Today, people are living longer than ever before. As a result many women will have health concerns that are more common in old age. This can include chronic diseases, as well as conditions that are more bothersome than harmful to your health.
Almost 8 in 10 people older than 65 have at least one chronic condition. If you have one, you can help yourself to keep active and independent by learning about your condition, adopting healthy habits, and seeing the doctor regularly.
Asthma Many people get asthma for the first time as an older adult.
Cancer Breast, lung, and colorectal cancers are most common in women, and risk goes up with age.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Smoking is the main cause of COPD, which is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and world.
Depression Twice as many older women as men have depression, often along with other chronic illnesses common in later life, such as heart disease and cancer. Widows are at increased risk of depression.
Diabetes The risk of diabetes increases with age. Diabetes that is not controlled can hurt your eyes, heart, and
kidneys. It also is linked with depression.
Epilepsy Many older adults don’t realize that epilepsy is as likely to begin in older age as in young children.
Having a seizure can be scary, but epilepsy can be treated.
Gum disease Many older people did not grow up with drinking water with fluoride or fluoride toothpastes, which protect teeth. This has caused many to have gum and other oral diseases, which can lead to tooth loss.
Heart disease Heart disease is the number one killer of women. But most heart attacks in women may be preventable.
High blood pressure After menopause your risk of high blood pressure goes up, even if you had normal blood pressure most of your life. High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because there are no symptoms.
HIV More and more older women are finding out they have HIV. One reason is that women who no longer worry about getting pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safe sex.
Incontinence Urinary incontinence is common among older women, but it is not a normal part of aging. Treatment can help most women.
Pain Poorly controlled pain can lead to depression. Back pain can make it hard to get around and enjoy life.
Also, daily back pain might be associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Stroke More women die of stroke than men. People who survive stroke often need a caregiver
Not all people struggle with the health concerns that follow, but many older people do. Talk to your doctor about symptoms that bother or concern you.
Age-related arthritis, called osteoarthritis (OSS-tee-oh-ar- THREYE-tuhss), occurs when the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within joints wears away.
What you can do Get plenty of rest.
Get physical activity to reduce stiffness.
Wear supportive shoes.
Use gadgets to help you do things such as open jars and turn doorknobs.
Try medicines to reduce pain and swelling.
Call your doctor if one or more of these symptoms last more than 2 weeks
• Lasting joint pain
• Joint swelling
• Joint stiffness
• Tenderness or pain when touching a joint
• Problems using or moving a joint normally
• Warmth or redness in a joint
Disturbances in the inner ear, other health problems, and some medicines can cause a balance problema reason many older people fall.
What you can do Eat a low-salt, heart-healthy diet.
Get physical activity to improve strength and balance.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Don’t stand up too quickly or change direction suddenly.
Ask your doctor to review the medicines you are using.
Call your doctor if you
• Feel unsteady
• Feel like you or your surroundings are spinning or moving
• Feel like you are falling
• Lose your balance and fall• Ever feel disoriented
• Feel like you might faint
• Have blurred vision
Dry skin and itching mainly on lower legs, elbows, and fore-armsis a common complaint of older people.
What you can do Use moisturizersmainly creams and ointments.
Bathe less often and use mild soaps and warmnot hotwater.
Drink plenty of water.
Stay out of the sun, and protect your skin with sunscreen.
Don’t smoke, which dries out skin.
See your doctor if
• Your dry skin does not improve with self-care
• Your dry skin affects your sleep
• You have sores that do not heal
• You notice a change on the skin, such as a new growth or a mole that looks different
Many people notice changes in vision as they age. Other com-mon eye complaints include having too many tears, dry eyes, or eyelid problems.
Whay you can do Have your eyes checked every 1 to 2 years by an eye-care professional. An eye exam is the only way to find out about some eye diseases.
Ask your doctor if you are at high risk of eye disease.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
Call your doctor if you have
• Eye pain
• Fluid coming out of your eye
• Double vision
• Swelling of your eye or eyelid
Call your doctor right away if
• You suddenly cannot see or everything looks dim
• You see flashes of light
The flushort for “influenza”can make you very sick, especially if you have health problems like heart disease or diabetes. Older people who get the flu are more likely to also get another infection, such as pneumonia.
What you can do People age 50 and older should get a flu vaccine every year.
All people 65 and older should get a one-time-only pneumonia vaccine.
Clean your hands often.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Stay away from people who are sick.
Call your doctor if you have these symptoms, even if you got the flu shot
• Aches and pains
• Extreme tiredness and weakness
• Chest discomfort or cough
• Stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat (less common)
Hearing problems come in many forms and have many causes. Ignoring a hearing problem can lead to depression.
What you can do Have your hearing checked every 3 years.
Review the medicines you are using with your doctor.
Wear earplugs or earmuffs to protect your hearing from loud noise.
See your doctor if
• People you talk to seem to mumble
• You have to strain to understand what others are saying
• Others say you play the TV or radio too loudly
• You cannot hear the doorbell or phone ring
• You have trouble hearing in crowded or noisy rooms
• You have dizziness, pain, or ringing in your ears
Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the chicken pox virus. As you get older, the virus may come back as shingles.
What you can do Most people 60 and older should get the one-time-only herpes zoster vaccine, which can prevent shingles. Some people with specific health conditions should not get it. Your doctor can tell you if it’s okay for you.
Call your doctor right away if
• You feel burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face
• You have a rash or blisters appear on the side of the trunk or face
Many women remain sexually active in older age. But about one-half of them report at least one bothersome sexual problem.
What you can do Try over-the-counter lubricants to relieve vaginal dryness.
If you have more than one partner or are divorced or widowed and have started a new sexual relationship, have your partner wear a condom to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
See your doctor if
• You have problems that make it hard for you to enjoy an active sex life
• You have pain during sex
Older women still need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night to stay healthy and alert. But sleep problems are more common with age.
What you can do Try to avoid daytime napping, which can keep you from getting a restful night’s sleep.
Practice good sleep habits.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.
Talk to your doctor if
• You have trouble falling and staying asleep
• You wake up many times during the night
• You don’t feel well-rested on wakening or feel sleepy during the day
• You feel tingling or crawling in your legs that disrupts your sleep
Life changes can happen quickly and without warning. To avoid making im-portant decisions in haste or under stress, it’s best to plan ahead. Some issues you should discuss with loved ones include:
Your health and health care. Discuss your health insurance and health care options, including long-term care.
Where to live. Think about health conditions you have that might affect your independence as you age. Talk to your family about your wishes, should you need help from a caregiver.
End-of-life issues. Make sure your will is up to date, and advance directives are in place. Advance directives are instructions that direct a person’s medical care should she become unable to do so herself.
You might also want to give someone you trust the power to act in your place, should you be too sick to do so. Make sure your important papers are organized and in one place, and let family members know where to find them.