Thanks to new medications and surgical techniques, people are living longer. However, the body we had at 55 will be very different from the body we have at 75. Many issues, both genetic and environmental, affect how we age.
The most widespread conditions affecting those 65 and older include arthritis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, pneumonia and the flu. Accidents, especially falls that result in hip fractures, are also unfortunately common in the elderly.
A lot of our elders are coping with at least one of the following conditions, and many are dealing with two or more of the following:
- Heart conditions (hypertension, vascular disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease)
- Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease
- Incontinence (urinary and bowel)
- Breathing problems
- Frequent falls, which can lead to fractures
- Parkinson's disease
- Sleep problems
- Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, Macular Degeneration)
- Weight loss
As the body changes, other things to be aware of are:
- A slowed reaction time, which is especially important when judging whether a person can safely drive.
- Thinner skin, which can lead to tears or wounds that heal very slowly.
- A weakened immune system, which can make fighting off viruses, bacteria and diseases difficult.
- A diminished sense of taste or smell, especially for smokers, which can lead to diminished appetite and dehydration.
The list can seem daunting. However, with proper care and support, elders can lead a life filled with joy.
Susan Levy, M.D., is the Vice President of Medical Affairs and Medical Director at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.