Senior Health Guide: Seniors Health

How healthy are you as a senior? The older a person gets, the more complex health gets. The body does not recover as well from injury, and, over time, cells break down. There’s good news, though. With a bit more support, you can age well (and you can even achieve more of your goals of staying fit longer.

Obese and Overweight Seniors

One of the most concerning factors about getting older is being overweight. Weight puts more pressure on all of your organs, including your lungs, heart, and brain. That makes it far more likely that these organs will be tasked, diseased, and failing sooner.

A study by Georgetown University found that 40% of Americans over the age of 51 are overweight. Older men and women have obesity rates of 23% and 24%, respectively. More so, the National Institutes of Health reports that obesity rates are growing. In 2000, 30.5% of adults were considered obese, and in 2018, that figure had grown to 42.4%.

Losing Weight When You’re Older

It is hard to lose weight when you’re older. You may be less active. There is more risk of health complications causing you to maintain an unhealthy weight. To lose weight as an older person, consider:

  • Reducing calorie intake based on the amount of exercise you get each day. A calorie deficit of 200 calories per day can help a person lose weight.
  • Limit portion sizes. Older adults, especially those less active, need to eat less food overall.
  • Improve hydration. This is key to ensuring health.

Nutritional Needs for Seniors

Seniors need different nutrient levels as they get older to foster mental and physical health and well-being. Key nutrients from food or other sources, according to, include:

  • Dietary fiber
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12

These nutrients specifically contribute to improved well-being, optimal brain and cell function, and improved energy levels. The best way to get these nutrients is through improved diets (consider adding more seafood, fortified dairy, beans, and fruits and vegetables to your meals. Protein is critical to keeping muscle mass up as well.

It is important to know that, for some seniors, eating food is no longer as enjoyable as it was. Medications and changes in tastebuds can make foods they used to love no longer enjoyable. A person’s sense of smell can also impact their willingness to seek out healthy foods.

Exercising When You’re Older

Exercise can help to decrease the risk of falls in seniors because it helps to build muscle strength and stability. According to Tufts University School of Medicine, 1 in every 4 seniors will fall at some point leading to traumatic brain injuries or hip fractures. This increases the risk of being placed in a nursing home as well.

There is a need to build muscle mass and keep all muscles throughout the body working at their best. One core function is to consider grip strength. In a study conducted by the Washington Post involving 1275 men and women, there was a specific link between grip strength and overall muscle quality and strength. Those with weak grip strength are specifically at a higher risk of aging faster than those with a strong grip.

A weak grip strength, which starts to decline around the age of 50, is an indication that a person is at a higher risk for rapid aging. However, research shows that working to exercise at this point, it is possible to maintain that grip strength longer, which ultimately leads to better overall physical health and potentially fewer health complications.

Increase Cancer Risk

Seniors are at a higher risk of cancer development, a direct impact on their quality of life and longevity in general. Data from the National Cancer Institute shows that the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66. The most common include:

  • Breast cancer: age 61
  • Colorectal cancer: age 68
  • Lung cancer: age 70

Seniors may not be able to avoid all cancer diagnoses, but there is a very strong link between those who are screened for and get early treatment and long life. Today’s cancer treatments provide an opportunity for many people to recover well from the health struggles they are facing. The World Health Organization notes that early detection reduces the long-term impact of cancer’s effect on a person (even if the cancer is eradicated.)

Multiple Prescriptions Create Dangers

Another risk factor for those who are older is the need for medication. Medication, especially those that work as a type of preventative for other diseases, is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there is an increase in the risk of complications as a person gets older for several reasons:

  • Medications may interact with each other
  • Some medications can have significant side effects impacting other conditions
  • Medication mismanagement can lead to complications and side effects
  • As people get older, they tend to lose weight, which changes the impact of medications on the body.

One study found that 9 in 10 patients over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication. However, half of all adults over the age of 65 take 4 or more prescription drugs. Those who are younger take three or fewer.

Increased Use of Brain-Affecting Drugs

Another factor impacting senior health is the use of brain-affecting drugs. These are medications that can alter the function of the brain in various ways. That can lead to a serious risk of falling or confusion. These medications increase the risk of:

  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Falls
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing changes

Medications work differently in seniors because of activity, body chemistry changes, and overall health. As a result, there is an increased risk of health complications in people who may not seek out adjustments to medications.

One of the best resources for understanding which medications are most worrisome to the aging population is to look at the AGS Beers Criteria, from the American Geriatrics Society. It helps to provide better information about prescribing medications to those who are older.

Preventable Problems

When you think about senior health, it is critical to also consider preventable problems or those conditions that could be avoided. That specifically relates to seniors who are taking prescription medications or encountering dangerous living situations. For example, preventable problems may include:

  • Falls
  • Confusion
  • Hip fractures
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Limited mobility

Minimizing medication overprescription and ensuring more clarity about what is being taken can significantly help seniors improve their health.

Aging and Immunity

Immunity builds up over time. The body comes in contact with bacteria and viruses and, over time, builds up a defense against them. However, as a person gets older, immunity changes. For many, the vaccinations they had as a child are no longer effective and may no longer provide enough protection.

As a person gets older, the risk of suffering an illness due to a drop in immunity increases. The most important way to reduce this is to increase vaccination rates in older people. Specific areas of concern that lead to preventable illness include:

  • Shingles vaccine
  • Flu vaccine
  • Pneumococcal vaccine that prevents pneumonia
  • Tetanus- diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap)

These vaccines can help to strengthen an older person’s immune system. Coupled with a healthy diet and good exercise, it can help a senior remain healthy longer.

Dangerous Drugs and Devices

Another area of impact on senior health is the use of dangerous drugs and devices. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to these risks. The use of drugs, such as those to treat Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other conditions, can cause ongoing harm to a senior as they age.

More so, the use of unapproved or ineffective devices can also contribute to senior health complications. At the same time, there are some devices that can prolong quality of life, such as the use of a knee or hip replacement. Still, those surgeries in themselves can be challenging for seniors to overcome.

Ageism Hurts Seniors

One of the most unspoken areas of senior health is ageism, or being treated differently because a person is older. Many times, drugs and illness can impact physical and mental health conditions, but there is also a strong indication that seniors can live longer and healthier lives with support.

One study found that 93.4% of people who are between the ages of 50 and 80 experience ageism on a routine basis. Another study from the American Psychological Association found that 93% of people who are older feel that others assume they cannot do anything or that they have nothing of value to offer.

Yet, healthy aging clearly is possible. It can provide a wealth of opportunities for people to live longer and healthier lives.

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