The percentage of Americans 65 and older is rising quickly. By 2050, there will be three times as many individuals over 85 as there are now.
But as we age, it is pretty common for us to develop chronic illnesses. This is something different from all the minor age-related changes such as minor vision and hearing loss, increased blood pressure, muscular weakness, and a compromised immune system. However, not all health issues that affect the elderly are part of the natural decline that comes with time.
The prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory disorders tends to rise with age, necessitating the implementation of effective management strategies.
This article will look at some tried-and-true strategies for coping with chronic illness as you age. Whether you are a senior or a caregiver for a senior, you will find valuable information here to help you cope with the challenges of aging and chronic illness. So let’s plunge in!!
Top Chronic Conditions in the Elderly Population
In the population aged 65 and older, approximately 80% have been diagnosed with at least one chronic illness, while 68% are living with two or more chronic conditions. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has identified the most prevalent chronic illnesses among adults in the United States since 2015 which are given below,
10. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
According to NCOA, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an illness that affects 11% of the elderly and is characterized by a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Tobacco use and other lung irritants are major causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD. Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness, are common among COPD sufferers.
Chronic bronchitis is the most well-known condition within this category. Bronchitis is caused by an infection that affects the lungs and airways, resulting in an excessive mucus buildup. The body attempts to expel this buildup by wheezing.
9. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term used to characterize a syndrome or collection of chronic conditions that contribute to memory and cognitive difficulties in elderly adults. With age, the prevalence of dementia increases and was treated in 11% of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older.
Alzheimer’s disease is also another form of dementia which is characterized by cognitive decline, memory loss, and shifts in behavior and cognition it occurs in 70% of cases with dementia. Although there are currently no cures for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow its progression and enhance the quality of life for those affected.
Depression is a common mental health disorder in seniors that can have a substantial influence on emotional well-being, everyday functioning, and quality of life, but is often overlooked or attributed to the natural aging process. It can have serious effects on one’s mental health, ability to go about one’s everyday life and happiness. Though it is not a natural component of aging, 14% of seniors have sought therapy for it otherwise.
Depression treatment options include conversational therapy, medication, family and friend support, social engagement, and behavioral modifications including increased physical activity and a balanced diet.
Learn more about dementia and Azhiemers in our special article here.
7. Heart Failure
Heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body, affected 14% of those aged 65 and more who required medical attention.
To fulfill the demands of the body, the heart may grow, gain muscle mass, or pump faster, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and loss of appetite.
Following a doctor’s advice to lower your risk for coronary heart disease and high blood pressure is the most effective form of prevention. Participation in a multidisciplinary healthcare team including cardiologists, nurses, and other experts may be necessary.
6-Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease is also known as a progressive decline in renal function which is caused by damage to the kidneys that can be caused by infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, or diabetes. 18% of older adults got treatment for chronic kidney disease (CKD) according to reports.
There is currently no treatment for this disease, which causes damage to the kidneys and can result in renal failure. Therefore, older individuals must carefully share the following late-stage symptoms with their doctor as soon as they become apparent:
- Bloody urine
- Shortness of Breath
- Swollen ankles, wrists, or feet
- Weakness or a sense of illness
Middle-aged people, and sometimes younger people, can acquire diabetes. However, it primarily affects the elderly and must be treated as a chronic illness throughout one’s whole life.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body stops producing enough insulin to maintain health and accounts for only 10% of all cases.
Type II diabetes is the most prevalent form of the disease affecting 27% of the elderly. This condition arises when the pancreas stops secreting enough insulin.
Modifying one’s way of life can lessen one’s risk of having diabetes and other complications including heart disease, renal failure, and nerve damage can be avoided.
4. Heart Diseases
Ischemic heart disease was treated in 29% of persons aged 65 and over which is a condition caused by the accumulation of plaque, which narrows the arteries leading to the heart. The amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching the heart drops as arteries become narrowed or obstructed. This raises the risk of hemorrhaging chest pain and cardiac arrest.
Congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease are two of the most common forms of heart disease in the elderly. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Arthritis is a chronic illness and is one of the most prevalent age-related conditions affecting senior individuals marking up to 31% of older having it makes around 27.2 million worldwide population. Arthritis causes pain and inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two types. Osteoarthritis, caused by simple aging, is much more typical. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system of the body assaults the joint membrane.
Examples of symptoms include:
- Joint pain, rigidity, and sensitivity.
- Arthritic inflammation of joints
- Limited or constrained mobility
2- High Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol, which happens when your body has an excess of harmful fats (or lipids), may cause your arteries to get blocked, which can lead to heart disease; 47% of people 65 and over have had treatment for this problem.
However, increased cholesterol levels have been linked to several health problems, most notably cardiovascular disease.
1-High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, commonly known as hypertension, occurs when the arterial walls are too small for the volume of blood being pumped out by the heart. Almost 58% of people aged 65 and over have been found suffering from it.
It is dangerous because if left untreated, it may lead to other significant health problems, such as stroke and heart attack, and it can go undetected for years.
There are a number of other frequent chronic illnesses that afflict the senior population besides the above-mentioned,
- Cancer- It is a widespread, age-related chronic illness. It is caused by the rapid and abnormal replication of cells in the body, which results in the formation of tumors that can disseminate through the circulation. There are approximately 200 distinct types of cancer, including but not limited to prostate cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer are just a few of the many forms of the disease that are more common among the elderly.
- Stroke- A stroke occurs when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted, resulting in brain injury and loss of brain function. Due to factors such as excessive blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, the risk of stroke among older persons is elevated.
- Osteoporosis- One of the most prevalent health problems in the elderly is osteoporosis. Reduced bone density is a common symptom of this illness, which is typically missed until a fall results in a fracture. Although weakening bones and muscles are both natural consequences of becoming older, those with osteoporosis suffer these changes more rapidly than the general population. Although men are not exempt, it typically strikes women of a certain age.
The frequency of chronic illnesses among the elderly is predicted to rise as the population as a whole continues to age. In order to promote healthy aging and enhance the quality of life for the elderly, it is important to get an understanding of and take action against these prevalent chronic illnesses.
Challenges of Managing Chronic Illnesses in Aging
It’s crucial to have a complete picture of how aging affects various states of existence. Here are some essential details to keep in mind:
- Slower Healing-The aging process can impede the body’s capacity to recover from injuries or ailments and to recuperate. People with persistent illnesses may need more time to get well as a result of this.
- Decreased Adaptability- We lose some of our natural defenses against disease as we become older. Lower levels of resilience have been linked to increased vulnerability to chronic illness.
- Progressive Nature of Illness- The chronic nature of many diseases also presents difficulties. Physical functioning and quality of life might suffer as a result of the progression of chronic illnesses including arthritis and heart disease. Because of this, it is essential to keep track of people and make necessary modifications to their treatment plans and actions as their requirements evolve.
- Mental Changes– Cognitive impairment, which may impact memory, decision-making, and the capacity to commit to treatment programs, is a significant challenge in treating chronic illnesses in the elderly.
- Social Isolation- Social isolation is an essential aspect of chronic illness that can negatively affect an individual’s emotional health. It can result in feelings of isolation, sadness, and anxiety, negatively impacting both mental and physical health.
- Co-Occurring Conditions- Many elderly people deal with a number of different chronic illnesses at once. It is even more important to have an integrated approach since these disorders may interact and complicate each other’s care.
- Physical Limitations- It may be difficult to successfully manage chronic illnesses while dealing with the physical restrictions that come with advancing age. Impairments in movement, flexibility, and the ability to care for oneself may fall into this category.
- More Medicinal Needs/Polypharmacy- The chance of being on more than one medicine at a time or in other words, polypharmacy increases with age. Previous research has indicated that between 40 and 50% of all elderly people suffer from polypharmacy. Avoiding drug interactions and side effects may be difficult when managing many medicines.
Strategies to Cope With Chronic Illness
Now that we have an overall understanding of the way aging can affect chronic illnesses, let’s focus on some research-based practical guidelines for managing these illnesses effectively in your golden years of life.
1- Improve Your Self Care
Improving how you take care of yourself is important if you want to deal with a chronic illness well and many seniors have reported satisfaction after it. By making your health a top priority and picking up healthy habits, you can improve your general quality of life and deal with the difficulties of your situation better.
- Ease Up Routine; It may be difficult for many people, especially the elderly, to remember all they need to do and take every day. Having these routines streamlined and organized makes it easier to take medications as prescribed and get through the day.
- Use Reminders: Another very useful approach is to use technology such as smartphones, pill organizers, or digital medication management systems, you can set reminders and alarms that serve as timely prompts to take your medications. This strategy can also be very helpful in managing your appointments with the doctor.
- Keep a health journal: Older patients with several ongoing illnesses are trickier to treat. The best is to keep a health journal to record your symptoms and the progression of your condition. This can assist you and your healthcare team in recognizing patterns, making informed decisions, detecting any other problem earlier, and modifying treatment plans as necessary.
- Take Help From Family: Involving caregivers or family members in handling the management of serious illnesses can be extraordinarily beneficial and also proven by research. Even another research has proven that the mental health and motivation of elderly people might benefit from family involvement in their health care. it is true that they can provide essential support, supervision, and assistance to ensure treatment compliance. So never hesitate to ask for it!
2- Overcoming Physical Limitations
It may be difficult to successfully manage chronic illnesses while dealing with the physical restrictions that come with advancing age. But like other things, it can also be managed with effective strategies such as,
- Use Assistive Devices- Using assistive devices has been found in a recent 2022 review to effectively improved safety measures among the elderly and especially people with chronic illnesses. That is why, it is best to utilize mobility assistants, handrails, and adaptive equipment to increase independence and safety during daily activities.
- Go for Physical Therapy- Physical therapy, under the supervision of medical experts, may provide you with individualized exercises and strategies to overcome your specific challenges. Strength, mobility, stability, and control are all areas it seeks to enhance. Improve your functional skills, alleviate your symptoms, and forestall any future deterioration by sticking to your individualized physical therapy plan. It is always suggested to see a doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise.
3- Medication Management
Medication management is another essential strategy for managing chronic illnesses.
Consider having routine conversations with your healthcare provider about the possibility of drug interactions. The use of multiple medications can result in undesirable side effects or adverse reactions. Along with a trusted care team, a primary care physician can assist with this aspect of medication management.
Another thing that can be useful is using a pill organizer or automated dispensing device. These organizers provide sections for each day and time of day, making it easy to keep track of when and how often you take drugs.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to have a major effect on the control of age-related chronic illnesses. Those who are willing to make these modifications have a better chance of effectively managing a chronic illness. Making the effort to improve one’s health generally pays off in spades, from improved well-being to increased longevity.
Here are some aspects of daily life to think about:
- Healthy Diet is Important– Maintaining control of chronic illnesses requires diligent attention to dietary intake. Make sure your food plan is tailored to your unique requirements by consulting with a dietitian or nutritionist.
- Exercise and Physical Activity- Your health and well-being may benefit from consistent physical exercise. Adopt a program of physical activity that is tailored to your situation after consulting with your healthcare providers or physical therapists
- No Compromise on Sleep- Restful sleep is essential for those dealing with chronic illness. Create a relaxing space to sleep in and stick to a regular sleep routine. It has been suggested that 7-8 hours of sleep every night is ideal for the elderly.
- Avoid and Manage Stress- The stresses of aging and chronic disease are real. Try some stress-relieving activities like meditation, deep breathing, or enjoying a relaxing hobby.
5- Regular Medical Check
Elderly individuals who have multiple long-term illnesses present unique difficulties because of their elevated care needs. But they can improve their health, treatment results, and overall quality of life by making frequent doctor visits a top priority.
In addition, regular checkups allow patients to have honest and informative conversations with their physicians. It’s a chance to have questions answered and learn more about self-care, lifestyle changes, and resources in the region.
We also have a detailed article about what to expect in a complete medical checkup and physical examination. Click here to read some informative stuff!
6- Emotional support
The emotional toll of becoming older is real. Seeking out and accepting emotional support should be a top priority. Here are a few suggestions:
- Engage in Hobbies– It has been well documented that engaging in enjoyable activities can improve mood and reduce tension. Find things to do that make you happy, and do them often. It might be anything from creating art to keeping a garden to reading a book or playing an instrument.
- Join Support Groups- One of the best approaches you can use to manage your chronic illness is via talking to someone who is dealing with the same issues as yours. Support groups can give people a sense of belonging, understanding, and helpful advice from people who have been through similar things. More options are online communities, educational websites, and local organizations that offer information, advice, and emotional assistance. Participation in these programs can result in enhanced health outcomes, increased physical activity, and decreased hospitalization rates, according to research.
- Consider Therapy- Consider going to therapy or counseling to help you deal with the psychological challenges of living with a chronic illness. Professional help can give you good ways to deal with your problems and a safe place to talk about how you feel.
7-Adapt Your Living Environment
Making modifications to one’s house to accommodate one’s physical limitations is an essential part of managing a chronic illness.
Safety, mobility, and independence may all be enhanced with the installation of aids like grab bars, ramps, and shower benches.
One option for making your house more accessible is to put grab bars in the bathroom and other places where you may need them. Ramps may be installed to make the space more accessible for those with limited mobility. Rearranging the furniture and enhancing the lighting may also make the space more navigable and safer.
Working with an occupational therapist before making home adjustments may improve efficiency, effectiveness, and suitability.
The aforementioned information is useful for avoiding or alleviating chronic illness. Using these methods, both patients and medical professionals may better manage chronic illnesses and boost the health of their elderly patients. However, there are local resources available to assist you or a loved one in managing a chronic health condition. The best is to consult your physician and other health care provider for better treatment and plans tailored according to your need and definitely Prime With Time!