4 Challenges of Aging and How to Manage Them
Weekly Wealth Staff
Dec 18, 2020
With the Baby Boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) growing increasingly older, more attention is shifting toward examining the quality of life and other factors contributing to this age group’s overall health and happiness.
Baby Boomers are currently between the ages of 56 and 74, and the percentage of people in the United States over the age of 65 will continue to rise. Between 2018 and 2060, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to almost double from 52 million to 95 million. By that point, this age group will represent 23% of the total population in the United States. (1)
Although these older years are sometimes referred to as the “Golden Years,” the reality is there are many challenges specific to this population that can make life more difficult to manage – especially when it comes to health. Overall health naturally declines with age. Four out of every five older adults are dealing with at least one chronic disease – and 77% of those adults have at least two. Heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes account for almost two-thirds of all deaths each year – primarily affecting this older population. (2)
Beyond physical disease, there are emotional challenges people older than 65 are sometimes more prone to. Understanding both physical and emotional health challenges is of paramount importance to help our older adults live out the rest of their lives comfortably and happily.
Not all age-related health challenges are obvious. Below is a list of common and sometimes unexpected health and emotional challenges that can accompany the aging process and what you can do to prepare:
The Flu Is More Serious
Getting the flu during younger years is usually uncomfortable at worst. Younger people typically make a full recovery from the flu within a week or two and require no additional treatment beyond general symptom management. As people continue to age the flu’s effects become more profound, and by the time people reach older age the flu becomes overtly dangerous and even deadly.
It is well-recognized that adults aged 65 years or older face a higher risk of developing severe complications from the flu than their younger adult counterparts. This is primarily due to a natural, age-related weakening of the immune system which occurs with age. According to CDC through recent years, people older than 65 accounts for 70-80% of all seasonal-flu related deaths and between 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations. (3)
This increased risk of flu-related complications makes it even more important for older adults to see a doctor right away if they experience serious symptoms. These include:
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen areas
- Severe muscle pain, instability or weakness
- Not urinating
- Worsening of chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart conditions
The best defense against the flu for every age group is to get the flu vaccine each year, but older adults can improve their odds of warding off the flu by ensuring they wash their hands, covering coughs and taking other precautionary measures during flu season.
More Medications Means More Opportunity for Adverse Drug Effects
Older adults tend to take more medications than younger people due to higher incidences of chronic health conditions. This phenomenon is called polypharmacy, and it can have potentially dangerous effects on the health of older adults – especially those with memory issues or other cognitive impairments that can make it more difficult to keep track of medications.
Studies have found that polypharmacy occurs in 40-50% of older adults and is associated with a range of medication-related issues, including adverse reactions, contraindications, unnecessary medications, poor adherence to treatment and an overall strain on healthcare resources.4 The problem is especially prevalent among older adults who see multiple different health providers for various conditions.
Additionally, the use of multiple prescription medications can increase the risk of substance abuse and misuse. Chronic pain is a health condition commonly experienced by older adults – affecting up to 80% of advanced cancer patients and 77% of heart disease patients 65 years of age and older. Many of these patients receive prescription opioids to help manage their pain, and even appropriate use of these medications can lead to dependence. Ultimately, taking prescription opioids can also lead to worsening mental health symptoms. (5)
To help prevent polypharmacy, health professionals need to know each and every medication an older adult is taking before making any other treatment decisions. Additionally, older adults need to make an effort to keep track of their medications and to speak with their doctor if they are experiencing any adverse effects from their prescribed medications. Older adults should also avoid taking over-the-counter drugs or supplements without first talking with their doctor.
The Risk for Falling Increases
The risks for falling and serious associated consequences increase substantially with age due to weaker bones, vision issues or trouble with balance. Falls are the leading cause of fractures, trauma-related hospital admissions and injury deaths. According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds – with one older adult dying from fall-related complications every 19 minutes. (2)
Injuries caused by falling can make it difficult for older people to get around, perform everyday activities or live independently. Specific potential consequences of falling include:
- Broken bones, such as wrist, ankle, arm or hip fractures
- Head injuries, which can be more serious in older adults taking blood thinners or other medications
- Increased fear of falling, which can lead older people to refrain from doing daily activities. This, in turn, causes additional weakness, which ultimately increases the risk of falling overall
New Mental Health Difficulties May Arise
Mental health problems are a risk faced by everyone all throughout life, but older adults face particular challenges and stressors that may trigger the onset of certain mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization, more than one-fifth of adults aged 60 and older suffer from a mental or neurological disorder, and nearly 7% of all disability in this age group is attributed to these conditions. (7)
Mental health difficulties that may pop up as people get older include:
- Frustration and sadness accompanying the inability to live and function independently
- Loneliness and bereavement from losing loved ones
- Increased stress from tighter financial situations
- Psychological distress from age-related health conditions like dementia
Living Well to Manage Health Challenges
One of the most effective ways of managing age-related health challenges is to adopt healthy everyday habits to try and avoid having long-term health complications in the first place. The choices you make right now can have a direct consequence on your health down the road.
Lifestyle tips for living well into the Golden Years include:
- Do not smoke
- Keep alcohol intake to a minimum
- Avoid drugs
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise with both weight-bearing and cardiovascular activities
- Keep up with your routine health appointments to catch problems early
- Population Reference Bureau. Fact Sheet. Aging in the United States. Last reviewed July 15, 2019.
- National Council on Aging. Healthy Aging Facts. Accessed December 16, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu and People 65 Years & Older. Last reviewed September 22, 2020.
- Morin L, Johnell K, et al. The epidemiology of polypharmacy in older adults: register-based prospective cohort study. Clin Epidemiol. 2018;10:289-298. Published 2018 Mar 12. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S153458
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Substance Use in Older Adults. Last reviewed July 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Important Facts About Falls. Last reviewed February 10, 2017.
- World Health Organization. Mental health of older adults. Last reviewed December 12, 2017.
- Cleveland Clinic. Aging Challenges and Choices. Last reviewed November 30, 2016.
© weeklywealth.com. All rights reserved.