Health is one thing we all hold near and dear to our heart as we age, so that we can have more time with our loved ones and family. There are many ailments that we need to be aware of as we age ranging anywhere from depression to Alzheimer’s. But what are the risks of these conditions as we age? What can we do for prevention?
Pneumonia in the Elderly
Pneumonia can affect nearly anybody, but the two most at risk are children within an age group of 2 years or younger, and people who are aged 65 and older. Pneumonia, for those who don’t know, is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. It can cause cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. It can turn into a life-threatening condition if treatment is avoided or the body has already sustained illnesses that have left it fragile, which may be the case for many elderly.
There are risk factors that many people can be aware of, some of which start early on in life. You are more likely to get pneumonia if:
- You smoke.
- You have a medical condition like a lung disease.
- You have an impaired immune system.
- You take medicine called a proton pump inhibitor, which reduces the amount of stomach acid you have.
- You drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
- You recently had the cold or flu.
- You have an illness such as COPD, diabetes, or asthma.
- You have had your spleen removed. (1)
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What many people need to remember is that smoking damages your body’s natural defenses against bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia. Smoking is a huge risk factor for this and many other lung-related issues and this should be remembered for people who are looking to take preventative action for their future.
Alzheimer’s in the Elderly
Increasing age is actually the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. It is not a part of normal aging and should not always be expected, but your risk increases greatly after you reach age 65, and nearly half of those older than age 85 have the condition. There are other factors that could contribute to why some people get Alzheimer’s:
- Family history and genetics: If your parent or sibling has the disease, your risk of development may be greater. Many genetic mechanisms of Alzheimer’s among families remains unexplained, though thorough research is constantly being conducted to get a better understanding.
- Sex: Women may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men, mostly because they live longer in many cases.
- Mild cognitive impairment: People with this disorder have memory problems. They may be worse than expected for their age, but not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.
- Lifestyle: Some evidence suggests that the same factors that put you at risk of heart disease also may increase the chance of your development of Alzheimer’s. This can include lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, elevated homocysteine levels, poorly controlled diabetes, or a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables. (2)
Depression in the Elderly
Depression can impact older people a bit differently than younger people. In the elderly, depression will often occur with other medical illnesses and disabilities, along with also lasting longer. Depression can significantly reduce an elder person’s ability to rehabilitate, and studies done show that the presence of such increases the likelihood of death from the illnesses that they have otherwise. So what do the risk factors include?
- Being female
- Being single, unmarried, divorced, or widowed
- Lack of a supportive social network
- Stressful life events
- Physical conditions such as stroke, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and chronic pain
- Certain medicines or combinations of medicines
- Damage to body image
- Family history of major depressive disorder
- Fear of death
- Living alone, social isolation
- Recent loss of loved one
- Substance abuse (3)
Being away of the preventative actions one can take in younger life and older life can keep an elderly person’s health at its tip-top shape as they age. Remember the risk factors and stay healthy!