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Be Aware of Possible Chronic Illnesses

What chronic illnesses should I watch out for as I get older?

Seniors who live in the U.S. can expect to live longer than ever before. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), once you pass the age of 65, you can expect to live another 19.3 years.

For many of us, we can expect to manage chronic conditions to stay healthy by making healthy lifestyle choices. The question is, are you among the 41% of people over 65 who can claim their health is very good or excellent?

Your healthcare team can help you to live healthier even if you have a chronic disease.

Arthritis is probably the number one condition that people 65 or older contend with,” says geriatrician Marie Bernard, MD, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. The CDC approximates that arthritis affects 49.7% of seniors over the age of 65. Although it is painful and can often limit mobility, it is imperative to work with your doctor to personalize an activity plan so that you can stay as active as possible.

Heart disease, according to the CDC, remains a leading killer of adults over age 65. This chronic disease affects 37% of men and 26% of women, according to the Federal Interagency Forum of Aging-Related Statistics. Risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Healthy eating, while limiting salt, sugar, fat and fried food, can help improve your chances of maintaining a healthy weight and healthier heart as you age.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among seniors over age 65. The CDC reports that 28% of men and 21% of women are living with cancer. If caught early enough, through mammograms, colonoscopies and skin checks, many types of cancers can be successfully treated. Be proactive in your medical treatment. Make sure to contact your doctor if you see or feel something that doesn't seem normal. Don’t stick your head in the sand! Work with your medical team for the best outcome. Excessive smoking and drinking can be the cause of many cancers.

Respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, are the third most common cause of death for those over age 65. The CDC reports that 10% of men and 13% of women are living with asthma, while 10% of men and 11% of women are dealing with chronic bronchitis and emphysema, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. These chronic diseases make seniors more vulnerable to pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia were the leading cause of death in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Collectively they accounted for 65,967 deaths, an increase of 11.4% from 2021. Cognitive impairment has a significant impact on chronic illness for seniors across the spectrum. Health and safety issues are impacted, as is self-care and the burden it causes families. Antibodies are reduced as we get older, and they are significantly reduced if you have dementia.

Osteoporosis, or low bone mass, is a major health concern for Americans. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates that 10 million Americans over age 50 are affected by osteoporosis. The majority are women, but about 2 million are men. Osteoporosis puts seniors at risk for a fracture or breaks that could lead to poor senior health and reduced quality of life.

Diabetes affects 25% of Americans ages 65 and older, according to the CDC, making it a significant health risk. The CDC data shows that diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death in America. It is the number one cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations and adult blindness. It can be identified and addressed early with simple blood tests for blood sugar levels. The sooner you know that you have or are at risk for diabetes, the sooner you can make changes to control the disease and improve your long-term outlook.

Flu and pneumonia are not classified as chronic conditions, however, these infections are among the top eight causes of death in people over age 65, according to the CDC. Due to lower immune systems and existing respiratory issues, seniors are more vulnerable to these diseases and less able to fight them off. Many medical professionals advise getting an annual flu shot and getting the pneumonia vaccine, if recommended by your doctor, to prevent these infections and their life-threatening complications.

Falls requiring emergency room care increase with age. The CDC reports that each year, 2.5 million people aged 65 and older are treated in emergency departments because of falls. That’s more than any other age group. One out of four older adults will fall each year in the United States, making falls a public health concern, particularly among the aging population. About 36 million falls are reported among older adults each year — resulting in more than 32,000 deaths. Being aware that most falls occur in your own home is important. Tripping hazards, including area rugs, slippery floors and pets are some of the most important hazards to be aware of.

Depression is unfortunately too common among those 65 and older. According to the American Psychological Association, 15 to 20% of Americans over 65 have experienced significant depression. This is a huge threat to senior health as depression can lower immunity and compromise a person’s ability to fight infections.

It is suggested to treat depression with medication and therapy. Another way to improve a senior’s quality of life is to increase physical activity. It has been reported that 59.4% of adults 65 and older don’t meet CDC recommendations for exercise.

Many seniors are isolated in their homes and are limited to social interaction and socialization. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, seniors report spending only 8 to 11% of their free time with family and friends. That is not enough!

A study published in 2019 in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences found that older adults who interacted with people beyond their usual social circle of family and close friends were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, greater positive moods and fewer negative feelings. The more active we are socially, the more we can help focus on what makes us happy and not what makes us depressed.

Healthy teeth and gums are important for a senior’s health. According to the CDC, 25% of adults over 65 have no natural teeth. Oral health care, checkups and cleanings need to be a priority. It’s not just about preserving your teeth and making it easier to eat, it is also how we perceive ourselves and self-care. As you age, your mouth tends to become dryer and cavities are more difficult to prevent. Abscesses and infections are more common which can lead to life threatening issues. Proper oral care should be a senior healthcare priority.

Living the best and healthiest life we can is very important. We are most likely to have issues with one or more chronic diseases as we age, but being proactive and focused on our physical and mental wellbeing is important to live a happy and fulfilled life.

Kimberly Jensen has been working with Quail Park as a Senior Resource Advocate for over ten years and has helped hundreds of families find solutions to their senior problems. If you have a question, you can send it to her at or call (559) 737-7443.


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