It is common knowledge that the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as Chronic Heart Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease increases significantly as we age. But there are other series risks that elders face that are not as commonly known. It is important to be aware of these risks and take proactive measures to avoid them.
- Falls- Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States and the primary cause of accidental deaths in individuals over the age of 65 years. Risk factors for falls in the elderly include decreased balance and mobility, side effects and dangerous interactions related to medications, cognitive decline and sensory deficits. A single fall may be an isolated event, and is not always a sign of a major problem or an indicator that the individual will continue to fall. But, more than 1 fall in a six-month period should raise a red flag and indicates the need for further evaluation. Early intervention by physical and occupational therapy, along with mitigation of fall risks in the home setting, can be very effective ways to avoid recurrence of falls.
- Medication Mismanagement- Medication-related problems are common in older adults, simply because they tend to take a lot of medications. Problem can include negative side effects, taking in correct dosages, and harmful drug interactions. Taking the incorrect dose can put elders at higher risks related to their chronic illnesses. Overdosing can be very detrimental to health as well causing thing like drowsiness, increased confusion, increased risk for bleeding, and even delusions or hallucinations. Hospitalization rates due to adverse drug effects are 4 times more likely in older individuals, and as mentioned above, Medication side effects and interactions can cause confusion and sensory deficits that then in turn increase risk of falls.
- Dehydration- The body loses water as we age due to loss in muscle mass and increase in fat cells. In addition, the kidneys are less efficient in removing toxins from the body. The health consequences of dehydration in the elderly are severe, including loss of consciousness, constipation, kidney stones, blood clots, decreased heart rate and low blood pressure, which can all be life-threatening. Caregivers should make sure their loved one is encouraged to drink water frequently as they may not as readily feel thirst as when they were younger. If your loved one does not enjoy drinking water as much, other options like tea, fruit juice, smoothies, Ensure and sparkling water can be alternatives, and encouraging foods with high water content like fruits and vegetable, yogurt, pudding, popcicles with natural fruit flavoring and soups.
- Infectious Diseases- Although Infectious Diseases as a whole are no longer the most common causes of death, some of them including pneumonia, influenza, and septicemia are still very fatal to elderly in some cases and remain in the top 10 causes of death. Pneumonia specifically can account for death among 40 percent of individuals who required hospitalization. It is very important for the frail elderly to get the pneumococcal vaccine, as well as an annual flu shot.
- Depression/Suicide- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 7 million American adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year. In fact, in the United States the suicide rate is one of the highest amongst males age 65 and up. Older adults who struggle with depression have a number of challenges facing them. They may be more socially isolated which both increases our risk for depression and also weakens our support system and access to the help we need to identify and treat depression. Many older adults believe that depression is a normal part of aging but it is not. There are some ways to avoid becoming depressed or reduce the symptoms. Depression is less likely when the individual is active both physically and mentally. Maintaining a full schedule of activities that one enjoys is an excellent measure to avoid social isolation and depression. Talking about your feelings with a therapist, or even a trusted friend or family member can bring significant relief to the symptoms of depression. Eating healthy and staying fit are also a key component of maintaining good physical and mental health. Make sure that all medications are being taken as prescribed, and if you are feeling symptoms of depression suddenly after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor.
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.