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.

Heart Failure In Seniors: Know The Signs

The American Heart Association reports that nearly 6 million Americans have some form of heart disease. It’s one of the top reasons why people over the age of 65 are taken to the hospital.

While it’s important that a medical professional make the diagnosis, there are signs to look for if you suspect that someone under your care may be experiencing heart failure.

Start With the Definition

Heart failure is the term used to describe a condition. It means that the heart is weakened and is not pumping blood as well as it should. When the heart can’t do its job, our kidneys cause the body to retain salt and water. Fluid builds up and our body becomes congested. This becomes known as congestive heart failure.

Heart failure in seniors causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing.

Common Symptoms

Heart failure is usually diagnosed because someone experiences more than one of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath. Pay attention of a senior complains of difficulty breathing while they’re lying flat.
  • Persistent wheezing or coughing. Pay attention if this coughing produces pink or white mucus.
  • Edema. Pay attention if a senior complains of swelling in their feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen.
  • Fatigue. Pay attention if a senior tells you they’re feeling tired all the time, or if they’re suddenly feeling fatigued by everyday activities like walking.
  • Appetite changes. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel nauseated, or if they lose their appetite.
  • Impaired thinking. Pay attention if a senior suddenly appears to be confused—especially if it’s accompanied by memory loss.
  • Increased heart rate. Pay attention if a senior tells you they feel as if their heart is throbbing or racing.

We all have days when we just don’t feel right, so it’s usually nothing to be concerned about if a senior tells you they’re experiencing one of these symptoms. They’re all signs of possible heart failure, but each can be caused by many other things.

On the other hand, if you notice multiple symptoms, it’s wise to seek out a medical professional. Heart failure is a serious condition. There’s often no cure, but heart failure in seniors can be treated and managed with medications.

Balance Exercises for Seniors

More than 2 million older Americans end up at the emergency room because of fall-related injuries every year. There are many related causes, but the majority is because seniors just don’t get enough exercise.

Regular exercise is a crucial part of maintaining health and mobility for older adults—especially those who are in memory care homes. Balance exercises are especially important because they can help to prevent falls. Here are two exercises that caregivers can help seniors perform. They’re simple, and they require no complicated or expensive equipment.

1. Standing on One Foot

Either you or a sturdy chair that’s not on wheels will be the only assistance required for this exercise. Have the person stand behind the chair, or extend your arm and tell them to hold on to it.

Then, have them raise one of their legs off the ground. The easiest way is to ask them to bend their knee, so that their foot comes up behind them. It only has to be a few inches off the ground. The objective is to have them standing only on one foot.

Ask them to hold this position for 10 seconds. Tell them it’s fine if they want to rest their hand on the hip of the raised leg. This might assist in their feeling of a comfortable balance. Be sure to watch for their stability, and be ready to assist them if they start to fall. Ask them to repeat this motion 10 times, and then switch to the other leg.

It might seem as if this isn’t even really an exercise. It’s helping the participant to utilize the muscles in their standing leg and back. They’ll be focused on keeping their balance, and that’s what you want to help them retain.

2. Heel-to-Toe Walk

Your exercise partner might not even believe that this is an exercise—and that’s one of the benefits. Have them do this exercise near a wall, or assure them that you’ll be right next to them to offer a steady arm.

Have them position the heel of one foot directly in front of the toes of the other foot. This will work best if they actually have the heel of the front foot touching the toes of the trailing foot. Then tell them to take the back foot and place it in front of the front foot. Make sure they’re not looking down at their feet. Ask them to focus on a spot directly in front of them.

Speed isn’t what you’re after here. You want to help your exercise partner maintain a slow and steady movement as they concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other, taking about 20 or so steps. The exercise helps them think about foot placement and balance.

These two exercises help seniors to maintain—or even regain—their sense of balance. It allows them to feel surer of themselves as they move about. A better sense of balance can help to prevent fall-related injuries by building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Best of all, they don’t even really seem like exercises!