By the Numbers: The Top 5 Chronic Conditions We Experience as We Grow Older

Can the whole world be reduced to a Top 5 list? Probably not, but sometimes it’s the most helpful way to understand an overwhelming amount of information.

Moving into our senior years may give us freedom from the day-to-day pressures of things like a job, but often this is replaced by the onset of a chronic condition. Most are simply caused by age. It’s estimated that 80% of seniors have at least 1 chronic health condition. Up to 68% have 2 or more. While those statistics might be depressing, it’s also a sign most of us may eventually experience a chronic condition. So, here are the top 5, along with a short description and symptoms. 

1. Hypertension (high blood pressure)

This chronic condition is often called “the silent killer.” Hypertension has no symptoms, even though it can lead to a stroke or heart attack. It’s a serious condition.

Because there are no symptoms, it’s extremely important to have your blood pressure regularly checked. Reducing stress, limiting alcohol and salt intake, as well as exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are ways you can reduce hypertension.

2. High Cholesterol

Our arteries become clogged by eating too many unhealthy fats. It reduces our blood supply and causes heart disease. Like hypertension, there are no apparent symptoms. And also, like hypertension, there are medications which can treat this chronic condition.

While your medical professional may treat high cholesterol with medications, you can also help to manage it by following the same advice for lifestyle changes for hypertension. The main challenge here is that you want to reduce your consumption of saturated and trans fats.

3. Arthritis

Studies show it affects nearly a third of all seniors. The most common form of arthritis is known as osteoarthritis. It’s a disease that causes joint cartilage to break down over time. The symptoms are usually joint pain and stiffness.

For many, the pain is manageable and mild to moderate. For some, the pain becomes chronic.

You can help to delay the onset or manage symptoms by maintaining healthy weight. Here’s an amazing statistic. Losing just a single pound of body weight reduces 4 pounds of pressure on your knees! Regular exercise can help with that weight loss, as well as improve your joint function and reduce pain.

4. Coronary Heart Disease

This chronic condition is also known as ischemic heart disease. It’s caused when plaque builds up in the arteries that lead to the heart. The condition decreases the amount of blood feeding this crucial muscle. It often causes additional conditions like angina (chest pains), blood clots, and heart attacks.

While you may experience some symptoms, such as angina, many symptoms may go unnoticed. You can prevent or manage this chronic condition by limiting your intake of salt, sugar, and trans fats. Reduce your stress, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep.

5. Diabetes

Over 25% of seniors have this chronic condition. It’s caused when the level of glucose in your blood is higher than the insulin that your body makes can handle, causing your glucose levels to be high.

There are many symptoms associated with diabetes. High glucose levels damage your kidneys, heart, gums and eyes, your nerves and blood vessels. This damage can lead to heart and kidney disease, as well as strokes and blindness.

Diabetes is often managed by lifestyle changes. Exercise and a healthy diet can help tremendously. Your body weight is a main contributor to this chronic condition.

Loneliness: More Than Just A State Of Mind

Loneliness might be a never-ending source for songwriters, but it’s something that we want to avoid if we want to stay healthy. The older we get, higher the odds are that we’ll feel lonely. A recent AARP study shows that 35% of the survey respondents age 55 or older claimed they were lonely.

It’s not all in our minds. Extended feelings of loneliness have been linked to physical ailments such as high blood pressure and abdominal obesity. It also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The good news is that there are many ways to combat loneliness.

Understanding It

Do you know the difference between loneliness and solitude?

Solitude is often a choice, and you’re feeling peaceful about being by yourself. On the other hand, lonely people often find it difficult to make meaningful connections with others. When this happens, we feel isolated. It can become even more difficult to make social connections

It can be overcome with something as simple as going to the grocery store. Being out among other people and observing how they interact can “jump start” your own efforts.

Step Away from the Computer and Your Smartphone

Spending too much time online is something we can do at any age. Be careful not to let yourself fall into this digital trap. Social networks seem to offer a way to connect with others, but what you need is “IRL” — meeting people In Real Life.

Turn that Frown Upside-Down

Go ahead and believe you’ve got an awesome poker face. People around you can sense your loneliness. They see it in your facial expression.

It’s not just a pithy saying. Smiles are contagious. You can move a long way towards lifting your loneliness by smiling—even when nobody’s looking. It helps you become more approachable. People will find it easier to engage with you.

Get your feet in on this smile action, too. Make an effort to take a different route on your next walk. Smile and nod at a perfect stranger. Loneliness isn’t a one-way street. It may feel awkward, but introducing yourself to someone you encounter on a regular basis but don’t know is a powerful way to bust through the feelings of isolation that loneliness can put around us.

There’s a potential bonus to this, too. The person you’ve just introduced yourself to might also be looking to move away from loneliness. There’s a frustrating irony to loneliness. People experiencing it crave the interaction of others, and yet they find it difficult to reach out to others.