In America today, we can expect to live longer than ever before. As we navigate our senior years, carefully managing chronic conditions is one key to staying healthy.
Getting older can bring on health problems as our bodies change and family history plays a large role in the risk for certain medical conditions. Keep in mind a large number of health concerns for seniors can be prevented or the progression slowed, by making smart, healthy choices, and visiting the doctor for regular screening.
Let's shine the light on three common medical concerns and provide pointers on what you can do to address these conditions proactively. Not everyone will face these issues, but they become more common or more serious as we age.
High Blood Pressure and Its Link to Dementia
What It Is
High blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.
Dementia is a broad description which includes many different symptoms, including memory loss, word-finding difficulties, impaired judgment, and problems with day-to-day activities, which are caused by injury or loss of brain cells.
Why It's a Concern
High blood pressure damages the blood vessels of the brain and leads to hardening of the arteries. It also affects tiny blood vessels and the ability of the brain to control blood flow, which is essential to keeping it working in a normal way.
Learn more about how high blood pressure may increase the risk of dementia.
Managing blood pressure should be a priority for everyone. That's because high blood pressure affects other parts of the body; controlling it saves stress on the brain, the heart, and the kidneys, making it important to overall health.
What You Can Do About It
- Control your blood pressure - Because it is clear dementia begins in midlife, starting to control high blood pressure when you are in your 50s could be key to helping diminish or avoid dementia.
- Exercise, eat healthy and limit alcohol - Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise. Eat a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, fiber, and low-fat dairy products, and with less salt and fat. Limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men and one a day for women.
If these measures are not successful, a doctor can prescribe medication.
What It Is
A stroke is a sudden interruption in the blood supply of the brain. Most strokes are caused by an abrupt blockage of arteries leading to the brain. Other strokes are caused by bleeding into brain tissue when a blood vessel bursts.
Why It's a Concern
A stroke is always an emergency situation. While only one in five victims dies from a stroke, most survivors have long-lasting physical and mental effects, so immediate medical attention is crucial.
What You Can Do About It
1. Know the signs of stroke - Familiarize yourself in advance what to look for if you suspect a stroke in your loved one so you can take proactive measures when necessary. Common signs of a stroke include:
- Numbness - The initial symptom is sudden numbness in the face. Those suffering a stroke may also lose feeling in their hands, feet, arms, or legs. It's not uncommon for a stroke to cause numbness on one entire side of the body while the other side remains fully functional. Sometimes only one part of the body is affected, so any numbness, no matter how small the area, may be considered a sign of stroke.
- Mental Confusion and Difficulty Speaking - Because a stroke affects the brain, many people will experience mental confusion as a symptom. This may manifest as difficulty speaking, possibly with incoherent speech or incorrect word usage. Speech patterns are often slurred. The person may also have trouble understanding the situation or have no memory of the last few moments.
- Loss of Sight - Complete loss of sight may occur and many people experience limited vision as a stroke symptom. Vision may be blurry, or the person may squint to see. Double vision and inability to understand images are also common signs.
- Headache - A sudden headache, especially a severe one, can be a sign of stroke. This is especially telling if a headache has no known cause and the person has no history of headaches, although any headache may possibly be stroke-related, especially if combined with other symptoms.
- Loss of Balance and Coordination - Stroke victims often have difficulty standing, walking, or moving. The person may simply appear clumsy for no apparent reason.
2. When in doubt, conduct these tests - If you're unsure of which signs the person is experiencing, there are a few tests you can conduct. The American Heart Association uses the acronym 'FAST' to help in remembering these tests.
- F: Face Drooping - First, ask the person to smile. If one side of their face seems to droop or feels numb, they may be having a stroke.
- A: Arm Weakness - Ask the individual to raise both arms over their head. If they have trouble due to muscle weakness or one arm seems to droop, these are strong signs of a stroke.
- S: Speech Difficulty - Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as their name or a comment on the weather. If they have trouble repeating or remembering the words, or if the speech is slurred or nonsensical, call 911.
- T: Time to Call 911 - If the patient has trouble completing any of these tests or they're experiencing the symptoms above or other unusual signs, call 911. It's always best to err on the side of caution, even if you're not sure the person is having a stroke. Strokes can have lasting negative effects, and immediate medical care is a necessity.
What It Is
Learn more about help for swallowing difficulties.
Difficulty swallowing is known as dysphagia. Dysphagia is usually caused by diseases or damage to your brain or nerves. Diagnoses that may be associated with swallowing problems include stroke, brain injury, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), head/neck cancer, and injuries or surgeries to the head or neck.
There are certain signs and symptoms to watch for when you or someone else has difficulty swallowing, such as:
- Coughing when eating or drinking
- A wet or “gurgly” voice during or after eating/drinking
- Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow food
- Liquid leaking from the mouth or getting stuck in the mouth
- Recurring pneumonia or chest congestion after eating
- Weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat enough
- Feeling like food is stuck in your throat.
It is important to pay attention to these signs and symptoms as serious swallowing problems can result in food going into the lungs instead of the stomach. This can lead to pneumonia and other breathing problems.
Why It's a Concern
Eating and drinking are vital parts of our everyday lives. They provide essential nutrition and hydration, and they’re activities we enjoy with friends and family.
What You Can Do About It
The prognosis for dysphagia varies with each individual and depends on several factors, including age, overall health, and the cause of the swallowing difficulty. With early evaluation and proper treatment, many people experience a significant decrease of symptoms and improvement in their swallowing abilities.
- Consult a healthcare professional - If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty swallowing, consult your healthcare provider, who may refer you to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist who works with people having swallowing problems.
- Have an evaluation - Once an exam is ordered by a physician, an SLP will make an assessment and may perform special tests to see inside their throat when they swallow.
- Follow recommended advice - After the evaluation is completed, a SLP may work to help strengthen the muscles used for swallowing. An SLP may also recommend diet texture modifications to swallow more easily as well as positions or strategies to help with swallow safety.
Other Health Challenges for Seniors
In addition to more commonly known issues, including cognitive decline, cancer, and arthritis, there are other medical concerns you face as you age, including:
- Oral Health Issues - Healthy teeth and gums are important. Issues such as gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth. Proper oral health care, including regular dental checkups, can help ensure healthy teeth and gums.
- Fragile Bones - Maintaining your balance and mobility is key in fall prevention. Falls can be especially dangerous if you have osteoporosis when your bones become less dense and more prone to breaks and fractures. One way to keep your bones stronger is to eat lots of fruits, veggies, and foods high in calcium.
- Influenza and Pneumonia - With immune systems that aren't quite as robust as they used to be, seniors are more vulnerable to these illnesses. A yearly flu vaccination is important. Also, ask your healthcare professional if they recommend getting the pneumonia vaccine.
- Weight Gain - As you age, you become less active, your metabolism slows down, and your body loses muscle. As weight increases, so does the risk for disease. Ask the doctor about smart ways to fight weight gain and keep you healthier.
- Depression - Depression can lower immunity and compromise a person’s ability to fight infections. Medication and psychotherapy can help treat depression - as can seeking out ways to connect with others, including socializing, taking classes, and volunteering.
Navigating multiple health issues
Often, older adults face more than one health issue, and it can become a challenge to effectively treat all the conditions.
- Make sure you get all the information you need to help treat yourself or your loved one.
- Keep lines of communication open with healthcare providers.
- Work with your medical professional to find a treatment plan that works for you and your lifestyle.
Take good care of yourself and other seniors close to you, and seek medical advice regularly – immediately if you have any pressing concerns.
For older adults experiencing escalating and difficult-to-manage health issues, daily assistance and skilled, compassionate care may benefit your quality of life immensely. SALMON Health and Retirement offers many levels of service in their full “continuum of care” and is here if you need us. Call us toll-free at (800) 446-8060 if you have any questions.
Organizations such as SALMON Health and Retirement are ready and able to offer assistance so your loved one can have their best life possible, even as their needs increase. SALMON Health and Retirement provides a full spectrum of senior living choices and helps support your caregiving efforts. To learn more about the options available to you and your loved ones, contact us today by calling 888-587-4409 for more information.