incontinence. This is the term for loss of bladder control, from mild leaking to uncontrollable wetting, that is very common in senior citizens. It is not caused by aging alone; factors causing it may be urinary tract infections, vaginal infection or irritation, constipation, or certain medicines. Many cases of incontinence can be controlled or cured with treatment, so it is important to talk to a doctor or another involved in your elder care about this.
Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). The urethra, which passes urine, is surrounded by the prostate gland. Since the prostate gland grows with age, it may begin to squeeze the urethra. Tumors in the prostate may also contribute to this problem. This growth or unrelated infections may cause problems with passing urine. Some men experience this symptom in their 30s or 40s, whereas others do not notice this until a later age.
Prostate cancer. This is the second most common type of cancer in men in the United States. Frequent check-ups are important in identifying and treating this disease.
6. Dental: gingivitis, periodontitis, loss of teeth.
Tooth decay can occur regardless of age as long as you have natural teeth. It ruins the enamel that covers and protects the teeth. Plaque forms when you neglect your teeth and bacteria clings to them, forming a sticky, colorless film that can lead to cavities and tooth decay. Another factor in causing tooth decay is gum disease. Using a fluoride toothpaste can help protect your teeth, as it is just as helpful for senior citizens as it is for children.
Gum diseases. These are sometimes called periodontal or gingival diseases, and they are infections that harm the gum and bone holding the teeth in place. If plaque stays on the teeth for too long, it forms tartar, which brushing doesn't clean and which continues to damage the teeth. When plaque and tartar remain on the teeth, gingivitis is formed. Gingivitis can form areas in which your gums lift away from your teeth, forming easily infected pockets. This is called periodontitis, which, if not properly treated, can ruin the bones, gums, and tissue supporting the teeth. It could even loosen your teeth in time, warranting removal of those teeth.
7. Skin Care for the Elderly.
Staying out of the sun is the easiest and least expensive way of avoiding skin damage. Sunlight is the main cause of our changing appearance as we age-including wrinkles, age spots, and dryness. Smoking can also increase the number of visible wrinkles because the chemicals in cigarettes damage elastin proteins in the skin. Skin changes with age; for example, you sweat less as you get older, leading to more dryness. Skin also loses fat, causing it to appear less smooth. Still, senior citizens can take steps to protect themselves from the sun's harmful effects.
Dry skin. This appears mainly on the lower legs, elbows, and forearms and affects many senior citizens. Skin may feel rough, scaly, and itchy. This could be aggravated by low humidity, which can be worsened by overheating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Dryness is also caused by the loss of sweat and oil glands that accompanies aging. Other things that may lead to dry skin are overusing soaps, antiperspirants, perfumes, and hot baths or dehydration, sun exposure, smoking, and stress.
Skin cancer. This is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. Three types of skin cancer are the most prevalent. These include basal cell carcinomas, the most common, which grow slowly and rarely spread; squamous cell carcinomas, which seldom spread but do so more often than basal cell carcinomas; and the most dangerous common skin cancer, melanoma, which can (often fatally) spread to other organs.
Shingles. This affects nerves, causing pain and blisters in senior citizens. It is caused by the same virus that afflicts people with chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus remains in some of your nerve cells and, for reasons unknown, can become active again rather than remaining inactive. This regained activity produces shingles.
Senior citizens with shingles feel sick with a rash on their body or face. Shingles targets older people rather than children, and about 20 percent of people who have had chickenpox as children will develop shingles after the age of 50.
8. Functional Abilities.
Senior citizens often suffer from injuries caused by falling. This may be caused by other changes, including loss of sight, hearing, muscle strength, coordination, or reflexes. Diabetes, heart disease, or complications with your circulation or nervous system may negatively affect balance, and some medicines can cause dizziness. Any of these could cause a senior citizen to be more prone to falling.
As with most problems experienced by senior citizens, the better you take care of yourself, the less prone you will be to falling. A test called a bone mineral density test can tell you how strong your bones are. If necessary, your doctor can use the results of this test to prescribe medications that will make your bones stronger and less likely to break.