Most Common Health Issues for People Over 60
From new medical tests and preventive screenings to increased check-up frequency, things change for both men and women when they turn 60. Why? Because that's when most people are likely to start encountering a whole host of health issues that weren't really a concern in earlier years. With virtually every ailment on this list, early detection can mean the difference between a health-related bump in the road or a full-blown crisis. Once you know what you're up against, you can learn more about the symptoms and warning signs and know what to expect in case of a diagnosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of older Americans, but that isn't surprising. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans of all ages, both genders and virtually all racial and ethnic groups. In the U.S., heart disease is public enemy No. 1, and while all demographics are vulnerable, age brings increased risk. In all, 1 death in 4 can be traced to heart disease for a total of 630,000 fatalities a year and a heart attack every 40 seconds in America.
According to the CDC, cancer is the No. 2 leading cause of death in older Americans, behind only heart disease. SeniorCaring.org reports that the cancers most likely to affect people over the age of 60 are lung cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. You're much more likely to survive these kinds of cancers if they're detected early, so it's critical for anyone over 60 to know the signs and symptoms.
Chronic lower respiratory diseases, like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, are the third-leading cause of death among older Americans. More than 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with the two combined ailments — commonly called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) — which can often be difficult to tell apart. There is no cure for COPD, which degrades the lungs' ability to deliver oxygen to the body. Smoking and pollution are the leading causes.
Strokes are the most common type of cerebrovascular diseases, which the CDC ranks as the No. 4 leading cause of death for the older adults. Those who do survive often suffer permanent damage once the brain is denied oxygen through the onset of a stroke, aneurysm, or similar event.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, and it attacks memory, behavior, and thinking. As the disease progresses, symptoms get worse, and sufferers commonly have difficulty performing even the most basic tasks. Although the vast majority of sufferers are over the age of 65, hundreds of thousands of Americans are afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer's, which strikes younger patients. According to the CDC, it's the No. 5 killer of older Americans.
Diabetes comes in No. 6 on the CDC's list of diseases that are most likely to be deadly to older Americans. There are two main types of diabetes, but both affect the body's ability to regulate sugar and both are associated with a wide range of related health issues. A full 95 percent of diabetics suffer from type 2 diabetes. Since many of the much rarer type 1 diagnoses are in children, Americans over the age of 60 are far more likely than even the general population to suffer from type 2. (In the CDC's list of the 10 leading causes of death for older Americans, diabetes is followed by a safety issue: unintentional injuries.)
The most at-risk group for fatal cases of pneumonia and the flu consists of older Americans ages 55-90, with risk increasing substantially as folks get older. The CDC lists the two combined contagious illnesses as the No. 8 leading cause of death for older Americans.
Kidney disease, which is much more common in older Americans, is ranked No. 9 by the CDC in terms of dangers to the older demographic. There are many possible causes and symptoms, but if left untreated, the diagnosis is rarely positive. The good news is that kidney disease is often treatable and can usually be detected with simple blood or urine tests.
Older Americans are much more likely to deal with blood infections than they probably would have been in younger years. In fact, septicemia rounds out the CDC's list of 10 biggest dangers. The problem with blood infections is that they can be caused by a number of primary conditions, including like urinary tract infections, lung infections, skin infections or staph, E. coli, and strep.
Just because it's not on the CDC's list of fatal health issues for seniors doesn't mean it's not something that you won't have to contend with after 60. Much more than just nagging joint pain, arthritis can be crippling, with 15 million Americans suffering from severe joint damage caused by the condition. Osteoarthritis is the most common form, but related conditions include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Just 7.1 percent of 18-44 year olds suffer from arthritis, but about half of those ages 65 and up are burdened with one form of the condition or another. By 2020, there are expected to be 63 million diagnosed cases.
Like heart disease, the first entry on our list of common health issues facing older Americans, the final entry, obesity, is found in epidemic levels across virtually all age groups, in both genders and most racial and ethnic groups. The condition is actually directly related to heart disease, as well as to diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and just about every other ailment mentioned here. According to the CDC, a full 41 percent of adults over 60 are obese.
When it comes to high blood pressure, the good news, according to the CDC, is that more and more adults over 60 are aware of the risks and are seeking treatment — but the risks themselves haven't changed. Eight out of 10 stroke victims have high blood pressure, as do seven out of 10 heart attack victims. High blood pressure increases the risk of chronic heart failure and kidney disease, as well. In total, high blood pressure was a contributing factor in 360,000 deaths in 2013 alone — that's 1,000 people per day.
Experts predict that more than 64 million Americans will be diagnosed with osteoporosis by 2020. Women are far more likely than men to suffer from the disease, which diminishes bone mass and greatly increases the likelihood of fractures. The likelihood of being diagnosed increases dramatically with age starting at 60 years old.
About 6 million older Americans suffer from "late-life" depression over the age of 65. Senior sufferers, however, are far less likely to receive treatment for the condition than the general population. In many cases, symptoms are confused with those of unrelated ailments or as side effects of common medications. Depression in older adults commonly coincides with the onset of other illnesses and is much more common with seniors who suffer from disabilities. Even in mild cases, older Americans who suffer from depression are at greater risk for death from other illnesses.
Falls are the leading cause of both nonfatal and fatal injuries among older adults, with 25 percent of people ages 65 and over suffering from a serious fall every year — that's 29 million bad falls and 3 million emergency room visits. Tens of thousands of older Americans die from falls each year and countless others trace the genesis of chronic health problems to a bad fall.
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